Forum

An Arizona liberal's farewell to John McCain

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

John McCain — war hero, Arizona Senator, conservative, and patriot — died on Aug. 25, 2018, just four days before what would have been his 82nd birthday. His passing has brought with it an extended mourning of a self-described maverick; some remark that he was the last of his kind. Moreover, his public battle with brain cancer since his diagnosis last year added a heightened sense of drama and urgency to his final months in the Senate. Indeed, his no-vote that sunk, perhaps for good, Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act will be remembered as one of the most important single votes of this decade. In an era that has left a malleable path for Republicans to pass far-right laws, McCain was a vocal Trump critic who will be remembered for his singular, active resistance in support of a progressive healthcare law enacted by his greatest political adversary. His character and commitment to country shone brighter than his political ideology in the end, and his good actions overshadowed his mistakes in the final chapter of his life.

As an Arizona resident, a progressive Democrat, and a frequent conservative critic (going far beyond Trump), I hold a complicated view of Senator McCain. I disagreed with him on most major policy issues. I particularly took issue with his close ties to the NRA.

However, now, I cannot help but feel grateful. Dissertations could be written by liberals like me over the merits of McCain's tenure in the Senate. If I wrote pages upon pages, covering every vote and decision in John McCain's lifetime, I still would be conflicted. Our politics, as they stand, are not in a state of normalcy. They are rife with vitriol and horrific bigotry and discrimination, coupled with a series of startling breaks with precedent in our political institutions and procedures. I associate people like John McCain with a degree of normalcy. Not stability or even political function, but normalcy.

This distinction is important. The Senate's efficiency has been exponentially slowed by gridlock and hyper-partisanship over the course of the last few decades, and to an extent, McCain played a role in this. Yet, so did all members of the Senate who served and have served during that time. McCain was a politician, no doubt, but he was responsive to his constituents, and respectful of those whose opinions differed.

It speaks great volumes that of the key speakers at McCain's various funeral services, both former President Obama and Vice President Biden delivered eulogies. That speaks to the legacy of an era in American politics that is now just behind us. I find it hard to believe that Barack Obama's recent speech eviscerating the Trump administration only coincidentally lined up with John McCain's passing.

Many — liberals, especially — have criticized President Obama for his relative lack of presence in the public sphere since his departure from office. Whether that criticism is warranted is another conversation altogether. Nonetheless, I believe Obama looked to McCain's vocal critique of the current administration and decided to honor that legacy.

Now, as John McCain is laid to rest, Barack Obama has said goodbye to his respected opponent, Joe Biden has said goodbye to his friend, and our country must say goodbye. In bidding the late Senator from Arizona farewell, we Americans must hold ourselves and our representatives to the standard that John McCain set.

"Ten years ago, I had the privilege to concede defeat in the election for president. I want to end my farewell to you with the heartfelt faith in Americans that I felt so powerfully that evening.

I feel it powerfully still.

Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history."

Godspeed, Senator McCain.