Listen Up! John McCain was a politician to admire and to emulate



“I didn’t share all his views but I whole heartedly admired his dedication to public service, his courage and his willingness to take a stand. We can all learn from his example.”

                                                                                                 Bob Rae – Former Premier of Ontario

Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

Today, I cannot get past thinking about John McCain. In my lifetime, I have met a bunch of Prime Ministers and a couple of American Presidents, but I never met him, and I am poorer for it.

John McCain epitomized what many people believe to be important qualities of a politician which unfortunately, we see in far too few of them. First and foremost, he was a man of great courage; courage on the battlefield, courage as a prisoner of war and courage as a United States Senator.  He stood up for what he believed in. He was always his own person and he did not let partisan politics stand in the way of his principles or his integrity. He did not mind being called a maverick.

It is hard to imagine McCain’s life as a prisoner of war in Viet Nam for five and a half years. It must have been pure Hell. We know it included torture and so many broken bones that he was never again able to lift his arms above his head. Not only did he endure his incarceration, he prolonged it. Prisoners were released in order of their capture, but John McCain was given an opportunity to jump the queue because his father was an Admiral. “I didn’t think it was the right thing to do”, he said. And so, he stayed. One of the most shameful quotes from President Trump, when asked to comment on McCain’s heroism was, “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Years later, when McCain was campaigning in his first attempt to become President of the United State, a reporter asked him to name his favorite poem. He said it was the Cremation of Sam Magee, by Robert Service. Hoping to embarrass him, the reporter, mike in hand, challenged him to recite it, which the Senator did. And then he calmly explained that he memorized the poem because when he was in the Hanoi Hilton, “the guy in the next cell used to tap it to me on the wall in Morse Code.” It was a classic, low key, McCain “Gotcha”!

John McCain stood out in the United States Senate because he refused to be a ‘yes’ man. He was a Republican, (what we would call a Conservative), and most often he voted as a Republican. But he was not afraid to reach out across the aisle and to find compromises that would earn support from members of the Democratic Party, (what we would call Liberals). As a result, he steered a number of important pieces of legislation through the Senate that otherwise would not have seen the light of day. Sad to say, we rarely see that kind of bipartisan cooperation today in either Canada or the United States. Instead, much too often, we get gridlock.

Two instances, late in his career, demonstrate why John McCain was a politician to admire and to emulate. The first was late in the campaign when he was running against Barrack Obama in the United States Presidential election. At a rally, a supporter repeated to him disparaging remarks with racial overtones, that had been initiated by Donald Trump, related to Barrack Obama, in particular, about where he was born.  McCain shut it down. He defended Obama against bigotry and hatred, something rarely seen in partisan politics, especially in the heat of a crucial election campaign. Can you imagine how Donald Trump would have responded under similar circumstances? Therein lies the important difference between these two men.

The second instance was perhaps John McCain’s finest moment. Certainly, it was his last one on the floor of the United States Senate. Up for a vote, in the middle of the night, was the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, legislation crucial to the former Obama administration which extended health care benefits to many Americans who did not have them. Donald Trump, during his election campaign, vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the Legislation to do so was now before the Republican Senate. McCain, at the time undergoing treatment for brain cancer, knew he would be the deciding vote. In spite of his illness, he flew from his home in Arizona to cast it. He was under huge pressure from his fellow Republicans to vote for the repeal, but he turned it thumbs down and the legislation was defeated. He did so because there was no alternative in the proposed legislation for the provision of health care benefits to the millions of Americans from whom it would be taken away. It was a matter of principle for him and It was, in my view, a political form of heroism.

And now, John McCain is gone and if I may say so, at a most inconvenient time. Inconvenient, because never before have we needed more people like John McCain in political life than we do now. If we had them, on both sides of the border, perhaps the relationship between the United States and Canada would not be at an all time, peace time, low. Perhaps we would not be hung out to dry when it comes to negotiating a fair free trade deal between Canada, Mexico and the United States. And perhaps we would have had others, despite the consequences, that have the courage to stand with Canada in deploring human rights atrocities in Saudi Arabia.

John McCain was an outstanding politician who was not afraid to stand up for what he believed to be right and damn the consequences. Bob Rae had it exactly right when he said we can all learn from his example. 

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  1. Frances Botham on

    I have difficulty focusing my interest on U.S. politics, especially since we have a local election looming and very little dialogue about it.
    Wonder whether an analysis of the candidates and the acclaimed for Huntsville Council might be worthwhile?
    Example, what did each member of council do in their last term of office? What new initiative did they put forth? What proactive action for preservation of the environment did they personally take? Which one supported the rock quarry? Which one voted in favour of every waterfront setback revision? Which one gave personal research and attention to the forever ongoing issue of leachate from the former dump site behind the fair grounds? In other words, what exactly did they accomplish in their last term of council? There are countless questions.
    Sorry I have zero interest in your glowing comments about John McCain, but have huge interest in what is happening locally.

