“Duty, honor, country” is the motto of West Point, and a motto Annapolis graduate John McCain lived his life by. No other contemporary politician seems to rank with him on that score. The Washington Post calls his legacy: “A sense of honor that has become rare in a polarized Washington.” A state of affairs that our founding fathers would have found repugnant.
Applying the concept of honor to politicians may seem quaint or at least unrealistic. One can’t be a successful politician without a certain elasticity in one’s honor. John McCain showed some stretch in winning his last Senatorial race, emphasizing border security a la Trump and even denying his traditional image of being a maverick. He held his many criticisms of Trump in check, too. It would have been hard to win if Trump thoroughly trashed him.
You can’t serve the people in politics if you can’t get elected. On the others hand, you can’t serve the people well if you have no sense of honor. Given that caveat, Senator McCain acted repeatedly throughout his career to put his country foremost before his party or himself. No one was better at working across the aisle. And usually he would stand up for what he thought was right, no matter what the political pressure.
For example, it was his vote that sunk the attempt to repeal Obamacare in the Senate given with a dramatic thumb’s down gesture in the middle of the night. Ironically, McCain “hated” Obamacare, but he didn’t agree with the helter-skelter way changes were being made, so in the end his “no” vote kept the program alive. And angered many Republicans.
You have probably seen or heard of the town meeting McCain attended when battling Obama for the 2008 presidency. A woman in the crowd said she couldn’t trust Obama because he was an Arab. McCain gently chided her with the fact, no he wasn’t. That he was a good family man and patriot. McCain didn’t dislike the man. He disliked his political positions.
I suggest that confrontation is often mentioned because really, it was honor’s last stand in the Republican party. Ever since Republican politicians have played a zero sum game, honor be damned. Anything bad about an opponent was fine, even when an obvious lie, such as Trump’s pushing the birther theory while Republican politicians remained mum. Polls showed a lot of Republicans believed the theory. The same could said of the talk of Obama being a Muslim, to which Republicans would often say something like, well he says he isn’t.
A far cry from McCain setting that woman straight and a short step from making Trump’s lying largely OK.
I would say John McCain will be remembered as the last great Republican if for no other reason, the Republican party is no more. It is the party of Trump and after his political demise I’m baffled by what shape it will take. Perhaps it will break up into pieces once the cult of Trump loses steam.
I believe John McCain exemplified the best of Republican values and it seems hugely significant that in helping to make his own funeral plans, McCain made it clear Trump was not invited. Can there be a sharper dismissal?
In contrast, he requested G. W. Bush and Barack Obama give eulogies. What a fitting end for the Senator, a closing act to unify the country, the two men who beat him for the presidency being asked to speak. And at the same time giving a definitive thumb’s down to the divider-in-chief, the usurper of the Republican banner, a man who knows no honor.