A week ago, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) announced he would take some time off from his Senate duties to have surgery for a growth of some kind behind his eye. Over the weekend, it was revealed that he would take a little longer to return, due to complications from his surgery. We now know that this was due to going back for an MRI, requested by his doctors.
On July 19, his office announced he has been diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive kind of brain cancer, and the same disease that took the lives of Ted Kennedy, and Beau Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s son, in 2015.
Throughout my years of writing on politics, I’ve often dissented with Senator McCain. Perhaps one could say I made it a hobby at times to focus on our differences. Whether during the (unconstitutional, and eventually overturned) campaign finance legislation he worked on with my state Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), or the comprehensive immigration bill he proposed with Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), he gave conservatives plenty to get heartburn over.
And yet, during the contentious presidential primaries of 2007-’08, and his eventual nomination, any honest observer could say he walked with a certain respect and dignity, rare among politicians, but more common among those with his most redemptive attribute – his service to our country. As an air pilot he was captured during the Vietnam War, and held for over 5 years. Senator McCain suffered horrifying torture at the hands of his captors, which fed his belligerent resistance to US military practices like waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques. Despite the controversy of his position, you knew his conviction was real, and born out of a very personal experience.
I never saw McCain as a man without principles, I just occasionally disagreed with them; for a time, often. However, imperfect as he was as a politician, his reputation as a father, husband, and friend was never questioned throughout his career. Since being elected as a US House Representative in 1982, then the Senate in ’87, he has served as party stalwart, a steady hand, unflinching Republican, vocal defender of the GOP, with an open door personality, and most of all, his stature as a war hero who felt obligated to protect the nation he nearly died to defend. Note: He is a war hero for more than, as some say, “being captured.” He once survived a tragedy on his aircraft carrier that killed 134 men, escaped a burning jet he’d been flying, and was severely injured by an explosion while trying to assist a fellow airman. Upon recovery, he immediately ran back to the battle, and volunteered for assignment on another ship. Three months later was captured by the enemy after being shot down by a missile.
Another thing few people remember is one of his greatest signs of character: during the 1990’s he was instrumental in reestablishing diplomatic relations with his former nation of captivity, Vietnam.
At times like this, upon the terrifying news of one of nature’s most evil defects, it should make us see the relative humanity between us, not the differences that divide. It’s ok to set aside political angst, and actually see people for more than the angry words we write online, or read in opinion pieces. While wrong on some things, many people are truly great men and women.
When Tom Barrett, the Democrat mayor of my hometown Milwaukee was badly beaten for attempting to help an elderly woman and a baby being harassed on the street, many felt empathy and respect for a man of great character. How many of us have crossed the street to stop a violent man from harming a woman? When Vice President Biden’s son Beau was stricken with this disease, any human being with a warm heart could feel for the family. And most recently, when a politically motivated gunman opened fire on Republican congressmen practicing for a charity softball game, Rep. Steve Scalise was nearly killed in a hail of bullets. He’s still in the hospital, fighting to recover from the effects of unrestrained political hatred. The picture of Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Pelosi on the House floor that day was moving, as you saw people act like friends once again, and acknowledge what we often forget in the heat of political war: our humanity.
Senator McCain could kick the cancer, and beat the 14% odds of survival. His debilitated arms prove he’s beaten the odds before. And I sincerely hope he does. The last thing any of us should be allowing is that primitive knee-jerk reaction some people get when they sense a political victory or change in the winds.
Whatever Senator McCain chooses to do with his career at this point is secondary to the whole of a man who dedicated his 80 years of life, first to serving you and I in a land not our own, for a cause greater than our political interests, then back at home, for the interests of his constituents. While people like me write of how we feel about things, he has put his own into practice, whether in politics, family or military service.
I respect that, and so should each one of us.
With that, I ask that everyone pray for Senator McCain, his wife Cindy, and his seven children, Douglas, Sidney, Andrew, James, Bridget, John IV, and Meghan. We are all fathers, sons, husbands, wives, and daughters to someone, and this man’s family deserves a thankful nation for a life well-lived, and fought. Keep fighting! As fmr President Obama, one of the Senator’s frequent targets for criticism said tonight, “Give it hell, John.”