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August 27, 2018

John McCain, RIP

The six-term Republican senator from Arizona died Saturday at age 81. His legacy is complicated.

John McCain, the six-term Republican senator from Arizona, died Saturday at age 81. He will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, the 34th person to receive that high honor. His death leaves complicated shoes to fill, though Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey will likely make an appointment favorable to the Trump administration and the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.

McCain was an enigma. He was clearly a Patriot who served his country with honor and distinction as a Navy pilot in Vietnam, as a senator, and as a presidential candidate. Politically, however, McCain was often at odds with — no, deliberately provoked, antagonized, and undermined — conservatives and relished too much his role as the Leftmedia’s darling GOP “maverick.” When you’re the only Republican the media loves (with the exception of the 2008 presidential campaign), that says a lot that isn’t good.

The Swamp is a powerfully intoxicating place, and McCain, along with too many others who spend too many years there, succumbed to it. From his “Gang of Eight” powerbrokering to campaign-finance reform (i.e., incumbent protection) to the fact that among his final Senate votes was a promise-breaking, deciding one to save ObamaCare, McCain in some ways came to define the Swamp. As a result, his feud with Donald Trump became something of a legend.

Disagreements aside, there was far more to McCain the man. He survived being shot down while on a bombing mission over Hanoi in 1967; having broken both arms and his right knee, he was captured, beaten, and stabbed, and he spent more than five years being tortured by the North Vietnamese in the “Hanoi Hilton.” Given that his father and grandfather were Navy admirals, the North Vietnamese attempted to exploit him for propaganda. They offered him early release, which he refused in order to stay with his fellow Patriots in captivity. That didn’t stop the propaganda, and McCain was still broken by his torturers, but it was a valiant move.

During his POW internment in the “Hanoi Hilton,” his faith became much deeper and more refined. Recounting one story from that horrible chapter of his life, McCain spoke about being tortured — bound and hung from a ceiling rafter — and a Vietnamese guard came and loosened his ropes. McCain did not see that guard again until Christmas day, when the prisoners were allowed out into the courtyard for a few minutes. McCain noted, “I was standing in the dirt courtyard when I saw him approach me. He walked up and stood silently next to me. Again he didn’t smile or look at me. He just stared at the ground in front of us. After a few moments had passed he rather nonchalantly used his sandaled foot to draw a cross in the dirt. We both stood wordlessly looking at the cross until, after a minute or two, he rubbed it out and walked away. I saw my good Samaritan often after the Christmas when we venerated the cross together. But he never said a word to me nor gave the slightest signal that he acknowledged my humanity.”

McCain was, at heart, an American Patriot, who spent his years in Congress as a tireless champion for Patriots in uniform. He served as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and did much good for these men and women.

In a statement McCain prepared to be read after his death, he wrote, “If only we remember that, and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country, we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.”

But we will remember him in his own words from an interview before he became ill.

Asked about bouncing right back in 2008 after his defeat by Barack Obama, McCain said: “You know, the best cure, I found, for something like that is: Get goin’. Don’t look back. It’s so mentally harmful for you to look back — ‘I shoulda, coulda, woulda.’ … The best thing to do is press on.”

And about his career, he said: “I do not know anyone alive — I’ve never heard of anyone — who is as lucky as I am. I crashed airplanes. I was a terrible disciplinary problem at the Naval Academy. I managed to avoid being killed in a fire on the [USS] Forrestal. I was shot down. I had the honor of winning the nomination for the presidency of the United States. The honor of serving in the United States Senate. And now following in the footsteps of one Barry Goldwater as chairman of the Armed Services Committee. I am exuberant and so fortunate. I’m telling you, I wake up every morning and go to bed every night saying, ‘Thank you, God.’”


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