Political titan John McCain passed away August 25 from brain cancer at age 81 after fighting the illness for over a year. In a congressional and military career spanning over six decades, McCain has been at the forefront of many of the biggest issues and historical events of the modern era. A Vietnam War veteran who served 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war, he later rose through the ranks and became Navy Liaison to the US Senate before serving two terms as US Representative from Suburban Phoenix, AZ, and six terms as a US Senator from the state of Arizona. In the latter position was where he gained the most visibility, chairing the Senate Armed Services Committee in his last years and the place he used as a spring-board to mount two Presidential campaigns. In the wake of his passing, McCain was lauded and celebrated by former Presidents and high ranking officials across the partisan divides, something that is in rare supply these days and speaks to his large stature in American life.
My earliest ever political years involved a lot of bunker mentality Republicanism. When the war in Iraq was launched, there was talk of how the Iraqis would retaliate and how we needed to find a safe space in the lowest part of the house if need be. Ingrained in me at an early age was the need to fear the outside world and to detest all Democrats, something that took a very long time to be fully undone. The only things I ever knew about one Senator John McCain was that he was a top Republican who was in the media on a regular basis. He was also surprisingly not trusted amongst my Republican parents, who no doubt thought he tried pandering too much to Democrats by the standards of the talk radio people. In the 2004 election, I remember being excited watching the Democratic Primaries unfold, but promptly being told I wasn't supporting any of them because I was a Republican. I mentioned that Franklin D. Roosevelt was a Democrat, which elicited an angry response. So Bush it was, which I can't say was the worst choice against the miserable alternative of John Kerry. Lots of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity animated the radio airwaves throughout my youth, but it was Michael Savage, rhetorically and otherwise unlike any of the others, that I took to the most. Standard Republican fare ruled supreme in the interim period between the Presidential elections, with stretches where the rhetoric became more heated than usual. Leading up to the 2008 campaign, I was repeatedly told that the Avian Flu pandemic that was going worldwide would probably result in the cancellation of all elections. Pointing out the fallaciousness of all this was considered almost a high offense in my house. I needed something to get me excited, and politics at that moment in time seemed but one solid avenue.
As the election of 2008 started to fully develop, as other seemingly impressive options had their shiny exteriors de-constructed, only Senator McCain seemed to retain the qualities that made him an attractive seeming choice. Not only had I determined that Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney were unappealing choices, but I had also come to regard them as fakers on the stump. One day, I came to the determination that I would support Senator McCain's bid for the White House. At the time, I felt he was the only one who had a chance against the historic candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Sure, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani could plausibly present himself as an above the fray option(At that time, at least), but I could never get excited over him. Fred Thompson was a nice thought, but also uninspiring. To do the 'endorsement' of McCain required me to step out of my life's old brown shoe and think for myself, which earned me the early ire of one or both of my parents, who weren't McCain fans and had not raised me to think for myself. To say I felt utterly vindicated as he rose from the ashes and marched to the GOP Presidential nomination would be an under-statement. As I learned more about him, I fell more into awe over his life's story, his objectives as an aspiring President, and his over-arching vision for the country. He was the first person I ever enthusiastically supported for any office, and it was a powerful feeling to see him vault into contention for the highest office in the land.
Admittedly, I was not ecstatic, to say the very least, when he chose Sarah Palin as a running mate. In fact, there was never a moment I didn't scratch my head over that one. A clear play to the "Party Unity My @$$" crowd that had formed in the wake of Senator Barack Obama's narrow, surprise win over Hillary Clinton, the move smacked of...shall we say something less than the 'maverick' tendencies he had always played up for the media. In fact, my dream scenario involved an Electoral College split that gave the Presidency to McCain and the Vice Presidency to then-Delaware Senator Joe Biden. However, none of this shook my confidence in McCain's ability to lead the country. Even through the electorally decisive financial crisis, I found his demeanor and the general tenor of the campaign reassuring, less so Obama's, in the tumultuous time we were facing at that time. I was fully convinced that if anybody could defy the odds and win the election that year, it was McCain. Mike "George W. Bush, Mach II" Huckabee and Mitt "Bain Capital" Romney would have fared far worse, as far as I can tell. I had even thought that McCain would be the best option to bring the country together in that time of great turmoil, both domestically and overseas. That said, for as much as I knew about how he was doing in the polls in the lead up to the election, I was still taken very far aback by the ultimate result.
