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McCain Details Captivity, Says He’ll Bring Change in RNC Acceptance Speech

September 4, 2008 at 10:00 PM EDT
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Sen. John McCain reached out to independents and disaffected Democrats in his acceptance speech Thursday at the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn. McCain also detailed his experience as a prisoner of war and criticized Russia for its role in the recent Georgian conflict. Following are his words as prepared for delivery.


Thank you all very much. Tonight, I have a privilege given
few Americans — the privilege of accepting our party’s nomination for president
of the United States. And I accept it with gratitude, humility and confidence.

In my life, no success has come without a good fight, and
this nomination wasn’t any different. That’s a tribute to the candidates who
opposed me and their supporters. They’re leaders of great ability, who love our
country, and wished to lead it to better days. Their support is an honor I won’t

I’m grateful to the president for leading us in those dark days following the
worst attack on American soil in our history, and keeping us safe from another
attack many thought was inevitable; and to the First Lady, Laura Bush, a model
of grace and kindness in public and in private. And I’m grateful to the 41st president and his bride of 63 years, and for their outstanding example of
honorable service to our country.

As always, I’m indebted to my wife, Cindy, and my seven children. The pleasures
of family life can seem like a brief holiday from the crowded calendar of our
nation’s business. But I have treasured them all the more, and can’t imagine a
life without the happiness you give me. Cindy said a lot of nice things about
me tonight. But, in truth, she’s more my inspiration than I am hers. Her
concern for those less blessed than we are – victims of land mines, children
born in poverty and with birth defects – shows the measure of her humanity. I
know she will make a great First Lady.

When I was growing up, my father was often at sea, and the job of raising my
brother, sister and me would fall to my mother alone. Roberta McCain gave us
her love of life, her deep interest in the world, her strength, and her belief
we are all meant to use our opportunities to make ourselves useful to our
country. I wouldn’t be here tonight but for the strength of her character.

My heartfelt thanks to all of you, who helped me win this nomination, and stood
by me when the odds were long. I won’t let you down. To Americans who have yet
to decide who to vote for, thank you for your consideration and the opportunity
to win your trust. I intend to earn it.

Finally, a word to Senator Obama and his supporters. We’ll go at it over the
next two months. That’s the nature of these contests, and there are big
differences between us. But you have my respect and admiration. Despite our
differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, an association
that means more to me than any other. We’re dedicated to the proposition that
all people are created equal and endowed by our Creator with inalienable
rights. No country ever had a greater cause than that. And I wouldn’t be an
American worthy of the name if I didn’t honor Senator Obama and his supporters
for their achievement.

But let there be no doubt, my friends, we’re going to win this election. And
after we’ve won, we’re going to reach out our hand to any willing patriot, make
this government start working for you again, and get this country back on the
road to prosperity and peace.

These are tough times for many of you. You’re worried about keeping your job or
finding a new one, and are struggling to put food on the table and stay in your
home. All you ever asked of government is to stand on your side, not in your
way. And that’s just what I intend to do: stand on your side and fight for your

And I’ve found just the right partner to help me shake up Washington, Governor
Sarah Palin of Alaska. She has executive experience and a real record of
accomplishment. She’s tackled tough problems like energy independence and
corruption. She’s balanced a budget, cut taxes, and taken on the special
interests. She’s reached across the aisle and asked Republicans, Democrats and
Independents to serve in her administration. She’s the mother of five children.
She’s helped run a small business, worked with her hands and knows what it’s
like to worry about mortgage payments and health care and the cost of gasoline
and groceries.

She knows where she comes from and she knows who she works for. She stands up
for what’s right, and she doesn’t let anyone tell her to sit down. I’m very
proud to have introduced our next vice president to the country. But I can’t
wait until I introduce her to Washington. And let me offer an advance warning
to the old, big spending, do nothing, me first, country second Washington
crowd: change is coming.

I’m not in the habit of breaking promises to my country and neither is Governor
Palin. And when we tell you we’re going to change Washington, and stop leaving
our country’s problems for some unluckier generation to fix, you can count on
it. We’ve got a record of doing just that, and the strength, experience,
judgment and backbone to keep our word to you.

