Across the United States, people are posting on Facebook, emailing, or tweeting their support for Arizona Senator John McCain as he was diagnosed with a particularly malignant form of brain cancer. But unless we really support what he stood for, such well-wishes won’t really mean as much to this American hero, who has often been attacked for his brand of moderate politics that this country sorely needs.
“Dr. Tures, I want to say how sorry I am to hear about John McCain and his brain cancer,” a student in my online class wrote to me. “I know you admire him a lot.” This diverse class, made up mostly of nontraditional nursing students and biology students, remembered a brief line I had posted on a discussion board a week or two ago, and sought to let me know they support him. Other students, with military experience, really appreciate his public service.
Shows of support zoomed in from both parties, and from all different ideologies. “John McCain is a friend, a mentor, and a true patriot. If anyone can tackle a challenge like this, it’s him,” wrote Georgia Senator David Perdue in an email to constituents that I get, as one example. “Bonnie and I extend our heartfelt prayers to John, Cindy and the entire McCain family.”
Yes, from all branches of politics, and all states, we all feel bad for the Arizona senator, and wish him well. We wish we could do more, perhaps.
Well, we can. It means learning the lessons he taught us, and standing up for what he stood for his entire career, even though he was attacked as much or more by members of his own party, than in cross-party politics.
Back in 2000, I was a John McCain volunteer while serving as a visiting instructor at the University of Delaware. I attended all of the GOP meetings (I was already a member) and did what I could to talk up his candidacy. Why? Six years earlier, I had interned for U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who had won rare praise as a Democrat from The Wall Street Journal not only for supporting a gift ban on lobbyists, but for living by this ban personally. And Feingold had found an ally across the aisle in Senator McCain from Arizona.
The two senators broadened their work, getting the McCain-Feingold legislation to pass, which restricted the influence of money in politics. Much of this was struck down by the Supreme Court in the “Citizens United” case. And God almighty, have you seen what’s happened since?
McCain ran as a moderate, but stood for honest politics in his 2000 race, and the 2008 campaign. I am still proud of that service, perhaps the only Delawarean on his shoestring list. McCain finished second, ahead of Steve Forbes (who spent a million dollars on Delaware). He was done in back in 2000 by racially tinged allegations and polling, but at least we got Bob Jones University of South Carolina to drop its ban on interracial dating, noted McCain’s campaign chair in an email to all supporters, after McCain brought attention to that ugly policy.
No campaign is perfectly nice, but McCain won his states in 2000 and the primaries in 2008 without all of the mudslinging you see today. He did lose the 2008 general election (more due to Bush, the Great Recession and Sarah Palin) but finished the race with higher approval ratings than disapproval ratings during the campaign, a rare feat.
So you can let McCain know you’re sad that he’s suffering right now (although he characteristically tweeted while I am writing this, saying he’ll be back in the fight). Or you can battle for what he believes in, instead of ignoring him or criticizing him for those policies which are on the right side of history, and what this country badly needs.
John A. Tures is associate professor of political science at LaGrange College; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JohnTures2.