Nothing prepared me for McCain's ultimate landslide defeat at the hands of President-elect Obama, and the fact that I was already fearful of what was going to happen economically made it worse. I had not felt Obama was sufficiently prepared to handle such a catastrophe right off the bat, as versed in the facts and policies as he was. Even at such an early age, I was already worried about how these things would impact people who were not me. Granted, a great many of those people for whom I was looking out were the attractive women of the Fox Business channel upon whom I had rather potent crushes, which only amplified my sense of fear and dread in regards to the economic state.The 'Bunker-Mentality Republicanism' that loomed large in my household compounded matters exponentially. I was not naturally consigned to viewing things through an optimistic lens.
Still, even in the backdrop of all this, there were apparent rays of hope to be seen just over the horizon. In the 2 1/2 months between the election of Obama and the premier of Glenn Beck's Fox News program on the eve of the Inauguration, I still yet made the effort to view things in as optimistic lens as I could. There was speculation at the time that incoming President Obama might govern from a more Moderate perspective, and that was something nice to hear. My worries were briefly assuaged. McCain's conciliatory gestures in his concession speech and going forward, joined with outgoing President George W. Bush and members of his Presidential Cabinet, gave me hope that things would not be as bad as irrational actors in my life were making it all out to be. However, once I was sucked into the vortex of Beck, my willingness to give President Obama any benefit of the doubt went out the window fast. By the time the Tea Party came on the scene some months later, I was buying into a lot of the anti-Obama conspiracies budding at the time(Though, funnily enough, I seldom got into or even remotely understood 'Birtherism'), and was even creating a few elaborate ones myself.
Even journeying through the depths of the ideological extremist morass and rubbing shoulders with true blogospheric scum as I did, I somehow developed a keen eye for and respect of the qualities of morality and basic human decency. In part based upon how I would want my favourite ladies on television to be treated in...shall we say high stakes circumstances, these were decent qualities and life lessons for one to take away from such people, places, and things. You could even say that my experiences online gave me the right perspective on these matters. As I would progress in life, I would see the wisdom of this mindset. The way you show somebody that you value them is not to say a bunch of absurdities and over-blown accolades(Just to name but one example), but to actually show your appreciation in your actions. The world is already cluttered full of empty words, but solid, respectable actions are on rare display. John McCain, being the first person I enthusiastically supported for higher office, provided the perfect template for the moral decency I had come to prize. While an admittedly imperfect man, he was still the rare one who actually tried to walk the walk after talking the talk. Throughout both his family life and his public, political life, he was always trying to project the image of somebody who tried to surmount the usual muck and mire and give himself over to the more timeless aspects of human nature.
It is quite something to see how these people started out and rose through the ranks to become giants of the political arena. While most Congressmen and Senators will be forgotten long before they are gone, there are a handful who become legends in both their own time and for all time. While you can easily forget about Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Paul Ryan, history will remember for a long time the likes of John S. McCain III, Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy, and Robert C. Byrd. McCain, the son and grandson of four star admirals, rose to become Navy Liason to the US Senate and later Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Kennedy, an heir and later patriarch to a legendary political dynasty, rose to become a high ranking Senate Democrat early in his career before taking a back seat and ultimately spear-heading Education, Health Care, and Labour Force initiatives in the last decade of his life. Byrd, a former Grand Dragon for the West Virginia chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, rose to become the foremost Senate Democrat in the latter three decades of his life, serving in such positions as Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, both Senate Minority and Majority Leader, and President Pro-Tempore of the US Senate(The latter-most being within the direct chain of succession to the Presidency). In a mea culpa, he renounced his old segregationist ways and became a leading integrationist voice of the Senate. Likewise to a lesser extent with McCain, who quickly came to regret a House vote he made against the creation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. The twists and turns people take in their lives are something to behold. This mysterious mindset that dictates that one should be never-changing, almost automatonic, once we come to a strongly-held belief and values system simply beggars belief.