You know, I’ve been called a maverick; someone who marches to the beat of his
own drum. Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment and sometimes it’s not. What it
really means is I understand who I work for. I don’t work for a party. I don’t
work for a special interest. I don’t work for myself. I work for you.

I’ve fought corruption, and it didn’t matter if the culprits were Democrats or
Republicans. They violated their public trust, and had to be held accountable.
I’ve fought big spenders in both parties, who waste your money on things you
neither need nor want, while you struggle to buy groceries, fill your gas tank
and make your mortgage payment. I’ve fought to get million dollar checks out of
our elections. I’ve fought lobbyists who stole from Indian tribes. I fought
crooked deals in the Pentagon. I fought tobacco companies and trial lawyers,
drug companies and union bosses.

I fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq, when it wasn’t a
popular thing to do. And when the pundits said my campaign was finished, I said
I’d rather lose an election than see my country lose a war.

Thanks to the leadership of a brilliant general, David Petraeus, and the brave
men and women he has the honor to command, that strategy succeeded and rescued
us from a defeat that would have demoralized our military, risked a wider war
and threatened the security of all Americans.

I don’t mind a good fight. For reasons known only to God, I’ve had quite a few
tough ones in my life. But I learned an important lesson along the way. In the
end, it matters less that you can fight. What you fight for is the real test.

I fight for Americans. I fight for you. I fight for Bill and Sue Nebe from
Farmington Hills, Michigan, who lost their real estate investments in the bad
housing market. Bill got a temporary job after he was out of work for seven
months. Sue works three jobs to help pay the bills.

I fight for Jake and Toni Wimmer of Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Jake works
on a loading dock; coaches Little League, and raises money for the mentally and
physically disabled. Toni is a schoolteacher, working toward her Master’s
Degree. They have two sons, the youngest, Luke, has been diagnosed with autism.
Their lives should matter to the people they elect to office. They matter to

I fight for the family of Matthew Stanley of Wolfboro, New Hampshire, who died
serving our country in Iraq. I wear his bracelet and think of him every day. I
intend to honor their sacrifice by making sure the country their son loved so
well and never returned to, remains safe from its enemies.

I fight to restore the pride and principles of our party. We were elected to
change Washington, and we let Washington change us. We lost the trust of the
American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption.
We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it
bigger. We lost their trust when instead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous
dependence on foreign oil, both parties and Senator Obama passed another
corporate welfare bill for oil companies. We lost their trust, when we valued
our power over our principles.

We’re going to change that. We’re going to recover the people’s trust by
standing up again for the values Americans admire. The party of Lincoln,
Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics.

We believe everyone has something to contribute and deserves the opportunity to
reach their God-given potential from the boy whose descendents arrived on the
Mayflower to the Latina daughter of migrant workers. We’re all God’s children
and we’re all Americans.

We believe in low taxes; spending discipline, and open markets. We believe in
rewarding hard work and risk takers and letting people keep the fruits of their

We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life,
personal responsibility, the rule of law, and judges who dispense justice
impartially and don’t legislate from the bench. We believe in the values of
families, neighborhoods and communities.

We believe in a government that unleashes the creativity and initiative of
Americans. Government that doesn’t make your choices for you, but works to make
sure you have more choices to make for yourself.

I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can. My opponent will raise them. I
will open new markets to our goods and services. My opponent will close them. I
will cut government spending. He will increase it.

My tax cuts will create jobs. His tax increases will eliminate them. My health
care plan will make it easier for more Americans to find and keep good health
care insurance. His plan will force small businesses to cut jobs, reduce wages,
and force families into a government run health care system where a bureaucrat
stands between you and your doctor.

Keeping taxes low helps small businesses grow and create new jobs. Cutting the
second highest business tax rate in the world will help American companies
compete and keep jobs from moving overseas. Doubling the child tax exemption
from $3500 to $7000 will improve the lives of millions of American families.
Reducing government spending and getting rid of failed programs will let you
keep more of your own money to save, spend and invest as you see fit. Opening
new markets and preparing workers to compete in the world economy is essential
to our future prosperity.

