Last week, Sen. McCain delivered a speech to the Brigade of Midshipmen as part of the Forrestal Lecture Series. Like most USNA graduates who return to speak at the Academy, Sen. McCain began his speech by joking about his terrible performance as a midshipman.
Sen. McCain discussed the differences between leadership and management. He believes the nation is producing too many managers and not enough leaders- citing the increased number of MBA graduates as proof of this trend. Being a manager is easy, as the manager must merely maintain the status quo. Leaders must motivate and inspire subordinates to reach new limits.
Lamenting the military’s one strike policy on mistakes, Sen. McCain noted that most great U.S. Navy leaders would not have made it out of the lower ranks had they served in today’s armed forces. This intolerance towards failure of any kind has caused our military to become more risk averse than ever before.
While Sen. McCain criticized changes in military policy, he vehemently stated that America was not on the decline. Supporting his opinion, he remarked that the U.S. political and economic system is still the golden standard. This part of the speech sounded very much like President Obama’s recent State of the Union address. They both chastised and dismissed those skeptical of long term U.S. standing in the world, while conceding that the U.S. will face difficult choices in the years ahead.
Sen. McCain then switched gears and discussed current decisions facing the country. He deplored the fact that people are fighting and dying in Syria for what Americans fought many years ago for and receiving no help from the U.S. Criticizing Obama’s inaction in Syria, he quoted Gen. Mattis that replacing the Assad regime would cripple Iran. He did not mention the possibility that the U.S. aiding the Syrian rebels might cause Russia to counter by escalating their help to Assad.
When asked if he had ever sacrificed his morals for political expediency, he at first said no, then he changed his mind and called himself a “coward” during the 2000 GOP primary in South Carolina. At the time, the hot issue in South Carolina was whether or not the state capital could fly the Confederate flag. He said it should be left up to the states to decide, when he personally felt it was wrong. After the election he went to South Carolina to apologize. I think the entire Brigade was amazed that someone who survived over five years in a Vietnamese POW camp could call himself a coward.
Answering a question about Obamacare or Obama cares (depending on your political leanings), Sen. McCain said he thought mandatory health care was unconstitutional because it violates both the Commerce Clause and the 10th Amendment, which gives all powers not delegated to the federal government to the states. Furthermore, he reminded the audience that President Obama promised medical costs would drop, and they haven’t (though since the act doesn’t take effect until 2014, I don’t think anyone can say for sure how the act will affect health care costs).
In conclusion, the Brigade enjoyed hearing from a legend. Next week, Secretary of State Clinton will speak to the Brigade. The Naval Academy, while an imperfect institution, does do a great job of bringing in interesting speakers.