I take you back to the early days of the GOP presidential primaries of 2000. The combatants were preparing to face Vice President Al Gore, who was yet to be known for an “Inconvenient Truth” and a righteous crusade against climate change and was struggling to find his way out of Bill Clinton’s shadow. I was watching the GOP primaries closely and found myself thinking that, for the first time in my life, I was prepared to vote Republican.
Vote Republican? Me? It didn’t seem possible. As things turned out, it never happened. The GOP nominated W, and I passionately supported Gore – even the robotic, ’00 version. But I will never forget that early in the primaries, I had actually become enamored by a GOP candidate. He was a crusty veteran whose politics leaned far to the right of mine. And yet this man brimmed with so much integrity, courage, earnestness, and patriotism that I felt compelled to pull the lever in this favor if only his party was willing to give him a chance.
Since 2000, my opinion of Al Gore has improved somewhat while my infatuation with John McCain has largely subsided. But I still have a tremendous amount of respect for McCain. I respect his courage in enlisting in the military. I respect his refusal as a POW to accept an early release unless every American POW captured before him was similarly released; in fact, I am in awe of that act of sacrifice. I respect the fact that despite years of torture at the hands of the Vietnamese, he maintained a strong will. I respect that upon his release, he mastered the art of politics. I respect that as a legislator, he became a supreme deal maker, honored by Democrats and Republicans alike.
I respect that he has come to be known for a number of causes and that he is willing to support those causes regardless of whether they are popular with the leaders of his political party. I respect that he has earned the moniker of a “Maverick” at a time when the vast majority of his fellow Senators and Congressmen come across as herd animals. I respect that he is an American first and a Republican second.
Candidate McCain must live for the rest of his life with his bizarre decision to nominate Sarah Palin to be one heartbeat away from the Oval Office. Senator McCain should also be held accountable for supporting that monstrosity of monstrosities commonly known as the Iraq War. Truly, it boggles my mind that despite all of his firsthand knowledge of the horrors of combat, Senator McCain seems so willing to get us involved in military conflict.
I could go on cite other reasons why, if given a crystal ball in 2000 before I was given a ballot, I would have enthusiastically supported Gore over McCain. But I will resist that temptation because there is another side of the equation that every American, and especially every Democrat, needs to understand. It has to do with what it means to earn respect. For his personal story, his sense of service and his integrity, this man should be a hero to all of us. If only we on the Democratic side of the aisle had leaders with the character of a John McCain, just think how different our nation would be right now.
Last Friday night I was attending services at the Hill Havurah, the one-and-only Jewish congregation on Capitol Hill. When it was time for the Mi Shebeirach, the Jewish prayer of healing, the rabbi (my daughter) asked the congregants to identify the names of individuals who are in need of healing. And when the rabbi looked at me, I said, “Evelyn Spiro [my mother] and John McCain, who I don’t know.”
I wish I did know him, but we’ve never met. If I were given that opportunity, however, I think I'd greet him with a salute. I would honor his service as a man who has soldiered on – in Vietnam, on Capitol Hill, and now, in waging a battle against one of the toughest opponents known to humankind, aggressive brain cancer. It’s fitting that this is same opponent recently stared down another lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy – another passionate patriot who deserves the respect of all Americans regardless of whether they would vote with him 90 percent of the time or 10 percent of the time.
I would like to leave you with a clip from a moment in McCain’s life that will always be a defining one. While at a rally during his 2008 Presidential campaign, a woman said to the candidate that his opponent, Barack Obama, was “an Arab.” Most candidates would have figured out a way to sidestep the comment. But not Soldier McCain. He addressed it head on. Here’s the clip. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRq6Y4NmB6U
I would like to wish Senator John McCain the best and most successful fight of his life in his effort to recover from cancer.
The Empathic Rationalist will return in mid-August.