John McCain was often the best of the Republican Party, but he was also complicit in its faults.
He was everything you could want in the way of military tradition, one that went back generations in his family. He spent most of his life living his principals rather than chasing the weathervane of politics. His ‘maverick’ nature nearly carried him to a Presidential nomination in 2000, and it earned my very young vote.
Alas, that election seemed to have broken him, to a degree. When he took his shot in 2008, he was little more than a marionette, dancing the jig of the party. He was the first, largest national figure to cave to the ‘common folks’ idiocy of the Tea Party by putting perhaps the least qualified person in the history of the Vice Presidency far too close to the Oval Office.
Near the end, he stood up to a President who represents every worst instinct of our nation. He put his governmental faith in the structure and standard of our Republic. I have to reconcile that with my growth as a person, as I have come to more fully understand that even ‘honestly held’ ‘conservative’ beliefs1 have, at their root, the elements of racial and classist animus. He was often unable to see past the broad and deep lake of privilege that his life floated in. Still, he was perhaps as close to a respectable Republican politician as one can be.2 Even as he cast votes that hurt Americans- votes that too often had him siding with powerful interests in our country- his faults made him human.
It is important, I think, to acknowledge that we are all flawed in one way or another. The burden of expectation and responsibility is far, far more onerous for our leaders. Senator McCain is not an exception in this regard, but he does prove the rule. He showed courage many times throughout his life, and he was at his best when things seemed their worst. For that, I am both thankful and proud. Being a leader doesn’t mean always being right… It is understanding that leadership isn’t power so much as it is service.
The moment I will always keep with me is from a town hall during his 2008 Presidential campaign. It is quintessential to understanding the dichotomy of his life in politics. His party3 was deeply complicit in portraying then-Senator Obama as ‘different’ and ‘other’: Black and Muslim, knowing that a too-large part of the Republican base thinks those things are not just bad, but un-American. He stood in front of that crowd, defending Senator Obama to the point that he was booed at his own event. I want that to be the true John McCain- a man who could make a mistake, but when push came to shove, did what was hard rather than what was merely popular.
What I learn from his life as this country moves forward is the hope that we can all aspire to be better than our mistakes. As a nation, we have many lessons we can learn from Senator McCain in his passing. The idea that we can disagree without one side being ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘un-American’. That there can be a single set of facts that govern us. That both principals and country are more important than party. Lastly, that it is NEVER too late to do a right thing.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.