An Officer And A Statesman
Like Many Of Us, John McCain Wasn’t A Perfect Man But He Was A Perfect American
By Raoul Dennis and Robert Bernstein
Simply put, John McCain represented the best of America.
That is to say McCain was perfectly imperfect but striving to be better all the time. He believed in his convictions – and fought for them – but never shied away from recognizing when his convictions needed re-evaluating. As much as he was the warrior who refused to leave the field of battle with fellow prisoners under the umbrella of privilege, he was also the moral compass of a U.S. Congress at a time of vicious division and tribalism.
He believed in self-sacrifice, service and putting country before himself. McCain put those beliefs into real practice for 60 years.
“John McCain was truly an American, through and through,” says Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable President & CEO Jim Estepp, Sr. “He represented every aspect of what service before self means. He also sacrificed much and showed incredible courage during his military service and imprisonment by the North Vietnamese. We will miss his tenacity and independence.”
Webster’s defines an officer as “one who holds a position of authority or command.” It describes a statesman as “one versed in the principles or art of government; especially: one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government or in shaping its policies.”
John McCain embodied this and more.
All this came about as a result of the former senator’s family origins. John S. McCain, the III, was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936. McCain's father and grandfather were both four-star Admirals and they both served in WWII. John S. McCain, the senator’s grandfather, was in charge of all aircraft carrier activity in the Pacific theater. His father, John S. McCain II, served as a submariner during that war.
But young McCain didn’t initially show the same promise as neither his academic nor athletic abilities put him on track. But his courage, grace and strength in handling his imprisonment in Viet Nam distinguished McCain as an officer of high character. A seminal moment included the five years he spent in a Hanoi's Hỏa Lò Prison more commonly referred to as the "Hanoi Hilton." Ultimately, due to his treatment, McCain spent the rest of his life unable to move his right arm in a full range of motion.
Although his career military aspirations weren’t reached, McCain attained much of that same commanding respect from his political colleagues and constituents by the end of his career. His essential belief in the American system of government superseded his own personal views so that even when he could have sat comfortably on his own side of the political aisle, he reached across to the other side to find compromise. He often worked closely with Democrats on legislation (Kennedy on healthcare and Feingold on campaign finance reform).
He had his traditional views, too. McCain stood as very conventional member of the GOP, even right wing in some of his positions - gay rights, abortion and tax policy. He stood against the establishment of the King Holiday and the removal of Confederate statues. But he was willing to accept the political process and the progress of American culture. He accepted change.
America was better with men like John McCain because he was a true officer and statesman. In one of the most poignant moments of his political career -- and in modern presidential campaign history – the senator stood on principal rather than politics in 2008, when he reminded a supporter at a town hall event that his opponent, Barack Obama, was not an Arab.
It was one of those moments in which the senator defined his own Americanism by confirming that of someone else’s - even someone with whom he disagreed.
History will remember men and women like John McCain as members of an important chapter of America and the vitality of democracy. We can only hope that it inspires the spark of continued freedom and not just the memory of it.