by Luciana Paz
I first found out of Sen. John McCain’s death from a CNN push notification on my phone. I instantly thought to myself “that’s the guy that ran against Obama.” A couple hours later, I was scrolling down my Instagram feed and I saw Bernie Sanders had recently posted a picture with McCain. The two politicians were laughing together, arms over each other’s shoulders, sideways hugging. What an unexpected picture. My cognitive shortcuts about U.S. political party relations kicked in: “But wasn’t McCain a Republican? How does a progressive like Bernie have this kind of picture with a politician who had such a different political outlook?”
Naturally and conveniently, like many other Americans, I had created a division between these two parties to the point where I thought that whatever Republicans said,especially what President Donald Trump said, was nonsense. I say naturally and conveniently because this ideological division otherwise known as “political polarization” is indicative and a real part of American politics today. The Pew Research Center has been documenting this phenomenon for years, and says that over the last two decades “partisan antipathy” and divided ideological lines have been “deeper and more extensive.” People aren’t making an effort to see what the other side might be doing right. Sometimes it is good to have a detachment from certain ideologies, theories, frameworks and for a second see through a moderate lens, through a lens where tribe doesn’t matter but ideals do.
As I was reading about McCain’s life, achievements and failures as a long time senator and war hero, I realized that as a democrat who didn’t share most of his positions on policy, such as his determined support for the Iraq war, I still do celebrate and respect this American hero’s life. Three things stood out to me about McCain: The time he voted “no” to repeal Obamacare, when he sponsored the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 along with democrat senator Russ Feingold, and finally his acknowledgment and efforts to pass legislation on climate change. These instances showed an unexpected bipartisan ethos which I didn’t know McCain had until I did a little more research.
Although McCain had conservative views, he still wanted a united America, and believed that political differences cannot go as far as destroying the common values all Americans have had since American democracy was a thing. According to an ABC news article, Former Senator John Kyl said, “John McCain believed in America. He believed in its people, its power, its institutions…[he] dedicated his life to serve his country. When he saw challenges to its institutions or values, he fought.”
He showed this unity by being part of the bipartisan group known as the “Three Amigos” which included his two close friends Senator Lindsey Graham and former Senator Joe Lieberman. Yet, this attitude was strengthened even when two former presidents eulogized him: Democratic opponent Barack Obama and former Republican rival George W. Bush.
With these unexpected speakers, the McCain family showed civility and respect because they invited two men that defeated their family member. At the same time, it is not hard to notice that a message was sent to the American people when his friends and family did not invite President Trump to his funeral. This subliminal message became tangible on Saturday at his memorial service when President Trump did not show up.
“The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great,” said Meghan McCain, John McCain’s daughter.
Despite his different perspectives, it seems like he has been able to build a vision of a united America, an understanding America and a strong America. The main message McCain was trying to send overall, which John Biden, a political counterpart but close friend of his, expressed in his eulogy was: “I think John believed in us. I think he believed in the American people. Not just all the preambles, he believed in the American people, all 325 million of us. Even though John is no longer with us, he left us clear instructions. ‘Believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here.’”
With that being said, McCain has been able to embrace the universal values of democracy and for me that is what makes him a historical figure to respect and remember.
Luciana Paz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org