A great Senator, and a great friend of Israel, John McCain died last weekend. He was a unique and important figure, the most significant Arizona political figure in over a generation—if not ever—and a strong and principled conservative statesman and American leader. He was a real war hero who refused to be released from prison in Hanoi for 5 years until all those captured before him were allowed to go home. He also embodied the ideal of true service to his country and his state, without ever taking himself too seriously.
John McCain represented a generation that knew how to work with people, (and be friends with people!) with whom they had political disagreements. The McCain-Feingold bill that reformed political donations, which he sponsored with liberal Democratic Senator Russ Feingold created a better, more honest, and far more responsible situation than currently exists. And as an ardent supporter of our troops and a strong and effective military, McCain was never afraid to criticize waste, inefficiency and incompetence in the military and in veterans’ affairs. He believed in real immigration reform, and worked on many bi-partisan efforts that were always earnest, realistic and respectful of immigrants.
For those of us who love Israel, John McCain was a stalwart supporter who loved and understood the Jewish state and deeply appreciated the value of a true democratic ally in the Middle East. I was honored to have him as a guest on my Too Jewish Radio Show on May 8, 2016 and we discussed the source of his love for Israel; you can find that show at www.toojewishradio.com.
I last saw John McCain at a Diamondacks’ baseball game, after one of his surgeries for his final illness. In spite of his bandages he stood in between innings and shook every hand—but he insisted on watching the game during play. It was only fair, and right, two things that will always be associated with John McCain, may his memory be a blessing.
He was far more conservative than I am, but I always admired and respected him. He made mistakes, as we all do, and owned up to them. Most of all, whether one disagreed with some of his positions or not, John McCain was a truly great American.
But nothing I can say about him is as eloquent as his own words. This is from John McCain’s last public statement, read today by a friend after his death:
“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. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have acquired great wealth and power in the process.
“We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.
We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.”
May John McCain rest in peace now, but may the impact of these words, and his own life story and legacy, grow in influence.