The John McCain Character Test
Author’s Note: Sen. John McCain passed away on August 25th, after the original posting of this article. He was 81.
Arizona Senator John McCain, after battling brain cancer for over a year and at age 81, has released a statement that he will no longer seek medical treatment for his illness.
“Last summer, Senator John McCain shared with Americans the news our family already knew: he had been diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma, and the prognosis was serious,” McCain’s family said in a statement. “In the year since, John has surpassed expectations for his survival.”
“But the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict,” the family statement continued. “With his usual strength of will, he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment. Our family is immensely grateful for the support and kindness of all his caregivers over the last year, and for the continuing outpouring of concern and affection from John’s many friends and associates, and the many thousands of people who are keeping him in their prayers. God bless and thank you all.”
From being the son and grandson of legendary naval admirals, to an officer and war hero in his own right, to three decades in the US Senate representing Arizona, John McCain’s bio is very full. There is also a long history of contentious politics, personality traits, personal issues, and very public moments. The Senator has spent more of his life in the public spotlight than not, and his daughter Meghan’s high-profile in media daily on The View continues such notice.
Especially in the social media age, John McCain has been a lightening rod of differing opinion. His very public battles with President Trump in recent memory, and his “maverick” habit of crossing the aisle and criticizing his own party frequently, cause many to have strong opinions. John McCain’s 60 years of public service will leave a long and complex legacy that historians, pundits, and people can pick over and interpret for years to come.
But today, and in what appears to be the decreasing number days left for John McCain, that shouldn’t matter all that much.
Before all the other descriptors and honorifics, John McCain is a man. Like all men, no matter those titles and accomplishments, death comes and is no regarder of person. He has a family that loves him, and is no doubt trying to cherish the small hours during this difficult time.
John McCain’s legacy, good, bad, and indifferent, is now set. His character is known by a long and very public life and established history.
What isn’t established is how we conduct ourselves about it on social media and elsewhere. There is a time and place for political and personal criticism, sometimes very harsh criticism, and John McCain was no shrinking violet over the course of his career. But today and the days to come are not time for that. We do not have to exaggerate or lie about the greatness of a dying man, nor do so at his funeral and memorials as is often the case. But we can show dignity and grace for a human being that is at the end, and honor a life of service to his country even if we don’t agree with every detail of that service. We can support the family with thoughts, prayers, and a bit of restraint and dignity online and elsewhere.
John McCain himself seems to be good with this level approach, as quoted by Jake Tapper:
TAPPER: I hope I don’t run this clip for another 50 years. But how do you want the American people to remember you?
MCCAIN: He served his country and not always right. Made a lot of mistakes. Made a lot of errors, but served his country. And I hope we could add honorably. https://t.co/l2knunQKzU
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) August 24, 2018
We can honor John McCain-the veteran, the senator, the man-on whatever level you like. But politically or personally motivated vitriol is a failure of character on the part of the one spewing it, and has no effect on John McCain one way or the other. Let history, and our opining, wait a while.