I know some of you have been left behind in the changing economy and it often
seems your government hasn’t even noticed. Government assistance for unemployed
workers was designed for the economy of the 1950s. That’s going to change on my
watch. My opponent promises to bring back old jobs by wishing away the global
economy. We’re going to help workers who’ve lost a job that won’t come back,
find a new one that won’t go away.

We will prepare them for the jobs of today. We will use our community colleges
to help train people for new opportunities in their communities. For workers in
industries that have been hard hit, we’ll help make up part of the difference
in wages between their old job and a temporary, lower paid one while they
receive retraining that will help them find secure new employment at a decent

Education is the civil rights issue of this century. Equal access to public
education has been gained. But what is the value of access to a failing school?
We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower
parents with choice, remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and
reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of work.

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve
a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them.
Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many
will choose a charter school. But they will have that choice and their children
will have that opportunity.

Senator Obama wants our schools to answer to unions and entrenched
bureaucracies. I want schools to answer to parents and students. And when I’m president, they will.

My fellow Americans, when I’m president, we’re going to embark on the most
ambitious national project in decades. We are going to stop sending $700
billion a year to countries that don’t like us very much. We will attack the
problem on every front. We will produce more energy at home. We will drill new
wells offshore, and we’ll drill them now. We will build more nuclear power
plants. We will develop clean coal technology. We will increase the use of
wind, tide, solar and natural gas. We will encourage the development and use of
flex fuel, hybrid and electric automobiles.

Senator Obama thinks we can achieve energy independence without more drilling
and without more nuclear power. But Americans know better than that. We must
use all resources and develop all technologies necessary to rescue our economy
from the damage caused by rising oil prices and to restore the health of our
planet. It’s an ambitious plan, but Americans are ambitious by nature, and we
have faced greater challenges. It’s time for us to show the world again how
Americans lead.

This great national cause will create millions of new jobs, many in industries
that will be the engine of our future prosperity; jobs that will be there when
your children enter the workforce.

Today, the prospect of a better world remains within our reach. But we must see
the threats to peace and liberty in our time clearly and face them, as
Americans before us did, with confidence, wisdom and resolve.

We have dealt a serious blow to al Qaeda in recent years. But they are not
defeated, and they’ll strike us again if they can. Iran remains the chief state
sponsor of terrorism and on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons. Russia’s
leaders, rich with oil wealth and corrupt with power, have rejected democratic
ideals and the obligations of a responsible power. They invaded a small,
democratic neighbor to gain more control over the world’s oil supply,
intimidate other neighbors, and further their ambitions of reassembling the
Russian empire. And the brave people of Georgia need our solidarity and
prayers. As president, I will work to establish good relations with Russia so
we need not fear a return of the Cold War. But we can’t turn a blind eye to
aggression and international lawlessness that threatens the peace and stability
of the world and the security of the American people.

We face many threats in this dangerous world, but I’m not afraid of them. I’m
prepared for them. I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can
do better, and what it should not do. I know how the world works. I know the
good and the evil in it. I know how to work with leaders who share our dreams
of a freer, safer and more prosperous world, and how to stand up to those who
don’t. I know how to secure the peace.

When I was five years old, a car pulled up in front of our house. A Navy
officer rolled down the window, and shouted at my father that the Japanese had
bombed Pearl Harbor. I rarely saw my father again for four years. My
grandfather came home from that same war exhausted from the burdens he had
borne, and died the next day. In Vietnam, where I formed the closest
friendships of my life, some of those friends never came home with me. I hate
war. It is terrible beyond imagination.

I’m running for president to keep the country I love safe, and prevent other
families from risking their loved ones in war as my family has. I will draw on
all my experience with the world and its leaders, and all the tools at our
disposal – diplomatic, economic, military and the power of our ideals – to build
the foundations for a stable and enduring peace.

In America, we change things that need to be changed. Each generation makes its
contribution to our greatness. The work that is ours to do is plainly before
us. We don’t need to search for it.

