The loss of Arizona Senator John McCain is a significant one for both the United States Senate, where his brand of politics is needed more than ever, and for the entire electorate where “straight talk” and civility in disagreements is quickly eroding in today’s political tribalism.
Senator McCain’s story will forever be among the great epics of American life. All came to honor him because of his heroic actions in military service but they appreciated and respected him because he was fearlessly himself. Beyond his well-documented sense of humor, you could always count on him to be his own man – to stand up for and do what he thought was right, no matter the consequence. His gaze was always a bit higher and farther than politics and news cycles.
McCain is one of the greatest political figures of our history and he routinely defied conventional “wisdom” in favor of reason, intuition, and integrity.
It was that independence which catapulted McCain to national prominence and led to unlikely creations like “The Three Amigos”, comprised of him, then-Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who spent years in a pivotal role guiding America’s foreign policy in the world’s greatest deliberative body.
McCain was the driving force behind that trio and it wasn’t just good for policy or for esoteric politics in Washington, their relationship embodied the kind of statesmanship the Senate required during some uncertain and tumultuous eras. It was an infectious kind of hustle that inspired fellow senators, their staffs, reporters and countless citizens who looked to McCain as America’s eldest and most respected statesman.
In a town as vicious as Washington, McCain will always be remembered for his relentless and decades-long commitment to public service. His loss marks a comforting but increasingly unfamiliar moment of togetherness and causes us to revisit the tremendous value of some of his best qualities –rare ones like taking responsibility for our mistakes and moving boldly to ensure they’re not only corrected but never happen again.
He showed us that we can learn from those mistakes and make things right as long as we never lose sight of the most important matters: love of country, service to others, principled decision making, straight talk, and civility.
But there is another defining characteristic of McCain’s life: gratitude.
He never missed an opportunity to level with people and convey just how thankful he was to live his life and to serve the nation. It seemed as though he was both conveying a deep understanding of the honor and great responsibility his office holds and apologizing for his sometimes abrasive and temper-filled moments. It was always honest, always forthright and never sugarcoated.
And that’s why Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s effort to rename the Russell Senate Office Building is a fitting tribute to a man Sen. Graham described as “the conscience of the Senate.” The building bearing his name will mark a new era and signal Members of Congress, the media and citizens alike refocus on the intensity and civility of political debates, to never shy from just battles, and always conduct ourselves with honor and integrity, leaving no room for those without it.
More than supporting the renaming effort, publicly conveying our gratitude for his service, or praying for his family and friends – which we will of course do – perhaps the best way to continuously honor one of the greatest senators in history is to seek greater avenues for us to serve. However small or seemingly insignificant to the storied career of Senator McCain, we should seek to serve the higher callings for our country. And if we are chosen to lead, then let us lead with heart, stay above the proverbial fray, have faith in our allies and opponents alike, and have the courage to never waver on principles.
These are the things John McCain left us. And as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said so eloquently during in his tribute to “The Maverick” on the Senate floor, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ Well done. You fought the good fight. You finished the race. You kept the faith. You never gave up the ship.”
Thank you, Senator McCain.