I’m sorry to say that I’ve forgotten the fundamental differences between John McCain’s philosophy and that of Barack Obama. I could reconstruct them with a quick internet search. I took note of them during the 2008 presidential election, after which the only active observations which I retained about Senator McCain involved his graciousness in defeat. He seemed to be a true class act.
In the last year, I’ve been reminded of his demeanor as I watched Senator McCain struggle with brain cancer. I have seen that battle closer than I ever cared to do — in my mother, in my favorite curmudgeon. I don’t understand how it feels from inside the invasion, but I remember the helplessness with which I watched my mother’s body decline and her mind succumb. More recently, I recall holding my favorite curmudgeon’s hand as he drifted in and out of consciousness during the election return coverage in 2014, when I, a yellow-dog Democrat, voiced the pleasure he would have felt at the Republican victory — had he still been able to feel; if he could hear my voice; if he knew that the vote he cast just before he slipped into his last coma had been one small pebble in a torrential landslide.
But McCain — oh, how I came to admire him this year! For his grace under fire, this time — the fire of those wickedly mutating cells; the fire of his party when his downward vote saved the Affordable Care Act; the vicious, unnecessary, and petty fire of a president who knows nothing of statesmanship and less of courtesy. My admiration for John McCain’s personal and professional deportment stops me from making that internet search to remind me of the ways in which he and I differ in how we think Americans should be governed. The same admiration stays any comment about his choice of running mates in 2008.
The man put into the Oval Office in 2016 by the electoral college and not the popular vote degrades our social and political dialogue. By staggering contrast, Senator McCain elevated that discourse by every moment of his service to this country. He conducted himself with dignity, with honor, and with nobility. He served in the Armed Forces and proved himself to be an American Hero. Look: I protested the war in Vietnam as a teenager. We should not have gone to war; to any war, for that matter, at least in my view. But John McCain rose to his nation’s challenge, and acquitted himself with a rare and unsullied virtue. Say what you will when your own internet search unearths the ways in which you disagree with his politics. Disparage the government’s decision to send its men and women to serve as fodder for the ammunition of enemies with whom we should have no quarrel. But know, too, that from 1967 to 1973, John McCain suffered the atrocities of capture and came through the experience as a man who could not be broken by any subsequent grief, including cancer. What did not kill him, made him stronger, calmer, and more compassionate.
I remember the moments of the 2008 campaign when both McCain and Obama showed themselves to be honorable opponents. You’ve seen the video of him rejecting the lies about Mr. Obama from a woman in the crowd. You’ve heard the wonderfully funny roast of Mr. Obama where McCain made note of the progress we’ve made in America, from a country where a black man would not be invited to the White House to the point where one could take office there. You’ve watched his brave “thumbs down” on the Senate floor, in defiance of the Republican move to eviscerate the only true statutory protection of the people’s health care. Whether you disagree with McCain’s policies or not, I see no way that you could help but hold him in high regard.
We must daily endure the disgraceful rantings of a volatile and ignoble president. We gasped to learn that “pussy-grabbing” and disabled-reporter-mocking did not dissuade 63,000,000 from the suitability of a reality TV show host for office. But we had some glimmer of hope, knowing that Senator John McCain stood boldly, unwaveringly, and quietly in the forefront of American politics. His steadfast presence has, from time to time, comforted even this unfailingly blue Missouri girl.
Rest well, Mr. McCain. I bid you fair winds and following seas.
Sail on, sir. Sail on.