John McCain III: Lessons from the Maverick


On Saturday, the United States lost one of its most prominent statesmen and a party Maverick. Much will be written of John McCain over the next few weeks. Whether it be about his service in the US Military awarding him the Purple Heart and Silver Star, standing up to the Trump administration, or his courageous final battle with Cancer that ended just days before his 82nd birthday.

Whatever your politics, McCain’s dedication, by serving his country for over 60 years, demonstrates the true love he maintained for the United States throughout his life and, the principles of liberty that it embodies.

When McCain was captured during the Vietnam War, he was offered early release after the North Vietnamese discovered that his Father, John McCain II, was the Commander-in-Chief of the US in the Pacific and in charge of the operation in Vietnam. McCain refused early release, instead opting to remain a Prisoner of War with fellow Americans who would not have been freed. As a result, McCain was tortured. In 1973 McCain was released, but was left with lifelong injuries.

It was only 10 years later that McCain joined the House of Representatives for Arizona’s 1st District, and in 1987 he became the Senator for the same state. Few politicians will be remembered for their contributions in the chamber. Across the globe, there are only a handful of true parliamentarians. McCain’s name now lies firmly among them. Lyndon Johnson, Joe Biden and John McCain are truly worthy of the title ‘Master of the Senate’.  Their contributions have been measured and considered, while they may not have spoken often, their word carried immense weight. Their contributions were not partisan, but parliamentary; focused on bringing the country together, not forcing it apart. All three recognised the nature of the United States, that each state is individual but they are stronger together. It was a lifetime defined by service. During his time in the Senate, He chaired the Commerce Committee, Indian Affairs Committee, and the Armed Services Committee, a post he held until his death.

While that may seem like a slapdash obituary for a man who served his country with distinction, this article is not to eulogise McCain.

McCain will always embody what politics is, or rather, what it should be. At a time when politics seems so toxic and partisan, voices such as McCain’s will be missed. Although he was a staunch Republican, McCain was not defined by his party, in fact he was nicknamed the Maverick of the party. Instead, John McCain was defined by his values of Country, Family and Religion.

The politics of Trump, Corbyn, the condensation of politics into 280 Character soundbites has led to politics becoming increasingly personalised, with parties rarely able to respect others across the aisle, McCain was the exception to that rule. Since his announcement on Friday that he would be stopping treatment, colleagues from all political sides praised McCain for his work, his values and his love of country. It is hard to imagine the same being said by Democrats of the current Republican leadership.

During the 2008 Presidential Election, some Republicans hit out at McCain for his unwillingness to attack Obama personally. McCain chose to instead praise his Senate colleague after one of his supporters called Obama an ‘Arab’. McCain said that ‘He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what the campaign’s all about.’ McCain based his politics on respect for country and his opponents. He never viewed the Democrats as the enemy, but as the opposition, respecting their points of view even when he disagreed.

It was McCain who, following his defeat to Obama in 2008, met with the President-Elect numerous times between the election in November and the inauguration in January to discuss foreign and defence policy, areas which Obama acknowledged that McCain’s input was vitally useful.

It is the same McCain that former Vice President, Joe Biden called a ‘friend and confidant’ when talking of his early days in the Senate when McCain was the military Senate Liaison. Both men are examples of a long passed political creed, when the love of country and the belief that the pursuit of what is best for the citizenry of a nation comes before and above any issue of party politics. One cannot help but feel that politics has long left this state of civility. Where politicians debated instead of argued; where compromise and cross-party co-operation were not dirty words.

Some choose to view patriotism now as backwards-looking, something embraced by those who want to hark back to the age of empires, colonialism and international powers. Instead, it is the love of the traditions and history of the nation into which you were born. McCain was the ultimate patriot. In his concession speech, he disowned divisiveness and embraced his community: ‘Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.’

Politics should be about values. Our values should inform which parties and representatives we support, not that our party informs our values. We should not be afraid to change our policy position against our party line. One of McCain’s most significant votes in the Senate was voting against the Republican attempt to appeal Obamacare, despite voting against its implementation. His was the deciding vote, halting in its tracks one of the key policies of the Trump manifesto. His resilience in view following the intense criticism from the right wing media demonstrates the strength of will and the centrality of his values.

One thing is for sure, McCain’s passing serves as a warning to all of us that are interested and involved in politics. That we are at a cliff edge, we can choose to return to the politics of civility, compassion and care for our countrymen, or we can continue into the depths of partisanship and divisiveness.

For McCain politics was not about parties, it was about country, and giving each and every citizen the best and most secure life possible. As Arizona, the Senate, the United States and the World remembers McCain, we should also strive to learn from the lessons of his life.  We can only hope that the politics of respect, co-operation and value-driven policymaking has not left us, even though McCain has.

R.I.P John McCain 1936-2018

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