For the past few days, the news cycle has been completely dominated by the news of Senator John McCain’s death from brain cancer at the age of 81. There is nothing I can say here about the man that you have not already heard. However, I feel compelled to give my own thoughts about a man I greatly admired.
McCain died from the same brain cancer that killed my father. They both dealt with their disease and pending death with grace and courage. McCain faced death head-on, like he did most of the challenges in his life.
I did not always agree with McCain’s politics. He was a maverick dating back to his youth and days at the Naval Academy. I liked that about him. I liked that he challenged his own party, made friends across the aisle and put his country above himself.
For six terms, McCain represented Arizona in the United States Senate, replacing another icon of his day, Barry Goldwater. He rose to the very top of that body and adhered to his belief that part of the job of Congress was to hold the President accountable regardless of party.
It says a lot about the man that McCain chose the two men who defeated him in his own races for the Presidency, Presidents Bush and Obama, to give his eulogy. He held no grudges and admired their service despite their significant differences in policy.
In his final statement, McCain said that he was the luckiest person on earth. These comments from a man who was imprisoned and tortured for five and a half years. He later worked to restore normal relations with the very country that treated him so poorly. Forgiveness liberated John McCain, a lesson from which we could all learn.
It is sad that we live in a time when working across the aisle is a sign of weakness. It is sad that the American flag was not lowered over the White House to honor this man for his 60 years of service.
It was particularly sad that I received a forwarded email link from a man I know and admire. The link took me to an article that called John McCain a traitor, a liar, and a scumbag. It made me sick to my stomach and made my heart ache for my country. Have we reached a point that only the worst can be said of a political opponent, even before they are buried? Is there no common decency left in our political discourse?
John McCain answered the questions above in his last letter when he wrote “We are three hundred and twenty five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.”
That is what I most admired about John McCain, his sense of self and his place in the effort for a greater good. He had a code of honor that over the years bestowed upon him a mantle of leadership. He was more popular personally than his own policies.
McCain’s last message was one of hope for all Americans, regardless of their political leanings. He told us “Do not despair of our present difficulties, but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, but nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.”
Those are not the words of a maverick, they are the words of a lion. Rest in peace, John McCain.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org