Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


The Maverick's Moment

By Shawn Healy
Senator John McCain waited a long time to formally accept his party’s nomination for president. Perhaps it began with his military enlistment at the age of seventeen as he entered the U.S. Naval Academy. Maybe it was formed on an aircraft carrier or in the cockpit of the F-4 as he flew 23 bombing missions over North Vietnam, only to be shot down by a surface-to-air missile in his final approach. Or from a Hanoi lake where he parachuted down McCain and was greeted by angry North Vietnamese captors, who took his broken and burned body to the infamous POW prison camp known as the Hanoi Hilton. It was here that McCain survived unspeakable torture and lived in solitary confinement in a 4 X 6 foot cell. This wrenching experience, according to McCain, bestowed in him a love of country like no other, and stands as the rationale for his candidacy to serve as the 44th President of the United States.

McCain spoke last evening to a crowd of 20,000 assembled Republican delegates, alternates, and distinguished guests at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, MN. He leaned heavy on his aforementioned biography, perched over a simplistic podium on a narrow stage amid a sea of supporters. The contrast to that of his opponent one week earlier could not have been more striking, for McCain has always sold best in small venues where he can engage in the give-and-take of a town hall setting. It was this approach that rescued his campaign from the dead a year ago as he camped out in New Hampshire and used a victory in the first-in-the-nation primary to propel himself to the Republican nomination that eluded him eight years earlier.

McCain will never match the soaring rhetoric of his opponent, but his straight talk and record of reaching across the aisle may indeed prove the winning formula in this change election. His nearly hour-long speech was pre-staged by testimonials from two of his closest political supporters, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. They were followed by Cindy McCain, who highlighted her own humanitarian service and spoke to her husband’s greatest strength, that of a father of their five children. A video montage of McCain preceded a dark arena, where the words of Senator Fred Thompson introduced the Arizona senator in dramatic fashion.

Early in his speech, McCain referenced the current presidential administration without invoking George Bush’s name, praising him for his decisive leadership on 9-11 and record of keeping the country safe from terrorism during the intervening 7 years. His remarks featured only occasional strikes at Obama. Indeed he acknowledged that he respects and admires the Illinois senator, yet vowed to fight to the end in this historic contest. McCain embraced his maverick reputation, claiming that he places the interests of his country before those of party or person. This theme permeated the entire convention, and McCain’s coronation was but a capstone.

McCain focused heavily on his reform credentials, scolding his own party for allowing Washington to change them and abandon their principles. He promised to bring the Republican Party back to its fiscally conservative roots, referencing the proud lineage of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan. He emphasized his intention to cut taxes, reform our nation’s schools, and make health care more affordable, yet managed by the individual and not a government bureaucrat. He invoked his now famous line that he will veto every pork barrel project in spending bills forwarded his way, making their authors “famous.”

His speech ended with an implicit contrast to the rationale of his opponent's. Rather than save America, McCain suggests that the country saved him long ago in that Hanoi prison cell. He asked for the honor to serve the nation he loves until his dying breath, revisiting a theme he has uttered often as a public servant. McCain seeks to serve a cause greater than self, and America voters are now left with 60 days to examine the respective resumes of these two inspiring candidates. Polls show a dead heat, and this contest will undoubtedly offer many twists and turns over the coming weeks.

As a first-time convention attendee, the theatrics of the past two evenings are simply indescribable. Whether they alter the underlying dynamics of this election remains to be seen, but I can attest to the fact that the Republican Party is united behind the McCain-Palin ticket, and the excitement spawned by the latter addition may yet shift the contest in unforeseen directions. I’ll write once again next week with a synopsis of my experiences as an alternate delegate, for this story deserves to stand on its own, and end this post with the words of Senator McCain on an evening that he prepared for in the 55 years he has served this country in one capacity or the other.

“I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here…I loved it not just because it was a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for.”


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at