I had the good fortune of turning 18 in a presidential election year, and I was more excited to register to vote than I was to buy cigarettes and lottery tickets. I was that kid. To this day I remember standing in a massive line to vote in the 2008 Presidential Election. I asked my mother if you usually have to wait this long and she quickly replied no. John Sidney McCain III is the reason that many turned out to vote on November 4, 2008. Had John McCain run against just about anybody else, he would have received my vote. I respected him. I trusted him. I believed in him. I bought into his vision of what America was and how she should move forward. Sadly, John McCain had the misfortune of running against Barack Obama; and as Obama has done for millions, his belief in the audacity of hope spoke to me. I bought what he was selling more than what John McCain was selling. But not by much.
I was honored to be a part of history and cast my vote for Barack Obama. Looking back on it all, I would not change my vote if I got the chance to vote again, but I am left incredibly sad for John McCain. He would have made a stellar president. He deserved to be president more than the disrespectful louse who currently occupies the White House. What I remember about election night, however, other than the excitement over the historic outcome, is the candidate speeches. If you were to ask me about both speeches, I will tell you that the speech winner that night was not the man who was known throughout the world as a Kennedy-worthy orator. The winner that night was the Arizona maverick who swallowed his pain and pride and did his best to unite a divided nation.
I do not remember one word of Former President Obama’s speech, but I remember every word of McCain’s speech. John McCain lost a bitter primary to George W. Bush in 2000. He did not give up the fight for what he thought was right. He lost again in 2008 after fighting even harder than he had the first time. At a time when many other people would have lashed out or given up completely, John McCain stood on that stage and said loudly for all to hear “Barack Obama is my president and I will do my best to help him succeed.” John McCain grieved for 30 seconds, then held his head up high and continued to fight for American ideals in his way. I remember turning to my college roommate (and friend since the sixth grade) David with tears in my eyes saying that was a damn good speech. And to this day I still think it was the best speech of his career.
As the days have passed, I have cried more tears for John McCain than I thought I would. I have been slightly surprised by this and I have spent time trying to figure out why I have been so saddened by the Maverick’s passing. I have been saddened by the images of the beautifully stoic Cindy McCain and the distraught tears of Meghan McCain. Watching Meghan McCain, someone I have followed for years as the future of the republican party, brought up feelings of my grandfather’s passing and that brought the tears with it. I was heartbroken by the pictures of the 106 year old Roberta McCain being pushed in her wheelchair to the casket of the late senator – it is absolutely wrong for a parent to have to bury their child. It is not natural, not right, and not fair. I have been saddened by the images and the stories of McCain’s time at the Hanoi Hilton as a P.O.W. as well. After spending several days thinking it was a combination of these things making me sad, I had a realization last night as I lay in bed.
None of those things I had thought are what brought my sadness. What brought my sadness was what McCain’s death truly represented. On August 25, 2018, John Sidney McCain III died and he took a piece of America that she desperately needed. With the death of John McCain we saw the death of decency in American politics; and although I grieve for John McCain, I grieve for the last bastion of decency in our political system. Everything I respect about John McCain has to do not with politics, but the fact that John McCain was a decent human being who loved his country and loved fighting for what he thought was best for his county. Everything I respect about John McCain is gone because there is not another like John McCain in our political system right now.
John McCain got the nickname Maverick because he did not always follow the party line. John McCain voted against repealing Obamacare last year because it was not in the best interest of the nation (and received a phone call of appreciation from former President Obama). John McCain in his long political career only once put getting votes ahead of the right thing and he immediately regretted it. He had this to say about the confederate flag flying over the state capital here in South Carolina:
“I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth. And I would like to apologize to South Carolinians and to Americans everywhere who believe racism has no place in our American values.”
John McCain refused to go negative during the 2000 presidential campaign. When operatives of the Bush campaign were saying terrible things about McCain’s wife Cindy who openly admitted to struggling with prescription drug abuse, and his adopted daughter Brigette (who was originally born in Bangladesh), McCain refused to go negative. Even when told these rumors would cost him the nomination from the Republican party John McCain refused to bend the knee. He knew the party was better than that. He knew America was better than that. And when he lost that campaign he was able to sleep at night and hold his head high. And America is better for it. And we are worse off because we didn’t believe in it at the time.
My personal favorite moment from McCain’s distinguished lifetime of public service is the fact that when meeting with a woman in his own state while running for president took an opportunity to defend his political opponent Barack Obama. When that women called Barack Obama an Arab Muslim, John McCain took that time to stop her and tell her that was not true. He called Barack Obama a good man. A decent man. A family man. How many other politicians did that while running for the presidency from the republican party? Ted Cruz certainly did not. Marco Rubio certainly did not. Ben Carson did not. Chris Christie did not. Jeb Bush did not. and we all know good and well that Donald J. Trump sure as hell did not. When John McCain defended his opponent that day, he did more to cement his maverick’s mark on this nation than any other day. That is the day this self-proclaimed liberal democrat elevated John McCain to a pedestal above almost all other politicians. That is the day that I knew John McCain was something special. And that is the day that I know that John McCain was a politician that this nation did not deserve.
On a more cynical note, I am saddened by the death of this maverick giant because I sadly believe the death of John McCain is going to be the beginning of the death of the republican party as we know it. And that is when my sadness turns to anger. I love this nation and I know that my democrats do not have all the answers. That is why I believe so firmly in the two-party system. I believe firmly in compromise. So did John McCain. But the republican party has rejected compromise. They have rejected decency. They have rejected niceties and instead they embraced a cancer on our political system who would and should be a pariah of politics if we lived in an America that was made by McCain.
John McCain served this nation with honor in the Navy and was a P.O.W. during a war that our current leader evaded with a “diagnosis” of bone spurs. John McCain refused to be released early when given the chance because there were P.O.W.s who had been imprisoned longer than he had. IF I had been given the chance of early freedom I would have sung like a canary and god knows our current leader would have (before finding a cheesy way to write a book about the “art of the P.O.W. release deal”). When given the chance to let his supporters demean and insult his Opponent, John McCain went high and defended their integrity. Our current leader not only took time time to demean and insult his opponent he advocated violence in his name on the behalf of his trucker hat wearing supporters who still don’t see that America was and is already great. When given the chance to lie and steal and defraud the American people John McCain would have none of it.
After thinking about all of those things, my anger turns back to sadness. John Sidney McCain should have been president over the monstrosity that we currently have in the oval office. That is why I am sad. That is why I cry. But then the crying stops. Because I think about John McCain and his last statement that was released by his widow Cindy and his daughter Meghan after his death. In that letter McCain wrote
We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have acquired great wealth and power in the process. …
Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.
Farewell, fellow Americans. God bless you, and God bless America.
I weep as I read that letter every time. But they are tears of joy. John McCain knew all too well that myself and many Americans are saddened and are full of despair at our present difficulties. But John McCain does not despair in America and he never has. John Sidney McCain III believed in America in life and he still believes in America in death. And because I believed in and still believe in John Sidney McCain III I still believe in America – and I hope you do to.
Farewell John. On behalf of a grateful American, please know we are a better people, a better nation, and a better world because of you. God Bless you and your family. And may God bless the United States of America that you fought for. May we live up to your vision of her. Always.