Unlike the "religious" right people who pridefully shove their "faith" in other peoples' faces, McCain used the old tried and true method of using his own personal example as a witness in a dark world. And oh, what a powerful witness it was! As a prisoner of war, he was the man who led his fellow prisoners in candle-lit services, with McCain speaking word-for-word from his recollection of the Episcopalian liturgies of his youth. However, it was in adopting Bangladesh-born Bridget McCain where one sees probably the best example of his faith at work. He had no foreknowledge of what was going to come his way as he was going down to pick up his wife, Cindy, from the airport after her most recent mission trip to one of Mother Teresa's orphanages. That he, without any sense before-hand, found it in himself to take this little girl in and give her the love and support she needed is as strong a testament to the man's faith as you will find. Sometimes, we will not have any knowledge of what is about to come our way. How we handle it shows who we truly are. Ironically or not, it was some of the 'vocally faithful' people("All talk, no action"--Donald J. Trump, 2015) who in both his national races spread the word about his adopted daughter, accusing McCain of having had an illicit affair. Everybody knows what was really at the heart of all this, so I don't need to get much further into this. Without taking the standard lines, I would like to pose a question. Who is in better standing in the eyes of the Lord: The one who does what he says or the one who only loudly repeats what he says?
For many years, I have had numerous regrets in regards to McCain's defeats for the White House. Mainly in regards to the 2008 race, though lately I have wondered how different things would have been had he won in 2000. Would the 9/11 terrorist attacks have still happened? Probably, but he would have served as a far less divisive, opportunistic leader for the country at that moment than the one we ultimately got. The discourse of politics would surely have still fallen, but perhaps not as far as it has here in the real world. From the last national race he ran, he showed a willingness to think outside the box and embrace ideas not commonly espoused at the time. For one thing, he was one of the only people I ever remember who either proposed or latched on to the idea of Wal-Mart clinics, making health care more affordable and available to those less fortunate. Predictably, most medical professionals backed Obama, who represented both business as usual and continued revenue for them and their friends. McCain also backed offshore oil drilling and the Iraqi troop surge when no one else would touch those issues. Had he been selected the second time out, you can bet the bungled Iraqi operation would have been more effectively prosecuted and led to a better conclusion than what we have now. For a man as respectable and valorous as John McCain to lose out on being President of the United States seemed somehow criminal, though I am now more able to process all that went down in those elections.
By 2014/2015, I was once again expressing my disdain of the empty suits who were clamouring for the White House, this time for the GOP Presidential nomination. This disdain manifested itself in my puffing up, and probably being the earliest supporter of, one Donald J. Trump, businessman and reality TV star. The 'puffery' took on zany extremes in the early going, before he actually jumped into the race. I envisioned him to be George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln combined, which is not how he turned out at all. However, I can say there was always a part of me that realized my support of him was a reaction to what I was seeing as gross ineptitude throughout the early stages of the campaign. When my mother, who was always fiercely against Trump, posed the question to me "Trump or McCain?," I briefly hedged before choosing McCain. Trump may have been, at that time in my own eyes, the best choice of the field, but McCain represented something timeless that was lacking in everybody running this go-around. All of this was placed even more in focus when Deferment Donald made his classless remarks about McCain's war service.
