Arizona Senator John McCain’s death has become a political litmus test.
It shouldn’t be, but it is. Sen. McCain served America well for decades in Congress. He ran for president several times and made the ballot in 2008 as the Republican candidate. He always fell just short of the White House.
On Saturday, McCain slipped the surly bonds of earth and his service to his country finally ended.
Before his service in congress, McCain served in the Navy. During his time in Vietnam, McCain was taken prisoner and tortured for years. Not many people have been through as much for their country or continued to serve in congress as well as McCain.
Few have been through as much as he has personally to do it. For years, a man who skipped service in Vietnam because of bone spurs questioned the validity of a true hero of war. Now, that same man is lowering the honor of the presidency to new levels of pettiness by failing to release a statement honoring the senator for more than 48 hours after his death. The flags at the White House weren’t at half staff until later Monday afternoon. Most others were. But the White House flags were flying high as a final insult to McCain. After multiple members of Congress and even the American Legion implored the president to lower the flags in McCain’s honor, he finally relented.
Former presidents honored McCain immediately and even the President of France sent words of condolence and honor.
But not President Donald Trump. It is hard to “respect the office” of president when it is being occupied by a small man who uses it simply for personal gain and petty attacks.
Trump and McCain were political foes. But if the roles were reversed, McCain would have had the decency to honor Trump despite those differences — and not two days later after initially refusing to do so.
I’m not assuming facts not in evidence. In his own funeral, McCain asked the two men who kept him from becoming president to deliver eulogies. (Actually, one woman from Alaska is the main reason he didn’t become president, but that is a column for another day.)
When he was running against Barack Obama in 2008, McCain exhibited incredible decency when he shut down a racist old lady who made the mistake of listening to conservative television and radio pundits who called Obama “un-American” or “an arab.”
It is a famous scene that showed McCain’s true character.
“I can’t trust Obama. I have heard about him, and he’s ... he’s an Arab,” a woman said to McCain at a town hall meeting in Lakeville, Minnesota in October 2008.
McCain took back the microphone from her before she could finish the ridiculous birther talking points. “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man and citizen that just I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what the campaign’s all about.”
What a difference a decade makes.
But McCain had felt the sting of racist lies himself. When he was running against George. W. Bush in 2000, one of the dirtiest tricks in political history was played against McCain and gave the South Carolina primary to Bush.
McCain and his wife had adopted a little girl from Bangladesh. Like many people from Bangladesh, her skin is much darker than John and Cindy McCain’s.
So Rove’s evil plan included a robo-call to ask this question, “Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain … if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?”
She isn’t black, but McCain is her father. But her hadn’t “fathered” her.
Because a statistically significant percentage Republican voters in South Carolina still had racist tendencies, the damage was done.
Despite this attack on him and his family, McCain worked with Bush and the two put the ugly incident in the past. McCain showed his character eight years later. Because of that, President Obama always had a soft spot for McCain.
They didn’t always agree, but the respect they shared is evident in that McCain asked them to speak at his funeral. His respect for the current occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania is also on display in that Trump was not asked to attend the funeral.
In his farewell address to America, McCain took some shots at Trump by saying America was better when she was tearing down walls instead of hiding behind them.
His address included a statement that all of us could make, but for McCain, the words ring more true.
“I lived and died a proud American,” he said.
McCain’s life proved that to be true. He will be missed in the Senate and in America by friends and foes alike.
— Kent Bush is publisher of Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.