Most Americans remember when presidential candidate John McCain, conducting a town hall meeting in Minnesota in 2008, graciously but firmly rebuffed a woman in the audience who said she couldn’t trust Barack Obama because he was an “Arab.”
As he removed the microphone from her hand, the senator said, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about. He’s not [an Arab].”
Spoken like another decent family man, doing the right thing, despite angry emotions and a chorus of booing from the partisan gathering.
A little later, someone in the same crowd implored Senator McCain to wage “a real fight” against his opponent. To which he replied, “We want to fight, and I will fight. But I will be respectful. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments, and I will respect him.”
Boos again. Only louder this time. But John McCain never wavered or changed his position to oblige the less civil.
I didn’t vote for Mr. McCain in 2008, and I probably wouldn’t vote for him today, but his words that day, and the indelible image of him facing a hostile crowd without backing down from his principles (rare, if not unheard of in today’s unscrupulous political climate), earned my respect. And it concretized my image of him as a gentleman, a rational Republican party leader with honor and integrity, a plain-speaking patriot, and a great American.
When I heard over the weekend that the senator had died from an aggressive form of brain cancer, I was saddened. Because I had come to think of John McCain as being one of the only Republicans in Washington who was not afraid to speak the truth when it comes to the abhorrent conduct and disgraceful presidency of Donald Trump.
I’m sure Senator McCain’s moral resolve came in part from his experience as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, after his Navy Skyhawk dive bomber was shot out of the sky over Hanoi. He broke his right leg and both arms in the crash, and endured horrific treatment for 5 1/2 years, including prolonged stretches of torture and solitary confinement. Yet he survived that nightmare only to return to America and serve his country again as a senator from 1987 until just a few days ago.
With the profound sacrifices he has made for his country, Captain John McCain had every right to seethe when Draft Dodger Don (who received four military deferments between 1964 and 1968) said of his Vietnam service in 2015, “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren’t captured.”
But Mr. McCain didn’t slash back or become enraged even then, as far as we know. Many Democrats and Republicans defended his record and unassailable heroism, but Mr. McCain kept silent. He left The Lyin’ King to boil in his own hot water.
With Senator McCain’s funeral just days away, it remains to be seen who, in his absence, will take on the Orange Accident as fearlessly and relentlessly.
I’m rooting for someone with the war hero statesman’s integrity and true love of country to face down the odious Donald Trump, along with his cluster of crooked accomplices, with the indefatigable energy and respectful bearing for which I, and most Americans, have come to greatly admire Senator McCain.
And so I have just two words for him in his passing: “Thank you.”