Senator John McCain: An American Patriot
August 26, 2018
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When Callista and I first heard the news that Senator John McCain had died we were deeply saddened for his family. We are especially close to his daughter, Meghan, and had watched her devote endless hours in Arizona being with her dad as he fought the same terrible brain malignancy which had taken Senator Ted Kennedy. Senator McCain actually died on the ninth anniversary of Senator Kennedy passing away. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Meghan, her mother Cindy, and their entire family.
Senator McCain’s death is an appropriate time to think about this extraordinary man and his life.
I had been shaped in my view of McCain by my good friend Chuck Boyd. General Boyd had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam for nearly seven years (1966-1973) and is the only POW from the Vietnam War to achieve four star rank. He respected John McCain from the bottom of his heart. He felt that McCain had shown courage and loyalty both to America and to his fellow POWs.
By the time McCain won a House seat in 1982 he was already a significant figure. He had become close friends with the Reagans and was a remarkably effective congressional liaison for the Navy (often pushing a buildup in opposition to the Carter Administration for which he was supposedly working).
When John came to the House he was well known, energetic, enthusiastic, and very personable. Both Democrats and Republicans liked him. He was also opinionated, argumentative, and enthusiastically prepared to stand up for his beliefs.
One of my most personal encounters with John was in 1986 when I was in a very intense fight with the Democratic leadership. Two physically large House Democrats came over and said they were sick and tired of what I was doing and I ought to know there would be a pay back. One of them said “we are coming for you.” I had not realized that McCain had calmly come over to stand next to me. The second the Democrat sounded threatening, John instinctively stepped closer to me and said “when you come for Newt come for me too, the name’s McCain.” I almost had the feeling I was seeing the kind of instinctive protectiveness he had developed for fellow Americans in the Vietnamese prison camp.
McCain’s greatest passion was for defending America. He spent endless hours trying to strengthen our military and to develop and implement effective strategies for national security. When he became chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee he asked me to join a small group that included then retired General Jim Mattis to discuss strategic planning for defense.
John was always pushing the margins, looking for new ideas, and trying to find better ways to do things.
McCain was a maverick in the Republican Party, in his approach to being a Senator, and in his relationship with presidents.
Frankly, all three were good for America. We need a few more mavericks, not a few more conformists.
Senator McCain understood that the Constitution was designed to have a strong Senate which could stand up to the Executive Branch. In a series of policy fights he was prepared again and again to use his Senatorial powers to take on the bureaucracy and the president. His independence was bipartisan. He was prepared to take on President Bush, and he was prepared to take on President Obama. That is how our Constitution is supposed to work.
For 81 years John McCain loved his country, lived his life as a patriot, and accepted hardships with which few Americans have had to live.
The depth and intensity of McCain’s patriotism, his love for America, and his deep commitment to us remaining a free country are an inspiration to every American.
His is a life worth studying and praising.
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