We need to change the way government does almost everything: from the way we
protect our security to the way we compete in the world economy; from the way
we respond to disasters to the way we fuel our transportation network; from the
way we train our workers to the way we educate our children. All these
functions of government were designed before the rise of the global economy,
the information technology revolution and the end of the Cold War. We have to
catch up to history, and we have to change the way we do business in

The constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems isn’t a
cause, it’s a symptom. It’s what happens when people go to Washington to work
for themselves and not you.

Again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that
need to be fixed. That’s how I will govern as president. I will reach out my
hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again. I have that record and
the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not.

Instead of rejecting good ideas because we didn’t think of them first, let’s
use the best ideas from both sides. Instead of fighting over who gets the
credit, let’s try sharing it. This amazing country can do anything we put our
minds to. I will ask Democrats and Independents to serve with me. And my
administration will set a new standard for transparency and accountability.

We’re going to finally start getting things done for the people who are
counting on us, and I won’t care who gets the credit.

I’ve been an imperfect servant of my country for many years. But I have been
her servant first, last and always. And I’ve never lived a day, in good times
or bad, that I didn’t thank God for the privilege.

Long ago, something unusual happened to me that taught me the most valuable
lesson of my life. I was blessed by misfortune. I mean that sincerely. I was
blessed because I served in the company of heroes, and I witnessed a thousand
acts of courage, compassion and love.

On an October morning, in the Gulf of Tonkin, I prepared for my 23rd mission
over North Vietnam. I hadn’t any worry I wouldn’t come back safe and sound. I
thought I was tougher than anyone. I was pretty independent then, too. I liked
to bend a few rules, and pick a few fights for the fun of it. But I did it for
my own pleasure; my own pride. I didn’t think there was a cause more important
than me.

Then I found myself falling toward the middle of a small lake in the city of
Hanoi, with two broken arms, a broken leg, and an angry crowd waiting to greet
me. I was dumped in a dark cell, and left to die. I didn’t feel so tough
anymore. When they discovered my father was an admiral, they took me to a
hospital. They couldn’t set my bones properly, so they just slapped a cast on
me. When I didn’t get better, and was down to about a hundred pounds, they put
me in a cell with two other Americans. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even
feed myself. They did it for me. I was beginning to learn the limits of my
selfish independence. Those men saved my life.

I was in solitary confinement when my captors offered to release me. I knew
why. If I went home, they would use it as propaganda to demoralize my fellow
prisoners. Our Code said we could only go home in the order of our capture, and
there were men who had been shot down before me. I thought about it, though. I
wasn’t in great shape, and I missed everything about America. But I turned it

A lot of prisoners had it worse than I did. I’d been mistreated before, but not
as badly as others. I always liked to strut a little after I’d been roughed up
to show the other guys I was tough enough to take it. But after I turned down
their offer, they worked me over harder than they ever had before. For a long
time. And they broke me.

When they brought me back to my cell, I was hurt and ashamed, and I didn’t know
how I could face my fellow prisoners. The good man in the cell next door, my
friend, Bob Craner, saved me. Through taps on a wall he told me I had fought as
hard as I could. No man can always stand alone. And then he told me to get back
up and fight again for our country and for the men I had the honor to serve
with. Because every day they fought for me.

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 for its decency; for
its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because
it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never
the same again. I wasn’t my own man anymore. I was my country’s.

I’m not running for president because I think I’m blessed with such personal
greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need.
My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight
for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.

If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you’re
disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to
correct them. Enlist in our Armed Forces. Become a teacher. Enter the ministry.
Run for public office. Feed a hungry child. Teach an illiterate adult to read.
Comfort the afflicted. Defend the rights of the oppressed. Our country will be
the better, and you will be the happier. Because nothing brings greater
happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.

I’m going to fight for my cause every day as your president. I’m going to fight
to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank Him: that
I’m an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on earth, and with
hard work, strong faith and a little courage, great things are always within
our reach. Fight with me. Fight with me.

Fight for what’s right for our country.

Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.

Fight for our children’s future.

Fight for justice and opportunity for all.

Stand up to defend our country from its enemies.

Stand up for each other; for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America.

Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here. We’re
Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We
make history.

Thank you, and God Bless you.