Proud to Have Been Excoriated by Sen. John McCain

By Robert Johnson

I am an Arizonan and John McCain has been and always will be my Senator. Yesterday, he made what POLITICO called a “triumphant return” to the Senate after last week announcing he is fighting brain cancer. The report further indicated he “excoriated” the Senate for being so dysfunctional as to drag him across the country, aged and ill, to cast a deciding vote on health care reform.


I remember the first and only time I have been excoriated by John McCain, and I am proud to have experienced it. I was barely 21, a cub working as the press secretary for Rep. Jim Kolbe, and McCain, then a congressman representing Mesa, AZ, was preparing to run for the Senate.

Upon arriving in Phoenix from Tucson to pick up Kolbe at the airport, my boss, chatting with McCain as I approached them in the parking lot, politely introduced me.

McCain shot back, “You’re the guy who said I can’t win this race because people think I’m a carpetbagger!”

Stunned and afraid, I meekly replied. “No congressman, that wasn’t me.”

“Yes it was,” he insisted. Rather than continue the back and forth, I left it at that, fearing more for my job with Kolbe, that he would be embarrassed enough to fire me as soon as we got back to Tucson. And rattled that I had drawn unexpected ire from Arizona’s next U.S. Senator.

Thankfully, Kolbe didn’t cut me from the team and the exchange was never mentioned again. Of course, John McCain, war hero, patriot, and revered Statesman, is well-known for having vigorous exchanges with people.

But that moment didn’t change my mind about him. In fact, later that same year, I took the opportunity more than once to walk neighborhoods with him (and dozens of other volunteers) asking voters to support him for that first Senate bid in 1986. I was proud to do it.

Why? Because McCain cares about America, he was willing to die for this country, and he didn’t break when enduring years of torture; in fact, when given the opportunity to leave, he chose to remain with his fellow prisoners of war. It reminds me of the Bible verse John 15:13: Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. McCain is fueled by passion not for self, but for his country, something that is in short supply these days.

Luckily, my parents raised me to respect my elders and those of authority, which includes Members of Congress. And reflecting on that exchange the past several days, I am grateful to have experienced the encounter in the airport parking lot. It gave me focus, helped me understand how tough it was to maintain grace under fire, prepared me for so many trials to come, and introduced me early to the concept of keeping my mouth shut.

That’s why I am proud to have been excoriated by my Senator, the Honorable John McCain. I can only hope he gives cancer even more hell in the weeks and months ahead.