January 19th, 2009
11:00 PM ET
6 years ago

Obama pays tribute to McCain

ALT TEXT

Obama and McCain appeared on the same stage Monday night. (Getty Images)

(CNN) - President-elect Barack Obama paid tribute Monday night to the man he defeated.

"There are few Americans who understand this need for common purpose and common effort better than John McCain," Obama said at a dinner honoring the former Republican presidential candidate. "It is what he has strived for and achieved throughout his life. It is built into the very content of his character."

Full story

Read Obama's full prepared remarks after the jump

UPDATE: McCain's full remarks also after the jump

Barack Obama's remarks

I'm here tonight to say a few words about an American hero I have come to know very well and admire very much – Senator John McCain. And then, according to the rules agreed to by both parties, John will have approximately thirty seconds to make a rebuttal.

But in all seriousness, on this night, we are glad that the days of rebuttals and campaigning are for now behind us. There is no doubt that throughout the summer and the fall, John and I were fierce competitors who engaged in a vigorous and sometimes heated debate over the issues of the day. And in a great democracy, this debate is both healthy and necessary.

But what is even healthier and more necessary is the recognition that after the season of campaigning has ended, each of us in public life has a responsibility to usher in a new season of cooperation built on those things we hold in common. Not as Democrats. Not as Republicans. But as Americans.

And there are few Americans who understand this need for common purpose and common effort better than John McCain. It is what he has strived for and achieved throughout his life. It is built into the very content of his character.

I could stand here and recite the long list of John's bipartisan accomplishments. Campaign finance reform. Immigration. The Patients' Bill of Rights. All those times he has crossed the aisle and risked the ire of his party for the good of his country. And yet, what makes John such a rare and courageous public servant is not the accomplishments themselves, but the true motivation behind them.

It has not been a quest for fame or vanity that has driven this man. It has not been the need to compromise for politics' sake that has shaped his distinguished career. It is rather a pure and deeply felt love of his country that comes from the painful knowledge of what life is like without it.

Few of us can imagine what John endured during the days he spent in that lonely prison cell, but perhaps we can imagine that surviving such an ordeal provides a unique and renewed perspective about what is important and what is not; about what is worth fighting over and what is not.

We can imagine that the pettiness and bitterness and immaturity that often pervades our politics seems even more unworthy of our country from this perspective; that the incessant bickering and partisanship for the sake of scoring a few political points seems even smaller. And what seems bigger and more worthy of defending are those ideals we hold in common as Americans: liberty, equality, and opportunity.

Those are the ideals that John has spent and risked his life fighting for, and his example is one for all of us to remember and to follow as we seek to defend those ideals against the common threats to our prosperity and our security.

So I'd like to thank John for all he's done and ask him to come join me on stage for a moment.

Thank you, John, for your service to America and the service you will continue to render in the months and years ahead. And I'd like to close by asking all of you to join us in making this bipartisan dinner not just an inaugural tradition, but a new way of doing the people's business in this city. We will not always agree on everything in the months to come, and we will have our share of arguments and debates. But let us strive always to find that common ground, and to defend together those common ideals, for it is the only way we can meet the very big and very serious challenges that we face right now. Thank you, God Bless You, and may God Bless America.

John McCain's remarks

Thank you.  I appreciate this very much.  As President-elect Obama kindly pointed out during the campaign - quite frequently, as a matter of fact - I’ve been on the country’s payroll in one capacity or another for a half century.  In the course of my long career as a burden on the taxpayer, I’ve taken a few lumps.  But I’ve been more than fairly compensated by the many honors that have come my way over the years whether I deserved them or not.  Tonight surely ranks among the more unexpected of them, and the most appreciated. I am very grateful to the President-elect and to all of you for this very considerate gesture, and for allowing me to play a small role in the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, even if it isn’t the one I had in mind a few months ago.

Around noon tomorrow, I will have the honor of witnessing the next President take the oath of office, and the even greater honor of knowing that this extraordinary nation cannot and will not ever concede to be a captive to the mistakes and sins of our past.  It is a very gratifying thing to comprehend that the country one has served for a lifetime remains still a work in progress; that our greatness is unfinished; and that the impulsion behind Americans’ ceaseless striving toward a more perfect union is our love of the cause which it was founded to protect, the cause of liberty and justice.

