It’s unfortunate that America’s collective mourning period for Sen. John McCain is being colored, and to some degree obscured, by the political rigmarole generated by such details as when American flags were ordered to half-mast or whether the presidenteulogistic statement was delivered in a timely manner.
Not that such details are unimportant — they are indeed important, and McCain certainly deserved more respect than he has received from the White House — but the Arizona senator and former Prisoner of War should be judged on his own merits and accomplishments, and through the eyes of his fellow Americans, not those of a tactless political rival.
On that basis, allow us to offer several reflections on McCain the man and the political leader.
He understood what “bipartisan” meant.
That might seem like Political Science 101, but today — when the great divide in politics seems greater, perhaps, than it’s been since the Civil War — such understanding is priceless. His Republican loyalties notwithstanding, McCain was able not only to work together with Democrats and Independents, but to befriend many of them.
Once upon a time, that characterized at least some circles in American politics; now it has become precious and scarce. We will miss McCain not only because his bipartisanship helped lower tensions and diminish acrimony, but because it got things done.
He was fearless.
McCain was unafraid to fly fighter jets (proof of courage in itself) and unafraid to fly combat missions over Vietnam. He admitted that he experienced considerable fear as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, but the record shows that he faced his captors bravely and never capitulated or allowed them to dehumanize him.
He was unafraid of international confrontation and war. His hawkish perspectives on foreign policy, forged during his Cold War military service, were among McCain’s most conservative traits and earned him considerable liberal opposition.
But his opponents and allies alike knew that his legacy would never be confused with appeasement or isolationism.
Ultimately, McCain feared very little in life. He never feared Saddam Hussein, al-Qaida, ISIS, Iran or Russia. He never blinked while facing George W. Bush, Barack Obama or Donald Trump. He didn’t fear being called names or being accused of political incorrectness.
McCain’s courage was political, physical and philosophical.
He loved Israel.
Supporting Israel is one thing, loving Israel quite another. McCain understood not only the importance of Israel to American interests but the inherent justness of the Zionist cause, hence his consistent and reliable stances behind Israel.
Where McCain stood apart from other Israel supporters was the fact that he couldn’t stop going there. He loved the energy, the vibe, the specialness of Israel; he loved talking about it; he wouldn’t have dreamed of ever apologizing for it.
He was an honorable man.
Admittedly, this is hard to quantify. What makes an individual “honorable” is subject to interpretation, hence inherently subjective. But most of us can probably agree that a man whose strength and bravery were leavened with tenderness and compassion; whose firm convictions coexisted with a willingness to change and admit mistakes; whose sense of honesty and fairness went so far that he would defend even his opponents when he felt it necessary; that such a man was, when all is said and done, truly honorable.
To call John McCain honorable is the highest compliment we can give; we do so willingly and with gratitude.
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