A great American has passed. Sen. John McCain was a patriot, a maverick and someone who often confounded conservatives on big issues and big votes. His life and philosophy were deeply connected to our national debates on the Vietnam War, the Iraq War and battles with President Trump.
I had John McCain on my show several times over the years, and I met him and interviewed him on a 20-minute bus ride in Delaware County when he came here to headline an event endorsing then-Rep. Curt Weldon. The host placed him next to me on the bus but he also wanted McCain to meet other politicians on the bus. He said to me, "Dom, don't monopolize Senator McCain. Without missing a beat, McCain said, "Let him monopolize me." He loved media attention and the media loved that he would often speak directly about issues.
When we got off the bus, I walked with McCain as we approached a crowd. A man with his 9- or 10-year-old son approached and as he shook McCain's hand said, "This is a war hero, a war hero." In my time with him, I saw and almost felt the extent of McCain's injuries from the savagery of the violence of his North Vietnamese captors. I've often said that he almost creaked when he walked. He was full of life and energy, but lifting his arms was a chore. Walking required a lot of effort. His sacrifice was lifelong.
Sadly, some McCain haters have bought into a narrative that McCain collaborated with the North Vietnamese, which resulted in the loss of American lives. They call him "Songbird John" and they use crazed conspiracy theories to undermine his standing.
Over the years on issues such as illegal immigration, I've had significant issues with McCain, but I've always thought of his service when debating him. In fact, McCain is the last presidential nominee with a military service background, and that fact troubles me, because we've moved away from giving a leg up for presidential consideration to those who have put their lives on the line to protect us. After his death, the media praised McCain as a military hero but during his 2008 presidential run many ignored or diminished this service.
All this week in commentary on McCain, we've seen the iconic moment from the waning days of the 2008 presidential campaign when McCain corrected a female supporter who called then-Sen. Barack Obama an "Arab." McCain dismissed that comment and defended Obama and called him a "decent family man" and stressed that he only had fundamental political differences with his opponent. Joseph Wulfson, writing at www.Mediaite.com, chronicles how many in the media did not give McCain much credit for correcting his supporter, and the New York Times in its endorsement of Obama, accused McCain of running a campaign on "partisan division, class warfare, and even hints of racism." Slate labeled McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin as "heirs" of George Wallace's "legacy of resentment."
It seems obvious to me that one reason McCain now is getting such positive coverage is because of things that have angered conservatives. The biggest beef that I ever had with McCain was his 2017 vote to stop Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. As the Arizona Republic reported, in his last Senate race the principal distinction he drew against his Democratic opponent was that he would vote to repeal Obamacare and she would not. To me, this was not an honorable and consistent vote.
Despite the importance of the vote, I still see McCain as a particularly great American. Sen. Lindsey Graham on Fox and Friends gave McCain a unique tribute. He said if aliens landed and needed to be told what America all about, he is would point to McCain and his life. He certainly would be a worthy choice.
The McCain I'll miss is the guy who was criticized by Matt Drudge for appearing in Wedding Crashers, which was called a "boob raunch fest." McCain told TV host Jay Leno, "In Washington, I work with boobs every day."
We need more guys in public life like that.