True patriot fades into history’s pages

Last weekend saw one of Washington’s most prominent figures pass away. Sen. John McCain died Saturday after a difficult battle with brain cancer, fading into the pages of history, leaving the ranks of true American patriots one short.

McCain represented my home state, Arizona, for more than three decades. After two terms as a Congressman, the Republican was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1987 and became famous for being one of the few freethinkers in Washington who didn’t always bend to whichever direction the party winds blew, which earned him his “Maverick” nickname.

McCain was also known for his ability to reach across the aisle and reach a solution that Republicans and Democrats could both live with. One notable example is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that he worked on with Russ Feingold, then a U.S. senator for Wisconsin. It was the reason why, in many election ads, you hear candidates say, “I’m (insert candidate’s name), and I approve this message.”

While the act passed into law, the U.S. Supreme Court has whittled away at it over the years and made it toothless in its mission to curtail corporate funding of election advertising, but it still stands as an example of not letting party affiliation deter talks to do what is right?

McCain’s bipartisan work also included two key matters related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He and then-Sen. Joe Lieberman wrote legislation that helped to form the 9/11 Commission, and he worked with then Sen. Fritz Hollings to federalize airport security.

To me, it’s always been an important character trait to do what you believe is right and not simply support something supported by the right — or the left. McCain usually did that, and on the occasion that he made a bad decision, he owned up to it.

That’s why he would have made a great president. He tried in 2000 and again in 2008, getting the Republican nomination the second time around, but he lost to Barack Obama. I was still living in Arizona at the time and thought it would be amazing to have an Arizona representative be the leader of the free world. It wasn’t meant to be, but McCain made sure Obama knew he was watching, and he continued to be a thorn in the side of the Oval Office when Donald Trump took office.

McCain continued to be a freethinker to the end, surprising folks by being the deciding vote that killed the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. I was saddened by his decision to keep a flawed system alive, but I still respected it because he didn’t behave like a lemming and stick to the party line no matter what.

It was also an independent act that is increasingly rare in Washington. When you look at what both legislative enclaves are doing today, you consistently see Republicans on one side of an ever-expanding chasm and Democrats on the other, too busy hurling insults at each other and not spending nearly enough time building bridges. McCain knew how to build bridges — and when to blow them up on occasion.

McCain died last Saturday, but even as I’m writing this days later, I’m seeing tribute after tribute come in for the man. Blake Morlock of the Tucson Sentinel said: “If there was a great thing about U.S. Sen. John McCain, it was that he was what he was, whether he — or we — liked it or not. When he tried not to be, he sucked at it. He was the worst political sell-out — just plain bad at it every time he tried — in modern U.S. history because no one had a worse poker face.”

“McCain generally shared Reagan’s full-spectrum conservatism, if not Reagan’s rootedness in conservative ideology,” wrote Robert Robb of The Arizona Republic. “But he shared Roosevelt’s independent spirit. And departed from Reagan’s full-spectrum conservatism with Roosevelt’s populist suspicion about the accumulation of economic power.”

Fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham noted that McCain “failed a lot, but he never quit.”

I think what touched me the most was McCain’s own final statement, read two days after his death. In it, the late senator said: “I lived and died a proud American. We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world.”

Will there be another John McCain in my lifetime? Someone who will fight for right and not just the right-wing? I don’t know. If there is one out there, it will likely be someone out in the real world and not currently in seclusion on Capitol Hill, someone who will emerge as a voice of change. In a world full of lemmings, we need a maverick who will stop some of us from jumping into the sea and keep things from getting too predictable.