I never met Senator John McCain but I felt like I knew him. My first vivid memory of the Senator came back when he ran for President in 2000. I remember thinking, “if this McCain guy gets the Republican nomination, I’m going to have a tough time choosing between him and Gore.” Sen. McCain was a likable centrist. Right up my alley.
My feelings on Senator McCain have evolved since 2000. I think that the 2000 race shaped his political career going forward. You will recall in the 2000 election that then candidate George W. Bush’s people were vicious in their attacks. They leaked a a story that McCain had fathered a black child as part of their smear campaign. That election forced Sen. McCain to realize that winning at politics meant getting dirty.
Notwithstanding, or maybe because of, Bush’s campaign against him, Senator McCain maintained his “maverick” and independent streak. For me, the piece of legislation I’ll remember McCain by was the McCain-Feingold Act. Yes, it was the house version that got enacted. And yes, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission nullified its impact. Regardless, the legacy of campaign finance reform will forever be linked to the 2002 bipartisan piece of legislation co-authored by Senator McCain.
Looking more broadly at his time in the Senate, Senator McCain was someone who may have disagreed with you but he was a gentleman and had his heart in the right place. He did what he thought was best for his country, which often times meant putting more soldiers in harm’s way. Liberals disagreed fervently with him. But even if his colleagues disagreed with him on one issue, like the wars abroad, Senator McCain’s door was still open to them to discuss a myriad of topics. He was always willing to work with his colleagues, regardless of political affiliation.
In 2008, Senator McCain ran for the Presidency. He seemed to have carried 2000’s campaign experience with him. He realized that he needed to do whatever it took to win. I think he acted the way he did because he truly believed that a McCain Presidency was what our country needed. However, those of us on the left will remember the 2008 McCain campaign for its introduction of Sarah Palin into our lives.
Senator McCain’s campaign tapped into racist elements in our country. It became abhorrent. However, that was not the campaign that McCain wished to run if you ask people like Steve Schmidt, McCain’s campaign manager. The public saw that regret at times from McCain’s own comments on the campaign trail. And we even saw it in a dramatized version via the film, Game Change. If you think I’m wrong about Senator McCain’s intentions, go re-watch his concession speech to President Obama. Senator McCain was gracious and laudatory of his competitor in defeat. Senator McCain respected President Obama and the election process. He respected President Obama so much that he requested that Obama give a eulogy at his funeral.
The senior Senator McCain went on to be a thorn in the sides of those on the left and right alike. He voted along party lines often but he will also be remembered for keeping Obamacare alive. That thumbs down to Sen. Mitch McConnell will forever be etched in our minds. Sen. McCain put country first.
Our last memory of Senator McCain will be his dying wishes that we overcome what President Trump stands for. He wants Americans to reclaim our great nation from Trump and his ilk. Senator McCain loved this nation. He believed in our collective ability to overcome. Senator McCain trusted us.
Moving forward, let’s do what Senator McCain asked of us. Let us earn his trust and put country before all else. You may not agree with what that meant for Senator McCain vis-a-vis policy, but you can’t disagree with his intentions. Senator McCain spent a lifetime serving his country. He expected that his colleagues and constituents would be as tethered to the idea of patriotism as he was.
I will end this with a quote that sums up my feelings about Senator McCain. Ironically, the quote is comprised of the words that Senator McCain used to describe then-nominee Barack Obama when a McCain supporter told him that she couldn’t trust Obama because she thought he was an Arab. The words he uttered were, in part, “he [was] a decent family man citizen that I just happen[ed] to have fundamental disagreements with.” Thank you Senator McCain. May you rest in peace.