McCain booed in Memphis -- but outlasts it

John McCain went to Memphis to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. He didn’t exactly get the warmest of receptions, but given his opposition to the federal holiday in King’s honor, understandable. McCain didn’t let that stop him, and in the end, he brings his audience around:

Saying “we are still left with a feeling of loss,” Sen. John McCain paid tribute today to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on the 40th anniversary of King’s death.

Most notably, McCain acknowledged that he was wrong to oppose creating a federal holiday in honor of the slain civil rights leader.

“We can be slow as well to give greatness its due, a mistake I made myself long ago when I voted against a federal holiday in memory of Dr. King,” McCain said. “I was wrong and eventually realized that, in time to give full support for a state holiday in Arizona. We can all be a little late sometimes in doing the right thing, and Dr. King understood this about his fellow Americans. But he knew as well that in the long term, confidence in the reasonability and good heart of America is always well placed.”

I have long argued that Republicans need to reach out to African-American voters, and that skipping the Tavis Smiley debate last September was a big mistake. McCain has decided to make the effort now, and got a predictable and understandable reaction. McCain obviously expected it, too, as he just waited out the reaction before explaining how he changed his mind on the issue and helped push for the adoption of a state holiday in Arizona afterwards.

This is smart politics, and it’s long overdue from Republicans. McCain may not win a lot of votes in Memphis as a result of this stop — I’d guess that he won’t win any at all — but at some point, the GOP has to pay some dues. McCain did that today, facing the feedback and eventually turning the boos into applause and a little bit of respect. Starting a dialogue isn’t easy and it doesn’t make for great sound bites, but it helps to lance a boil in politics that the Republicans have pretended doesn’t exist for too long.

It’s a first step — and long overdue.

Update (AP): Agreed, although I don’t for a moment believe that this will lead to any dialogue. It’s a good show by McCain; what’s right is right, whether it leads to extra votes or not.