John McCain, by his own admission, was far from perfect. He was, however, larger-than-life. From being the most prominent Vietnam POW to a senator willing to work across the party aisle to chastising his fellow Republicans for being too tribal and unwilling to address issues larger than politics, his legacy as the last giant in the United States Senate is set.
McCain’s passing yesterday was a sad reminder not only that heroes die, but that there are very few political heroes left. The ninety-nine senators that survive McCain seem small in comparison, not because they lack the intellect or political skill to make them effective public servants. They simply lack the will to act on their larger instincts and values or the courage to swim against the political currents.
The story of John McCain’s life is well known–the son and grandson of Navy admirals, who struggled at the Naval Academy. A fighter pilot who was shot down and tortured mercilessly by the North Vietnamese while refusing to say the things that would have allowed him to be released before his fellow POWs. A long political career that included two runs for the presidency.
At every turn, McCain acted. He acted to protect POWs, to address large policy issues like campaign finance and a weakened military. He even took on presidents from both political parties, including Donald Trump, when doing so was unpopular. He even defended candidate Barack Obama against conspiracy theories related to Obama’s religion and place of birth, even during the height of a presidential campaign.
Even with the will to act–and act courageously–McCain made and admitted to many mistakes. Getting involved with Charles Keating and selecting Sarah Palin as his 2008 running mate were just two of many examples.
Senators from both political parties are honoring John McCain’s life and contributions with statements. His many friends from Republican Lindsey Graham to Democrat Joe Biden show how much John McCain meant to them through their words and stories. It is a shame for the American people that those, like Graham, who remain in the Senate after McCain’s passing lack the ability to match their words about their friend and colleague with actions that would honor his memory even more effectively.