There is some uncertainty as I pen this. Late this morning (Friday August 24th) the family of Senator John McCain announced he is ceasing treatment for cancer. It is inevitable that he will soon leave us and I intend to publish this soon after that preempting another article if necessary and viable. Traditionally it would be called an obituary. I would rather call it a tribute. I feel inadequate to write McCain’s obituary but I can express sincere appreciation of his service to his and my country. I’m not sure when you will read this, but I assume it will be soon.
Senator McCain (and that’s the role I know him in) and I often disagreed on policy. He was a conservative and I am a progressive. (I had to edit this to write of him in the past tense – it’s not easy.) What I never lost for him was respect!
His story starts in Viet Nam. He was shot down, taken prisoner and ended up in the Hanoi Hilton in 1967. While a 333 in the draft lottery saved me from participation in that military action I still know the Hanoi Hilton was a sarcastic nickname and far from a five star hotel. Despite enduring torture, the effects of which stayed with him to the very end and arguably may have caused the cancer to which he succumbed, he refused an early out from the POW camp. He finally returned to America in 1973 at the war’s end. His father was a high ranking Admiral and he knew the propaganda that his release would have given the enemy. In a word it showed his character. How many of you would have been able to do that? I doubt I would have had the honor and courage.
Essentially McCain spent his entire adult life in government service. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1958 and immediately went into active Navy duty where he stayed until 1981 retiring with the rank of Captain. In 1982 he was elected to the House of Representatives and in 1986 he won his seat in the Senate.
McCain was always a bit of a maverick and in fact liked to self-identify as one. A few moments in the last two decades stick out in my mind. McCain ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000 with a good shot at winning it. Karl Rove managed George W. Bush was his main opponent in that race. In the run-up to the South Carolina primary Rove pulled one of his classic dirty tricks on the voters and McCain. He ran a push poll asking voters if their opinion of McCain would change if they knew he had a black child; the implication being that it was a “love child”. In reality McCain and his wife had adopted a non-white foreign orphan. Rove took the admirable action of an admirable man and turned it into something ugly and racist. The rest, as they say is history. (Considering this was a Republican primary the result is not all that surprising.)
McCain tried for the Republican nod again in 2008 and this time was successful. On October 10, 2008 at a town hall event a women took the microphone and started spewing right wing mythology about McCain’s opponent then fellow Senator Barack Obama. McCain politely took the microphone away from her, corrected her stating that Obama was a fine man and that they just had policy disagreements. That certainly didn’t help him with his base but it was the right thing to do. Unlike so many elected officials today, McCain had courage.
In what I believe was his last vote on the Senate floor (I could be wrong on that) McCain saved Obamacare, at least for the time being. The vote was to repeal Obamacare. Trump needed 50 votes so that Vice President Mike Pence could break the tie. All 48 senators caucusing with the Democrats were solid nays. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined them. McCain walked into the well of the Senate, held his clenched right fist out, held it for a count and then turned his thumb down. While it shocked many, especially his Republican “peers”, if you listened to his speeches in the run-up to the vote it was a foregone conclusion. McCain spoke of regular order and working together. That bill was an example of the direct opposite.
McCain, the man, will go down in history as one of the giants of the Senate whether you agreed with him on policy or not. While I admire many of those currently serving in that body I cannot think any that at the moment is of his stature.
Selfishly I had hoped McCain’s Senate career had lasted a bit longer. I wanted history to repeat itself. Nixon’s end came when Republican Arizona’s senior Senator and former presidential nominee Barry Goldwater led a small delegation to the Oval Office to tell Nixon it was over. Wouldn’t it have been great to have McCain effectively tell Trump, “You’re fired!”? My alternate ending would have been McCain being the 67th and deciding vote to convict an impeached Trump in the Senate.
The essence of this experiment in representative democracy called America is to be able to disagree with someone and still respect them; I respected John McCain and respect his memory!
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