A simple and hopeful eulogy by a formerly eighth grade fan and present political orphan.
Eighth grade Jenna was already politically active. My knowledge was a mile wide and an inch deep, but no matter.
I knew without a shadow of a doubt that John McCain should be president. I remember all my passionate speeches in Mrs. Smith’s history class about his service, his time as a prisoner of war, his policies, and his patriotism. He was my first political hero, and at the time I wasn’t even capable of grasping the full scope of his character. It’s been ten years since then. I’m older and hopefully wiser. My politics have evolved and grown, but John McCain is still my hero, perhaps even more so.
As was made evident through his memorials, he was a giant in the eyes of many. Left and right came together to mourn the loss of this fearless patriot, this selfless servant, this thoroughly good man. And now that he’s gone, we’re left wondering if there will ever be another like him.
John McCain was not so widely respected because he was perfect. Far from it, he could often be found publicly acknowledging his own mistakes.
During a speech in his first Republican presidential primary campaign, McCain made an extremely critical remark about the racist history of the confederate battle flag. It wasn’t a popular move in deep red South Carolina, and when aides and managers asked him to change course, he relented and read a carefully crafted statement on the issue every time a reporter brought it up. In a recent memoir, McCain had this to say about his behavior:
“By the time I was asked the question the fourth or fifth time, I could have delivered the response from memory. But I persisted with the theatrics of unfolding the paper and reading it as if I were making a hostage statement. I wanted to telegraph to reporters that I really didn’t mean to suggest I supported flying the flag, but political imperatives required a little evasiveness on my part.
“I wanted them to think me still an honest man, who simply had to cut a corner a little here and there so that I could go on to be an honest president. I think that made the offense worse. Acknowledging my dishonesty with a wink didn’t make it less a lie. It compounded the offense by revealing how willful it had been. You either have the guts to tell the truth or you don’t. You don’t get any dispensation for lying in a way that suggests your dishonesty.”
His awareness of his own imperfection was the backbone of his character. There is nothing more quintessentially American than knowing your own weaknesses and striving daily to overcome them. Our country was founded by highly imperfect men, it will be sustained by highly imperfect men and women, and John McCain’s life can be held up as an example of the power of decency.
When good men die, we mourn because we’ve lost a light, a tangible example of consistent civility in a decidedly uncivil world. But the good news is that there will be more.
There are more. They’re there in our everyday lives, showing kindness and serving others. Perhaps they’re making some mistakes and facing the consequences, but rest assured that the spirit that lived in John McCain will go on even though his time on Earth is through.
As George W. Bush, McCain’s former opponent and another good man said, “If we are ever tempted to forget who we are, to grow weary of our cause, John’s voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder: We are better than this. America is better than this.”
May we never lose sight of the magnitude of our responsibilities, and may we always be hoping for more good men.