This week, the nation remembers the remarkable life and journey of John McCain. John was a colleague, partner, and ally in the Senate. He was also a friend. I join with Cindy, his family, his staff and the nation as we mourn this truly great public servant.
McCain criticized pork barrel spending before I came to the Senate and long before the tea party movement helped engineer an earmark moratorium, which is tenuous but still holds to this day. He found it unseemly that federal officials would diminish themselves and the offices they hold by lording over local officials with self-interested earmark requests. These projects weren’t about helping people but protecting the careers of politicians who were misusing their office and disrespecting the Constitution. John was right about earmarks when others weren’t paying attention.
Serving as McCain’s wingman during earmark fights was thrilling. John even produced a presidential campaign ad based on one the amendments I offered to eliminate funding for a Woodstock Museum.
In the ad, McCain says, “I wasn’t there – I’m sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event. I was tied up at the time … No one can be President of the United States that supports projects such as these.”
The ad was vintage McCain – reverent and irreverent.
The earmark fight and so many other battles illustrated John’s greatest quality – his political courage. While most politicians rationalized running away from controversy and difficult issues that could jeopardize their political careers, John did the opposite. He flew into controversies weapons hot without any regard for his own safety. Surviving years of captivity made him more courageous, not less. The prospect of early retirement from the Senate was nothing compared to what he experienced at the hands of the North Vietnamese.
Another example of McCain’s courage was his stance on health care policy. He faced withering criticism for not backing the Obamacare repeal and replace bill, but I was there when John McCain made his decision to accept the path of maximum risk and peril and reshape our health care system and it’s antiquated tax rules as a candidate for president. Had John been elected, we never would have had Obamacare and Bernie Sanders would be campaigning on a Woodstock Museum 2.0 instead of Medicare for all.
John’s relationship with President Trump will be a prominent feature in news coverage in the moment, but that moment will pass. What will endure is his relationship with his family, his friends, the Constitution, the American Idea and its Author. John wasn’t comfortable with public religiosity, but he was a man deeply devoted to principles beyond himself and he knew those principles had a source.
John McCain was a true American hero like our founders who mutually pledged to each other “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
We celebrate not just who John McCain was, but the heroes we can become in the small, often unseen, ways when we devote ourselves to a cause beyond ourselves.