On March 31, 2006, back when John McCain still played an honorable man on T.V., I headed down to the St Barnabas Church hall on the Bronx/Yonkers border to hear the senator speak to a largely immigrant crowd about immigration reform. In May of 2005, McCain cosponsored an immigration reform bill with Senator Ted Kennedy. The crowd was mainly Irish and Irish-American (the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform was instrumental in organizing the event, and the Legalize the Irish T-shirt was the de rigeur outfit of the night. Of course, this being the New York metropolitan area, other immigrant groups were represented as well. Besides local politicians and numerous media outfits, Irish-born boxer John Duddy was present as a celebrity guest.
When McCain's entourage finally arrived at the venue, we greeted him with a heartfelt rendition of "The Fields of Athenry", a song about a young family split up by penal transportation during the Great Hunger (Paddy Reilly's version is the definitive one, though younger artists tend to give it a more aggressive spin, it being a rebel song, after all). McCain's speech was well-received, the general gist of it summed up in this excerpt from an interview with The Irish Voice:
“It is an honor to speak with a group of people who are dedicated to ensuring illegal immigrants are given the opportunity to come out of the shadows and get on a path toward earned citizenship in America. The Irish have been coming to the United States, contributing to our nation’s economic and social growth, for decades. They embody the determination and desire of those who come to America seeking a better life for themselves and their families.”
After the prepared speech, members of the crowd, including a man from the Dominican Republic who told a moving tale of establishing a family business here in the States after escaping poverty at home, gave their testimonials. The mood of the crowd was optimistic, and Senator McCain departed amidst general acclaim. Me being me, I headed off to the pub with some friends to hoist a pint to the man's health.
Not even a year later, while campaigning for the GOP presidential candidacy, McCain started to distance himself from the issue of immigration reform in order to shed his "moderate" image. After losing the 2008 presidential election, McCain moved even farther to the right in order to hold onto his seat in the Senate:
Far from being the humane immigration reform advocate, here was McCain playing the grumpy, xenophobic old coot, arguing for a border fence while accompanied, ironically enough, by a right-wing sheriff who was conducting a same-sex affair with an undocumented immigrant. We sang "Fields of Athenry" to this grumpy old bastard? We hoisted a pint in his honor? Teddy never would have pulled that kind of crap on us!
Now, in 2013, after a crushing electoral defeat for the GOP among Latino voters, McCain states that we can't have eleven million undocumented immigrants "living in the shadows". McCain cops to the fact that his motivation for re-proposing immigration reform is purely for political purposes. So, after taking a long detour that brought him around to full blown xenophobia, John McCain in 2013 is precisely where 2005 John McCain was. Eight years of wasted opportunities... truly John McCain is a profile in stagnation.