Custodians and Champions of American Ideals

John McCain gave an important speech yesterday. I hope you listen to it. He was awarded the prestigious Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center. I've written about McCain's heroics before, and it still feels strange to be so moved by the words of a man I was once convinced would do tremendous damage as President of the United States. What any of us would give to have President McCain presiding today.

But there is an intellectual battle going on in America today, and on one side are advocates for "half-baked, spurious nationalism," as McCain describes it, led by the Trumps and Bannons of the country. On the other side is everyone else -- the "custodians and champions" of American ideals, believers in the Constitution and compromise, and those who believe in American leadership on the world stage. John McCain is a leader of that side. You can hear and see and feel his love for America when he speaks about. This is my favorite excerpt from the speech:

"What a privilege it is to serve this big, boisterous, brawling, intemperate, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, magnificent country. With all our flaws, all our mistakes, with all the frailties of human nature as much on display as our virtues, with all the rancor and anger of our politics, we are blessed.

We are living in the land of the free, the land where anything is possible, the land of the immigrant’s dream, the land with the storied past forgotten in the rush to the imagined future, the land that repairs and reinvents itself, the land where a person can escape the consequences of a self-centered youth and know the satisfaction of sacrificing for an ideal, the land where you can go from aimless rebellion to a noble cause, and from the bottom of your class to your party’s nomination for president."

Here's how he closed his speech, discussing a lifetime of service to the United States of America: 

"Among the few compensations of old age is the acuity of hindsight. I see now that I was part of something important, that drew me along in its wake, even when I was diverted by other interests. I was, knowingly or not, along for the ride as America made the future better than the past. And I've enjoyed it, every single day of it -- the good ones and the not so good ones. . .

May God bless America and give us the strength and wisdom, the generosity and compassion, to do our duty for this wondrous land, and for the world that counts on us. With all its suffering and danger, the world still looks to the example and leadership of America to become another better place. What greater cause could anyone ever serve?"

John McCain is, without a doubt, an American patriot.

Michael Bennet is also an American patriot. The quiet kind that believes in compromise and working together to solve problems.

Michael Bennet was almost the United States Secretary of Education. When then-President-elect Barack Obama was vetting candidates for the position, Bennet was high on the list. He was the well-respected Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, and Obama flew him out to Chicago to be interviewed. Eventually, Obama picked CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Arne Duncan. It all worked out fine for Bennet, though, when Colorado Governor Bill Ritter appointed him to the United States Senate, where he currently serves.

Bennet missed President Obama's call warning him that he was going with Duncan and found out when a journalist called for his thoughts on Duncan's selection as Secretary-designate. Ironically, Bennet was in the middle of an argument with a Denver school board member about what to do if Obama did ultimately appoint Bennet.

Bennet called back the Chicago number and left a message for President-elect Obama, thanking him and telling him he didn't need to call him back.

Five minutes later, Bennet's phone rang.

The man who was preparing to lead the country in incredibly difficult circumstances wanted to explain to Bennet his reasoning and thank him for being part of the process.

"What an unbelievable act of decency that was," Bennet remarked on The Axe Files podcast with David Axelrod.

A small, fleeting, nearly unnoticed act of decency that speaks to the character of Barack Obama. The type of thing that probably doesn't warrant a mention before the election of Donald Trump -- but the type of thing that makes me yearn for a time not so long ago when we were led by a person with decency and honor. I hope we'll have that privilege again soon.