The Last of the Mavericks: John McCain's legacy will be honor and dignity, and that's what we need most right now
The Arizona Senator was a rare breed of politicians who refused to tow party lines in search for solutions that would lead to betterment of the American people
In July 2017, John McCain was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma, following which he began playing a reduced role in the Senate. However, the prognosis was dire, and the 81-year-old Republican stalwart was not given much longer to live. On Friday, his family announced in a statement that they have taken a decision to discontinue the medical treatment, signaling that the time of one of the generation's most respected politicians was coming to a close.
A day later, McCain's death was announced in a touching tribute by his daughter Meghan McCain.
The Arizona Senator was a rare breed of politicians in the sense that he extolled the virtues of bipartisanship, refusing to tow party lines in his search for solutions that would lead to the betterment of the American people. This ambivalence and unpredictability would result in the media christening him as a 'maverick,' a moniker that he embraced and rejected in equal measure depending on whether it suited the situation.
On July 28, 2017, as the country watched on with bated breath as to whether the Republicans could muster up the majority to gut the Affordable Care Act, McCain demonstrated why that 'Maverick' tag had proven so difficult to shake off. With the passing of the legislation all but certain, McCain would give a dramatic thumbs down with his decisive vote, effectively stalling his own party's attempts to repeal the controversial 'Obamacare.'
The vote came only a few days after the revelation that McCain was suffering from the highly fatal glioblastoma, resulting in scathing attacks hinting at what some perceived as the Senator's ulterior motive to 'go out with a bang.' But keeping in line with a trait he displayed throughout his career, McCain refused to engage the nonsensical claims, standing firm on an issue he had previously been vocal about on numerous occasions.
I love my husband with all of my heart. God bless everyone who has cared for my husband along this journey. pic.twitter.com/v27sEbboii— Cindy McCain (@cindymccain) August 24, 2018
The 81-year-old was also uninhibited in his criticism of Donald Trump who, while being the leader of the free world, is also effectively the president of his own party as well. While the rest of the Republicans have gone out of their way to defend some of Trump's more puzzling behavior, McCain decided he had had enough after the emergence of the controversial tape in the lead up to the November 2016 elections where the billionaire mogul could be heard saying he "grabs women by the p****." He withdrew his endorsement and has since been one of the leading voices against Trump from within the party.
However, it would be unfair to remember his legacy as a 'maverick' in terms of just how he went against the grain when it came to party issues. McCain was equally key to working with fellow Senators in Blue to make significant legislative contributions.
For one, his work in the Senate Armed Services Committee — he became its chairman in 2015 — and defense policy will prove critical as the country moves forward into the third decade of the 21st century. He oversaw reformation of the Defense Department's weapons-acquisition process to curb waste, grilled Pentagon officials on policy and strategy and made it abundantly clear that he would not tolerate anti-war protestors even as he argued for the US to intervene militarily in the Syrian Civil War.
McCain was also an outspoken advocate of comprehensive immigration reform, which would involve legalization, guest worker programs, and border enforcement components. But his attempts at immigration reform proved less successful though they were still noteworthy. He saw the Senate passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, only to later witness it fail in the House.
In 2013, he was a member of the "Gang of Eight" which announced principles for another try at comprehensive immigration reform. The resulting Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 passed the Senate by a 68–32 margin, only for the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to refuse to even consider it.
But what most citizens will remember about him are his two failed presidential runs in 2000 and 2008. McCain ran his 2000 presidential bid on a reform platform, and the story of how he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam was elevated into national consciousness. He had followed his father and grandfather — both four-star admirals — into the US Navy and became a naval aviator who flew ground-attack aircraft during the war. After his capture, he was tortured but refused an early repatriation offer because the military code of conduct demanded that POWs only be released in the order that they were captured.
While the story made for a good reading, few expected him to pose any sort of a challenge to the party's prodigal son George W. Bush. However, a surprise upset of the then-Texas Governor in the New Hampshire primary meant that he was now a serious candidate. But an extensive smear campaign against him and his family saw the campaign falter in Michigan and Arizona, and he had little choice but to concede. McCain's relationship with Bush would remain frosty in those eight years, with the 81-year-old famously opposing the President's tax cuts in both 2001 and 2003.
His time would come again in 2008 and, this time, he would be the party's favored candidate. He beat out the likes of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former New York mayor and now Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to claim the ticket. He roped in Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate in the hope that she would appeal to the conservative base he had managed to irk with his 'amnesty' immigration stance and ran on a 'Country First' slogan.
He would proclaim the need for a tight budget and a victory in the Iraq War, famously stating that he would "rather lose a campaign than lose a war." He then met his match in Democratic candidate Barack Obama. The Illinois senator was charismatic, charming, and had caught the attention of the nation with his impeccable oration. It also didn't help that voters still intrinsically linked McCain to a Bush administration that had embroiled the country in another catastrophic war and had tanked the economy beyond measure.
McCain's refusal to attack Obama did little to help his case either. The final nail in the coffin would have been the voter base's perception that he was defending the Democratic nominee. In a now infamous incident, he corrected a woman at a town hall meeting who said she couldn't trust Obama because he was an 'Arab.' "No, ma'am. 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 responded.
Compare that to Trump's campaign where he nicknamed his opponent as "Crooked Hillary" and called for his supporters to chant "lock her up," and the difference is night and day. McCain's campaign, as it turned out, was, unfortunately, doomed to fail from the start, and it was arguably once again because of his 'maverick' nature. Had he run a smear campaign on Obama, the results may very well have been different.
This honorable campaigning was a testament to his character, as noted by Florida Senator Marco Rubio. "In the process of running in the 2008 election, there were multiple moments in that campaign where you saw him elevate above the moment and refuse to go in a direction that perhaps some wanted him to go," Rubio said.
McCain was willing to do what was necessary to get the job done, but not if it meant abandoning the principles he had held dear since entering the cutthroat political arena four decades ago.
As America bids goodbye to one of its most decorated and honorable politicians, it can do so comfortable in the knowledge that his legacy will forever remain intact and continue influence public life in the country.