John McCain was a patriot and a statesman.
But he never boasted of those qualities. He lived them.
That’s why his legacy shines even brighter than it did when he died just over a year ago.
And why his widow, Cindy McCain, is right when she says the party McCain represented has lost its way. Today’s Republican Party, she says, is not the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. She has been calling, in her husband’s memory, for more bipartisanship in Congress and more civility in our society.
Patriotism and the ideal of service to country were ingrained in John McCain. His father and grandfather were Navy admirals. So he followed in the family tradition and attended the Naval Academy.
That didn’t mean he was a model midshipman. He got into trouble and marched miles of disciplinary “tours.” His political foes, including President Donald Trump, also have made much of his graduating fifth from the bottom of his class. As if that matters.
McCain’s heroic Navy service exemplified the duty, honor and loyalty the academy instills. When the Vietnam War heated up, he volunteered for combat. He became a prisoner of war when his plane was shot down and he was severely injured in 1967.
The North Vietnamese offered him early release because of his family connections, but he refused. Accepting would violate his ethics and give the enemy a propaganda tool. So he spent 5 ½ years in terrible conditions, tortured for refusing to cooperate and suffering permanent disabilities that kept him from flying when he was released.
He moved from the Navy to politics and was elected to the U.S. House and eventually the Senate as a Republican from Arizona. McCain couldn’t be a Navy pilot anymore, but he still served his country well.
He earned a reputation for doing what he believed was right, even if that wasn’t what his party’s leaders wanted. He was a hawk on defense, but adamantly opposed to torture. He bucked the party line on climate change, immigration and same-sex marriage. He understood that our system of government depends on compromise, and he was willing to work across the aisle.
He wasn’t perfect. He had a temper. He made mistakes.
McCain almost won the GOP presidential nomination in 2000, and he was the candidate who lost to Barack Obama eight years later. Many think his agreeing to have Sarah Palin as his running mate accelerating the trend of celebrity-seeking — and ill-prepared — politicians.
But McCain loved his country and he worked hard for it.
He infuriated Trump, who outrageously suggested in 2016 that McCain was a “loser” rather than a war hero because he was captured in Vietnam.
Months after McCain died of brain cancer, Trump was still attacking him in speeches and tweets, bearing a grudge because McCain voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act.
That’s the kind of name-calling and bullying that Cindy McCain is talking about.
Real patriots strive to do what’s best for the whole country and to live up to its highest ideals. Politicians become statesmen when they put country over party, doing what’s right over “winning.”
John McCain was a statesman. We could use more like him.