The history that will be made tomorrow is not just a tribute to one man’s ability and accomplishment as impressive as they are.  It is a tribute to America, and proof that history itself has no power to hold us in place.  Ours is surely a magnificent history.  It has had its moments of shame and regret.  But our achievements are irrefutable proof that a nation conceived in liberty will prove stronger and more decent than any nation ordered to exalt the few at the expense of the many or made from a common race or culture or to preserve traditions that have no greater attribute than longevity.  And, yet, other nations have occupied a distinguished place in human history longer than we have.  They, too, acquired great wealth and power.  But they sought the false assurance of protecting their privileges by settling for things as they are.  Not us.  We are always on the move.

We understand - we have always understood - that no nation complacent in its greatness can long sustain it.  We have always known that we, too, must prove, as those who came before us proved, that a people free to act in their own interests, will perceive those interests in an enlightened way, will live as one nation, in a kinship of ideals, and make of our power and wealth a civilization for the ages, a civilization in which all people share in the promise and responsibilities of freedom.

Tomorrow, the President-elect will accept the burdensome privilege of leading America to its next accomplishments and its future greatness.  He has my sincere best wishes for his success, and my promise of assistance.  For his success will be our success.  The challenges and threats confronting him and us are numerous and daunting.  He has the greatest responsibility to help lead America through them.  But we, too, bear responsibilities for our progress, lesser than his, but a great privilege nonetheless.  We must meet them fully and help the President succeed at his.

We have our disagreements, we Americans. We contend regularly and enthusiastically over many questions.  Many are important questions, worth arguing about, and we should contend over them with one another.  It is not just our right, but our civic and moral obligation.

Our country doesn't depend on the heroism of every citizen. But all of us should be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf. We have to love our freedom, not just for the private opportunities it provides, but for the goodness it makes possible. We have to love it as much, even if not as heroically, as the brave Americans who defend us at the risk and often the cost of their lives. We must love it enough to argue about it, and to work together to serve its interests, in whatever way our abilities permit and our conscience requires, whether it calls us to arms or to altruism or to politics.

Americans deserve more than tolerance from one another. We deserve each other's respect, whether we think each other right or wrong in our views, as long as our character and our sincerity merit respect, and as long as we share, for all our differences, a mutual devotion to the sublime idea that this nation was conceived in - that freedom is the inalienable right of mankind, and in accord with the laws of nature and nature's Creator.

Let us exercise our responsibilities as free people, and argue only when we must, and strive together for our common ends.  Let us remember, we are not enemies. We are compatriots defending ourselves from real enemies and difficult problems. So much more unites us than divides us.  We have nothing to fear from each other. When we argue it should remain an argument among friends; each of us struggling to hear our conscience, and heed its demands; each of us, despite our differences, united in our great cause, and respectful of the goodness in each other.

All lives are a struggle against selfishness. I have stumbled more than once in that struggle.  I have sometimes stood a little apart from institutions I willingly joined.  But had my life shared no common purpose, my qualities would not have amounted to much more than eccentricities. That's the benefit of service to a country that is an idea and a cause, a righteous idea and cause.  America and her ideals can spare us from the weaknesses in our own character.  There is no honor or happiness, for a country or a person, in just being strong enough to be left alone.

I would have preferred to have sworn again tomorrow the oath I first took more than fifty years ago.  But it would be an act of stunning ingratitude were I to resent the decision of the American people or dismiss the privilege I still possess: the privilege of serving in some capacity the country that has been so good to me.  And it would be a disgrace to use that privilege for ends that were not in the public interest.  So, I give my pledge to my former opponent, my new President, I will do the best I can to help you in the hard work ahead.  We will disagree now and again, but not always and not for personal reasons, and not, I assure you, over the purpose we share: the progress of the nation we love.

Good luck tomorrow to our new President, and in the days and years ahead.  May God bless him with wisdom and courage, and his presidency with success.  And may God continue to bless America, this nation of restless strivers; this land of freedom and justice and opportunity.

