Demosthenes, a statesman in ancient Greece, was once asked what to do about the decline of Athens. His response was simple: “Do not do what you are doing now.” This, more than anything else, is why I think we will miss John McCain.
Today, a grateful nation said goodbye to John McCain—the sailor, Senator, and citizen. But as the honor guard carried his flag-draped coffin out of the National Cathedral, I could not shake the feeling that we were saying goodbye to something more than the man. We were saying goodbye to what he stood for.
John McCain was an anachronism. He was bipartisan, civil, and authentic in a time in this country when those traits are rare in our elected officials. He was one of “Three Amigos,” alongside Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, and Joe Lieberman, an independent Democrat from Connecticut, who worked across party lines to pass bipartisan legislation in Congress. He stood up to his own supporters when, in the midst of the 2008 Presidential campaign, he told them that they were wrong to be scared of and to not trust Barack Obama. To boos and heckles, McCain stood up and said that his opponent was a decent family man and a citizen and that he simply disagreed with Obama on the issues. Even at the very end, in a touching show of civility and bipartisanship, John McCain asked Presidents Bush and Obama, both of whom defeated him in his Presidential campaigns, to speak at his funeral.
With his passing, we are all diminished. Our discourse will be less civil. Our politics, more partisan. But I am hopeful. The nation seems to be moved by John McCain’s passing. We have come together more this past week, it seems to me, than anytime in the past few years. This suggests that there is a yearning for a new direction in this country. That we the people do not want to do what we are doing now.
Perhaps that new direction is actually an old one. One that John McCain represented. A better politics where we can fight about ideas and ideology but we are also respectful to the individual. We could maybe even be amigos with them. This might seem close to impossible today but as John McCain once said, “No just cause is futile, even if it’s lost.”
May we honor the legacy of John McCain, the Maverick, by not doing what we are doing now. May we remember him by his own words, spoken at the 2004 Republican National Convention: “We are Americans first, Americans last, Americans always. Let us argue our differences. But remember we are not enemies, but comrades in a war against a real enemy.” May we dedicate ourselves to that.