John McCain as a maverick and as an American hero as he’s being eulogized today, didn’t achieve his character on a platter of gold.
“I’ve tried to serve our country honorably. I’ve made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them. I’ve often observed that I am the luckiest person on Earth. I feel that way even now, as I prepare for the end of my life. I’ve loved my life, all of it. I’ve had experiences, adventures, friendships, enough for 10 satisfying lives, and I am so thankful. Like most people, I have regrets. But I would not trade a day of my life in good or bad times for the best day of anybody else’s.”
— John McCain
If brain cancer did any bad in killing Senator John Sidney McCain III, it did many good in offering him the rare opportunity to prepare for death and even the rarer opportunity to organize his burial — news has it that he listed those that would do the eulogy and even declared President Trump a persona non-grata for the event.
Apart from writing a Farewell Letter to the American people of which an extract was quoted above, Senator McCain after being diagnosed with glioblastoma was the central character in the HBO documentary titled: John McCain : To Whom Do The Bell Toll.
In that documentary that John Anderson of The Wall Street Journal described as “basically live action obituary,” He thanked American people for the opportunity of serving them for good sixty years — both in the military and in the legislature. He forgave his enemies and tendered apology for those he had wronged. Knowing full well that the grim reaper would soon come knocking he declaimed “I am the luckiest American!”
Dying at the ripe age of 81, Senator McCain was an ideal legislator. He spoke truth to power and even to the detriment of his Republican Party. In the Trump America, he became the country’s moral conscience.
John McCain as a maverick and as an American hero as he’s being eulogized today, didn’t achieve his character on a platter of gold. Born on August 29, 1936, at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone, to naval officer John S. McCain Jr. and Roberta (Wright) McCain, Little John knew from childhood what military life was all about and like his father and grandfather (whom he shared the same name with he entered the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. On his graduation in 1958 and the young McCain was commissioned into the United States Navy where he served as a naval aviator and flew ground-attack aircraft from aircraft carriers. He smelt the acrid smell of war during the Vietnam War. He was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese soldiers.
During those five and half years he spent as a POW in the North Vietnam, Senator McCain is remembered for his heroic act of rejecting early release. His captors had wanted to release him on discovering that his father was admiral, propaganda bait that McCain refused to give in to. “I knew that every prisoner the Vietnamese tried to break, those who had arrived before me and those who would come after me, would be taunted with the story of how an admiral’s son had gone home early, a lucky beneficiary of America’s class-conscious society,” McCain wrote in “Faith of My Fathers,” his 1999 memoir. “I knew that my release would add to the suffering of men who were already straining to keep faith with their country.”
On the political milieu, he was principle writ large. Knowing full well that politics without principle, as the immortal Gandhi wrote, was one of the seven deadly sins on earth, Senator McCain showed the stuff he was made of in the heat of 2008 Presidential campaign. It was in a town hall meeting at Lakeville South High School in Minnesota, McCain was conducting a question-and-answer forum with voters, mostly his base. At one point, a woman named Gayle Quinnell was given the microphone to ask a question.
“I gotta ask you a question,” Quinnell told McCain, who leaned in closer to hear every words of it. “I can’t trust Obama,” she told McCain, and the world. “I have read about him and he’s not… he’s not… he’s an Arab. And…” This is when McCain politely took back the microphone and started shaking his head back and forth. He did so instinctively, without a hint of political motivation or strategic forethought.
“No?” Quinnell asked, her voice trailing off. “No, ma’am,” McCain replied decisively, “he’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about,” McCain said to applause.
In another occasion, at AI Smith Dinner, Senator McCain said what is so rare in today’s electioneering: “in the military they work pretty hard to impress the chain of command on your thinking and one way or the other on the 4th of November, word will come down from the top of the chain and Senator Obama and I will both receive our orders. I don’t want it getting out of this room but my opponent is an impressive fellow in many ways.
Political opponents can have little trouble seeing the best in each other. But I had a few glimpses of this man at his best. And I admire his great skill, energy, and determination.” Had he President Trump a campaign manager, he would have taught him phrases like: crooked Hillary or failed Obama. McCain’s life, though successful was not without ups and downs. He was once mired in divorce and was denied presidency twice. He was even embroiled in the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association’s scandal, though later cleared by Senate Ethics committee. But all in all he was truly one of the luckiest Americans.
As the world mourns the passing of this great man I found the question of Dan Balz to American people so striking: “The Arizona Republican rarely wavered in the way he conducted himself and his politics, even to the end. But times change. Will anyone pick up the legacy he leaves behind?”
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Jonathan writes from University of Nigeria, Nsukka