“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
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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