Monday, August 27, 2018

On the Death of John McCain


When I left the Navy in 2008 and began to be a bit more...well, vocal about my politics, Senator John McCain was not my favorite person. You see, in those days, I was a Republican first, and a conservative second. Because my party was sufficiently conservative, I concerned myself largely with the business of winning....elections, policy matters, etc. Senator McCain seemed then only nominally concerned with such matters, preferring (in my view) to stake his own claim and to be the "Maverick" his supporters. Because he so often questioned his own party, he was celebrated as what I called "every Democrat's favorite Republican". This of course, lasted only until McCain became the 2008 Republican nominee, at which point he became what all Republicans are painted as, racist and unconcerned with the plight of the downtrodden. I also did not like McCain's jihad against "pork" in the budget--not because I loved pork (ok, I loved some of it) but because the institution of Congress needed ways to lubricate the system, a system that now (without pork) has ground to a halt. It always bothered me that someone with such institutional regard could not see this. Finally, there was campaign finance. McCain and I could not have been farther apart, and I am glad to see the Supreme Court came to agree with me.

I left the Navy in April of 2008 and started this (sometimes interrupted) blog in late June of that year. McCain was in the midst of a heated battle with Barack Obama, who would of course go on to win the election and cool the earth/restrain the rising waters etc. I was supportive of Senator McCain, but not overwhelmingly so. Of course I would rather have poked my eyes out than vote for Obama. I was on vacation with my (then new) family at a dude ranch in Wyoming when McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate. I thought it an inspired choice for about a month, and then realized the error of my ways.

I guess what all this rambling adds up to is that I was not a huge fan of Senator John McCain.

But John McCain? My God, I idolized the man. And I am deeply, deeply saddened by his death.

I was probably too tough on Senator McCain because of how deeply I admired John McCain. It all began in the mid-90's when I read the great Robert Timberg's "The Nightingale's Song", a book that traced the lives of a series of prominent Naval Academy graduates, including McCain. It was here that I learned about McCain--the wise cracker, the trouble maker, the average pilot, narrow escapes from death, prison and torture, return, divorce, rise, renewal. Hie thee to Amazon as soon as you can and order this book if you have not already read it. I watched him as a candidate in 2000 (where I supported Bush, quietly, on active duty) and like everyone else, was transfixed by his ease and honesty, and the way he absolutely OWNED the press. I remember watching his young family by his side on the campaign trail, obviously with no idea that I would later in life befriend one of them--Jack--whose own young life brought great joy to his father. My heart aches for my friend.

Even when I disagreed with Senator McCain--which was often--I continued to admire John McCain. I admired how dogged he was. I admired how honorable he was. I admired how funny he was. I admired how uncompromising he could be where principle was concerned, and how compromising he could be where practicality was possible. I admired his character, which shone brightest during his 2008 campaign when he defended his opponent's patriotism against early signs of ugliness in the GOP that would grow to full (im)maturity eight years later. And I admired how much he loved his family.

The last two years have been among John McCain's finest. His distance from a divisive and damaging presidency, and his willingness to criticize it and the President--even though of the same party--has served as a beacon of political bravery in an atmosphere of rampant and ruinous cowardice. As I write this, a President who publicly questioned McCain's status as a hero is hunkered down in a White House that this morning raised the flag to full mast after an announcement on McCain's death that was beneath even the miscreant in the Oval Office. The contrast in character between John McCain and Donald Trump could not be more clear, and it is my fervent hope that the solemn activities this week and the reflection they cause bring more Americans to once again value political virtues from which we have become distanced. Honesty. Clarity. Honor. Bravery.

McCain will lie in State at the Capitol on Friday. I will join him there.


BigFred said...

I am not sure I know of another Naval Officer that I admire more. I am also not sure why so many Republicans despised him with a level of vitriol I have rarely seen. I am sure that while the former commander of Hỏa Lò Prison had the time and inclination to comment on Sen. McCain's passing and the current sitting US President did not is telling.

Vaidro said...

Best post in a long while. I agree entirely. Lots to admire but, like most of us, he sometimes steered the wrong course.

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