By Mary Summerbell
John McCain. I’ve always had mixed feelings about him. There are big differences between us. He was a Republican. I’m basically a Democrat. He was a naval pilot, a war hero, a military hawk. I’m a pacifist, abhorring all war. He was a world traveler and renowned public figure. I was at-home mother and private citizen. Not much obvious in common. But, looking at his life, I can’t ignore some spirit in him that resonates in me. What is it? What is it about this man that I can so admire in light of deep ideological disagreements?
First, his service. His unwavering lifetime commitment to service. Twenty-two years in the U.S. Navy. Vietnam veteran. Prisoner of war – brutally tortured for over five years. Most honorably, I think, he refused preferential treatment of early release, (based on his father’s stature as naval commander), insisting that everyone be released in proper order. Back home, in the United States, he served two terms in the House of Representatives, six terms in the Senate, and twice ran for president.
Then, there’s his personality, his individuality. A bit of a rebel, especially in his youth, he didn’t back down in the face of strong opposition – like when he voted against Republican reform of Obamacare. That took guts. He was a maverick, avoiding predictability by weighing issues and situations on individual merit, not just partisan policy. In spite of his Republican DNA, I suspect that he could identify with the underdog, and cared deeply about the dignity of all people. He admitted his imperfections and regrets, and could see the funny side of his own flaws. He was wonderfully, publicly imperfect.
But, for me, John McCain’s most outstanding characteristic was his ability to see past differences in search of common ground – to embrace even extreme diversity for a greater good. Some call it bipartisanship, but with John it applied globally – as when, in the 1990’s, he worked with Democrat, anti-war, Vietnam vet John Kerry and alleged draft dodger President Bill Clinton to normalize relations between the United States and Vietnam. Twenty years after the war John McCain went back to Vietnam, looked into the eyes and shook the hands of the people who tortured him nearly to death, offering them friendship in a supreme act of peace. Wow.
Watching news coverage of McCain’s memorials, I was surprised to find out that he chose Gary Hart and Warren Beatty to be pall bearers for his Arizona service, as they were both leaders of protest against the Vietnam War. While John was fighting in Vietnam they were in the United States fighting to stop the war. But, from different views of a very volatile issue, they obviously respected – even supported – one another. Why? Because each one was standing up for what he believed in. That’s the common ground. Each one loving our country, but with differing opinions of what was best for it. That was the unifying effect, the keystone, of John McCain’s political philosophy – even in opposition, honoring each other’s beliefs, as we all participate in something bigger than ourselves.
I believe that John McCain lived by personal, guiding principles, values and ideals. I feel that he was an honorable man because he had the inner strength and wisdom to move beyond, and rise above, his own personal pain and suffering to see a higher view of everyone. He was always striving to be better, to do better, and inspiring others to do so, also. Some say he was the “last lion” of the Senate, because his bipartisan qualities seem to have vanished with him from our political system. I feel that his legacy is much more enduring – as a very lasting example of true patriotism, not only to a country – but as a citizen of the world.