A true American

It wasn’t all that long ago that politics still had some semblance of decency about the egotism it takes to get elected.

When Sen. John McCain was confronted by people heading to what now is the hostile hysteria of ruling the land, he tried to put the brakes on. It was in Lakeview, Minn., during one of his own rallies during his 2008 run for the presidency that the senator stood up for his opponent as the personal vitriol began spilling out of the mouths of voters. Then-candidate Barack Obama was villified as an Arab who would be in the White House, as a man to be feared for the nation’s good.

McCain, who admittedly by that time had pulled Sarah Palin, who took the lid off personalizing elections over substantive discussion, out of Alaskan obscurity, defended Obama as “a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what the campaign’s all about.”

For his civility, he was booed. And he responded, “I will be respectful. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments, and I will respect him.”

He lost the election, but continued, as he always had, to vote his convictions and speak his mind.

McCain, Navy fighter pilot, prisoner of war for five years in the infamous camp nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War, congressman and senator, died Saturday after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 81.

That he became known as the maverick, it was more about doing what he believed was good for the country, not following party lines or what the populist movement of the moment wanted.

He rose from the pain of brain cancer surgery and treatment last year to vote against repeal of Obamacare, figuring the alternatives that weren’t completely thought out would be more damaging to more people than trying to fix what is wrong in some other way.

He didn’t come out of being a prisoner of war bitter and angry at his country any more than he did when people questioned his responsibility in a blast as his fighter jet was being loaded for a mission on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1967 during the Vietnam War. An electric issue caused a missile to fire while the plane was on the deck.

McCain was a true American, willing to serve, willing to give his life, in war and in peace, to be sure the freedom of American life isn’t taken either for granted or as something to be toyed with for political gain.

He railed against moves to retrench American foreign policy as putting nationalism ahead of being the last, best hope of history.

And he remained humble, writing in his 2018 memoir, “The Restless Wave,” “I made a small place for myself in the history of America and the history of my times.”

If everyone considered their lives as merely doing that, it’s possible to imagine a different America than the one we’re left with now that John McCain is gone.