Odds are, you’re aware that the US Senator from Arizona, John McCain, passed away over the weekend. It was announced through social media that he was discontinuing his medical treatment of brain cancer, and then shortly thereafter, his passing was announced.
His passing was largely been heralded as sad, and it is. Some people have used the word ‘tragedy’, which I think is a little off. For a man of his age, and with an inoperable brain tumor, it seems less tragic and more inevitable. But then, that a death can be seen as inevitable may be in and of itself tragic. Still, any death is worthy of respect and reflection.
John McCain dedicated himself to public service and therein lies where his controversy starts. See, many people seem to be struggling with how to process John McCain’s passing. Once you remove the reverence for a public servant, and the (very understandably) default generosity afforded one at the time of their death, John McCain was a contentious figure in the American world for many reasons. He was politically atypical. Though he considered himself conservative, he broke with the American conservative scene in many ways and on many occasions. It’s for this inconsistency that so many seem to struggle with just how to respond to John McCain’s passing.
I don’t care to list out all the good that McCain did, or the bad. I don’t care to throw up some list as if they are scales upon which we’ll balance his votes and deeds and see which one comes out more. It isn’t that simple. We can’t say that voting against women’s right to choose is somehow comparable to voting for civil rights. Nor can we say that all votes were good or bad.
Politics is a complicated thing, and the life of a politician is also complicated. Efforts to paint it as a simple and straightforward matter all the time are efforts to vilify one side over another. But it is in this inconsistency that we find a truth that needs to be acknowledged: John McCain was ultimately an honest person.
Honesty is a rare thing, and it is also an attribute that is surprisingly hard to nail down. Being honest is not a simple matter of ‘never lying’. The truth can be warped and twisted, and sometimes even the undoctored truth is it self inaccurate. No, being honest is more about being true to one’s ideals and one’s beliefs. For all his faults – and he had many – John McCain stood on his own more often than not. That is largely what made him an American Hero, and less his service in Vietnam (ALTHOUGH…)
It’s okay to feel conflicted. It’s okay to look at the man’s voting record and balk at some of the things he fought against, and fought for. It’s okay to look at his senatorial records with pride and then be unable to comprehend his behavior as a presidential candidate. What matters is to step back and look at the whole, not the individual parts. When you step back and consider the man’s behavior as a whole, you see a man of distinction and honesty who committed himself to public service. You may not like the decisions he made all the time. And that is not only fine, that is healthy. Admirable even.
The point is to see the honest person. And any time an honest passes from this world, a moment of solemn silence is called for.
Rest in Peace, John McCain. You hurt this country. You helped this country. But above all else, you served this country.