On John McCain

A nagging disappointment for me at the death of Sen. John McCain today is I barely remember the only encounter I had with him. It was 1980 or so; I was a 24-year old reporter for a great little radio station in a competitive small market who scored some time with him at a Republican fundraiser in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

There was big money in the Berkshires and he was chasing it, even though it was a couple of years before he’d make a run for Congress.

He was a POW, a war hero, and an obvious up-and-comer on a beat that I once enjoyed covering — politics. The fact I barely remember my time talking to him reveals how bad I was at interviewing back then. He was already the sort of guy I should’ve been able to turn into memorable prose.

He more than made up for it, of course. Like everyone else, there are a flood of memories. Some good; some not so much.

He could be maddening in his ability to play “the maverick” rhetorically, before rejoining the mainstream politically.

Even if his campaign for the presidency wasn’t torpedoed by naming an absolute airhead to be next in line for the presidency — again, the maverick — he was likely going to lose in 2008, partly because he had a habit of playing to the crowd when he took to singing a Beach Boys tune while outlining a foreign policy position.

But we got something out of his electoral failure. We got one of the best political speeches in history.

That John McCain could’ve won the presidency. But that John McCain didn’t run, except for one night in Lakeville, when supporter Gayle Quinnell of Shakopee rose to declare his opponent — Barack Obama — “an Arab.”

“Say what you want about John McCain, but you’ll likely not see a politician stand against such indecency again,” I wrote earlier this year when things looked bad for the senator.

Last year, he told a TV interviewer, “When someone says ‘he’s a Muslim’ and ‘he wasn’t born in America’, you can’t let that go. You’ve just got to do what’s right. This has got to stop. We’ve got to be respectful of one another’s views.”

But that’s not the way you get elected anymore and that’s an indictment of us all. We keep getting more chances to behave like intelligent, issue-focused adults. We keep punting and buying whatever snake oil the political strategists and marketers are selling.

McCain’s death calls to mind John Greenleaf Whittier’s famous quote not so much as an assessment of McCain’s past, but of America’s future.

“For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.”

  • Lynn

    For his lifelong service and sacrifice, his peacemaking and statesmanship he deserves the medal of honor. I hope he got one for he certainly went above and beyond the call of duty.

  • Your remembrance and the ending with the Whittier quote is just. exactly. right.

  • Guest

    He was a class act.

  • Rob

    Yes, imagine how “it might have been” if McCain’s rhetorical creed as a maverick had been matched more often by maverick deeds. I’m glad he never became President, but sure wish we had more politicians with as much strength of character as McCain had.

  • Brian Simon

    The critical loss was in the 2000 primary.

    I heard of his passing at the zoo last night, where Michael Franti gave an elegant eulogy of the Senator for his integrity.

    Sadly, we don’t seem likely to see his type again.

  • AL287

    “When someone says ‘he’s a Muslim’ and ‘he wasn’t born in America’,
    you can’t let that go. You’ve just got to do what’s right. This has got
    to stop. We’ve got to be respectful of one another’s views.”

    But that’s not the way you get elected anymore and that’s an indictment of
    us all. We keep getting more chances to behave like intelligent,
    issue-focused adults. We keep punting and buying whatever snake oil the
    political strategists and marketers are selling.<<

    To be professional, ethical, empathetic and a person of great moral rectitude takes tremendous personal will and courage. John McCain had all of these and then some.

    I just hope there is another John McCain hiding somewhere in the younger generations and that they will step forward.

    We need leaders like John McCain now more than ever.

  • BJ

    He was a flawed person, like all of us are, but he did love this country. You knew that he was doing what he thought was best – even if you disagreed, even if months or years later it turned out to be a mistake, you could always respect that much.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    I read somewhere yesterday, and it escapes me where, that part of what has been said about John McCain since his death is a reflection of the current state of politics and the current occupant of the White House. I would suggest that it also reaches back to the primary race in 2000. One has to wonder what the country would be like today if he had been the Republican candidate in 2000 instead of George W. Bush. Would the attack of Sept 11, 2001 have happened? Would there have been the wars that seemingly did nothing and won’t end? Would the Tea Party have co-opted the right wing of the GOP? Would our “civil society” be more civil? Alas these are questions without answers, but certainly ones we ought to consider.

  • lindblomeagles

    He gave a phenomenal speech in 2008, and another one in passing. I am at a total loss on how we missed more of his speeches because it seems to me McCain had a true gift here.