After the span of a month of enduring watching the candidate of my choice doing nothing but hurling insults instead of being the unifier I had hoped he would be, I decided in August, 2015, that I couldn't support Trump any further. Months later, his floating the idea of giving Muslims 'identifying symbols,' a la Jews and the Star of David in the 1930's and 1940's, sealed it for me. In the early months of 2016, as the Primaries were rapidly producing the unfortunate party nominee, McCain disappointed me by expressing his "support for the nominee of our party," even after that probable nominee had disparaged him on numerous occasions. Even radio icon Don Imus, himself a Trump supporter, was disappointed when his friend Mr. McCain would deliver his 'party nominee' rationale in response to the inevitable question. Amusingly enough, it was Mitt Romney, 2012 GOP Presidential nominee and 2008 runner-up to McCain, who was taking the most vocal stands against Trump. Romney, who had never once taken a concrete stand on any issue apart from his own self promotion, was now the 'moral voice' of the 'Never Trump' movement. All of this changed after the infamous tape of Trump boasting about grabbing women came out, and McCain, reportedly already spurred on by Trump's previous statements about the Muslim parents of a fallen soldier, rescinded his endorsement. Unlike most of the jokers who had claimed to have rescinded their support or were claiming to have not supported him in the first place, McCain never relented. He had no reason to do so.
After his shock brain cancer diagnosis in July, 2017, Senator McCain came back to Washington, DC, and let them all have it. In a speech I got to see over lunch at Burger King, he absolutely decried the rancorous atmosphere in Washington and throughout the nation, as well as the process through which the Republican-backed 'ObamaCare Shaved Repeal' was crafted. He blasted Washington's inability to get anything done, and let out a final broadside against the radio talkers and television pundits who play the victim, yet actually own most of these politicians and are all the embodiment of 'the swamp.' It was an incredible, inspiring moment. Of course, he disappointed a lot of people by voting to begin debate on the bill. Many of the Liberals who praise him now were calling him a traitor and demanding that he not pursue cancer treatments covered by ObamaCare. While I felt some apprehension and disappointment over his actions myself, I was not about to align myself with scum. Still, I felt a certain sadness throughout the day as I realized I might have to write off a political hero in the sunset of his life. With continued delays to the vote, I was not able to be awake when the deciding vote was made. In fact, I had assumed it would pass and that President Trump would get a big legislative accomplishment. Awaking the next morning, I learned to my surprise that not only had the 'shaved repeal' gone down in flames, but that McCain had been the decisive vote that took it down. His reputation was sealed for me.
So, I was walking outside a few days back, and I had wondered if we here in Northern Georgia were on McCain's flight path to Washington. He is unquestionably the only politician who ever earned my respect, and the only one who I ever trekked down to Books-A-Million in Gainesville so that I could buy their new memoir("The Restless Wave," just a few months back). Indeed, it is entirely possible that John McCain is the most significant figure in American history since George Washington, and certainly the most significant political figure in the modern era. He never denigrated people for not sharing his beliefs, only going so far as to express why he disagreed and sometimes going further and saying the person was unqualified for the offices they sought(Ted Cruz, Barack Obama, Rand Paul, and Donald Trump). He never went out of his way to be an ass to get his point across. Politics going forward in the post-McCain era looks incredibly grim. For every McCain and Joe Biden, there's hundreds of 'Info-warriors' out to pervert the truth for their own selfish gain. Where this all goes is anybody's guess, but we can rest assured, as McCain himself did, that the Lord has it all figured out.
From McCain's Farewell Address to the Country:
"I have often observed that I am the luckiest person on earth. I feel that way even now as I prepare for the end of my life. I have loved my life, all of it. I have had experiences, adventures, and friendships enough for ten satisfying lives, and I am so thankful. Like most people, I have regrets. But I would not trade a day of my life, in good or bad times, for the best day of anyone else's."
"We are 325 million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes villify 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."
"Do not despair of our present difficulties, but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history."
RIP Senator McCain