    • Hugh Mackenzie on

      We will be posting a series of articles from municipal candidates in Huntsville beginning after Labour Day.

    • Terry McCaffery on

      Frances, I roughly paraphrase a quote from a famous Canadian: we all inhabit and are citizens of the global village!

  2. Stuart Lazier on

    We should also not forget that he was the only senator that would listen to Bill Browder and push the Magnetsky Act through the US political system to eventually boycott key Russian players from getting their capital around the world. Without him this would never have happened!!

    • Karen Wehrstein on

      It’s Magnitsky (just to be picky). And you mean key Russian crooks/mobsters, not just players. (“Oligarchs” is true in that they share absolute political power in Russia, but they also engage in what mafias always do: making vast amount of money on human suffering.)
      There were actually two senators Browder went to: McCain and Ben Cardin, who is a Democrat, and in the correct spirit of bipartisanship they introduced the Magnitsky Act together, which was then passed almost unanimously in the US Senate. Vladimir Putin, king of the Russian mobsters, abused the services of Interpol repeatedly to try to have Browder arrested, most recently just a few months ago, because he wants to take revenge on him, too. The Canadian Parliament passed our version of the Magnitsky Act unanimously late last October and other countries around the world are doing same.
      Read a statement by John McCain which gives some details — including the fate suffered by Sergei Magnitsky for uncovering corruption in Russia — here: .
      This might make one reason clearer for the extreme hate Trump had for McCain while he was alive, and his disgraceful pettiness after he passed away. McCain also wouldn’t bow down to all of Trump’s dictates including about the ACA as Hugh mentions.
      BTW if I were a member of Canada’s Conservative Party I would feel insulted for being likened to the Republican Party, even though it is true that of two main parties in each country, they are the more right wing. But the Republican Party has descended, in the last 40 years or so, and especially in the last ten or so, to a corrupt cabal purely bent on 1) increasing income inequity to make the rich richer and the poor poorer and 2) getting and keeping power rather than serving the nation, resorting to lies (e.g. Barack Obama was born in Kenya) and appeals to racism (e.g. calling Mexicans rapists and separating asylum-seeking children from their parents) and dilutions of democracy (gerrymandering, voter suppression, attacking the press as “the enemy of the people” and subverting norms of American democracy). This is why a number of Republican commentators are now urging Americans to vote Democrat in the November midterms, e.g. Rick Wilson, Jennifer Rubin and George Will, even, of all people. They know that American democracy is in danger, and its enemies chose the Republican Party as the weapon of destruction. John McCain was more the old-style Republican, committed to service to his nation.
      P.S. to Frances: it’s okay. We can walk and chew gum at the same time.

      • Terry McCaffery on

        I absolutely agree with you Karen. The Republican party has morphed into the party of Donald J Trump because of the moral cowardice of Senate/House Republican members who refuse to stand up against this bully. It will take years for the Republicans to rehabilitate their image after this sad chapter of American history has been concluded!

  3. Frances. We cannot be this insular. We need to be informed at all levels of government not only in Canada but across the world. The U.S. probably affects us more than any other country and we must be aware of what’s happening there.
    Having said that, Hugh’s piece was about John McCain. The passing of this honourable man is a loss to all of us

    • Frances Botham on

      Maybe we should become more informed about what’s happening in our own back yard.
      The local news has become scant on all levels. A series of articles from municipal candidates does not answer pertinent questions. What happened to investigative journalism?

      • Ms. Botham, a well-earned eulogy to John McCain is, in no way, an affront to investigative journalism. Even the smallest pebble from the States, thrown into international waters causes ripples to affect Canada in approximately 6 months. So what of a large rock? Should we consider ourselves fortunate that Tommy Douglas introduced universal medicare? Damn right we should; and we should try as individuals to use it as sparingly and intelligently as possible.
        If a man is a giant among men, then he should be revered and celebrated. Everybody in his family warned him about that last trip to Washington. They knew and he knew that it was extremely dangerous for him at that time. And yet, there he was on the Senate floor, impeccably dressed as always, speaking out against a Republican-sponsored repeal.
        “His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world ‘This was a man!'”

        • Frances Botham on

          I didn’t realize that the “Huntsville” Doppler is an international news medium. My mistake! I will look forward to reading all the future worldly commentaries.

  4. I am pleased to see that Mr. Mackenzie and contributors to this blog have a world view and are willing to share their opinions on important international events, such as the passing of Senator John McCain. An awareness of international events can only enhance our understanding and participation in local events, not detract from them.

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