Thank you, again, and goodnight.


Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • John McCain
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. California Gold

    ...and the man who inflicted Sarah Palin on the unsuspecting American people. Thanks John. For that we salute you (cue thunderous applause).

    January 19, 2009 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  2. Dan Anderson

    A most gracious gesture on Mr. Obama's part.

    Though I did not vote for Mr. Obama, it was never because I doubted his intelligence or humanity. It was rather a disagreement with Mr. Obama on the role government should play in the lives of citizens.

    I see a glimmer of hope that Mr. Obama understands that the individual is greater than his government.

    We'll see.

    January 19, 2009 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  3. Greg Hodges

    Dan Anderson. Gracious comment from you sir. I believe you will see in the next few years much more than a glimmer of hope. I do not think that Barack Obama will let America down in any way. While there are real problems that will take time to solve; and mistakes WILL be made , as Barack Obama himself has said; this is a man who wants to serve his country and the world not for himself, but the generations yet to come. I truely trust this man!!

    January 19, 2009 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  4. lets play nice

    Thanks again MSM for the choice you gave us between these two humans.

    January 19, 2009 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  5. La Chatte

    California Gold, get over it. Deal with the present. The election is over and your comment serves absolutely no purpose but to perpetuate a divisiveness that the country does not need. Stop being the problem, get over yourself, and let's just concentrate on cleaning up the mess we're facing. You're attitude is out-of-date, tired, and serves no useful pupose. Either get with it or shut up.

    January 19, 2009 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  6. Joe Green

    McCain, in a shocking moment of inappropriate behavior, does his Al Jolson impression...

    January 19, 2009 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  7. AndyBlue

    John McCain has shown us all what kind of person he is during this campaign. Shameful and nasty. I have lost all respect for him. Just go away McCain. We dont trust a word you say after all the lies you spewed. You shamed yourself now live with it.

    January 19, 2009 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  8. Dee

    Oh my...the first thing I thought of when I saw this picture was the episode of FRASIER when Daphne has a psychic vision of the man of her dreams...she cant see his face, but he is wearing a red bow tie. Poor John, I hope he donates that thing to charity along with Sarah's clothes...

    January 20, 2009 02:56 am at 2:56 am |
  9. we need more Palin

    how come he didn't honor Palin, she deserves honor

    for what I have no idea, but Palin 2012, don't give up Palin we love you and your drug addict family

    January 20, 2009 03:21 am at 3:21 am |
  10. Erwin

    Another example of the immense grace, poise and charm of a proper stateman. Well done again, Barack!

    January 20, 2009 03:23 am at 3:23 am |
  11. SueB

    I see we're not taking any comments today that aren't fawning over Obama. Sorry, but I don't get tingling legs or practically have an org over him as so many media folks have expressed! I just hope he accomplishes something as pres and I don't agree that Bush was all that bad.

    January 20, 2009 03:28 am at 3:28 am |
  12. J.V.Hodgson

    Good great acrros the aisle comments from both. Hope the republicans give him the positions on the committees he wants and more to the point that Obama and his aides pay special attention to him, as he can be a good bridge and indicate to Obama where compromise is needed to get Republican votes.
    I'd like both of them to come out and say that pork and earmarks will not be tolerated on any major legislative proposal in the first 365days, otherwise many parts of the economic recovery plan are going to be tainted by such addendums making the legisalation into a non national policy or strategy.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    January 20, 2009 03:36 am at 3:36 am |
  13. J.V.Hodgson

    Good great across the aisle comments from both. Hope the republicans give him the positions on the committees he wants and more to the point that Obama and his aides pay special attention to him, as he can be a good bridge and indicate to Obama where compromise is needed to get Republican votes.
    I'd like both of them to come out and say that pork and earmarks will not be tolerated on any major legislative proposal in the first 365days, otherwise many parts of the economic recovery plan are going to be tainted by such addendums making the legisalation into a non national policy or strategy.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    January 20, 2009 03:38 am at 3:38 am |
  14. EZ

    It is good to see that 2 adversaries can come together. I think McCane was thrown under the bus by is own party.

    January 20, 2009 05:07 am at 5:07 am |