The sad fervor with which Americans have mourned his passing explains the significance of his figure well: He was a dignified man who dedicated his life to improving the lives of others.
As a Navy pilot, as a tortured prisoner of war, as a congressman or as a senator, John McCain had one goal in his life: to serve his country. He dedicated 60 of his 80 years to this task, and over the course of these years, he left a clear record of his character and his convictions: the fight for democracy within and beyond his country, the search for agreement and consensus beyond ideological borders, the pursuit of the common good above all else, and care for the weak and helpless.
He didn’t hide his conservative credentials, nor did he shy away from political battles, but when it came to it, he was able to put what he understood to be his country’s best interests ahead of his personal convictions. This led him, in the last years of his life, to be at the center of a small bipartisan group of senators who, for many, embodied reason and progress in the face of the tribal-like division into parties, interest groups, or identitarian slogans.*
A man of quick and colorful temperament, and a permanent sense of humor, he was always within reach of both the big guy and the little guy, of media outlets both prominent and small. He was very close, on several occasions, to reaching the height of political representation, either as vice-president or president of the United States. In 2000 he had to concede the Republican presidential nomination to George W. Bush, and in 2008, he had no choice but to bow to the unstoppable wave that carried Barack Obama to the White House. On that occasion, and according to his own memoir, he wasn’t helped by having chosen former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a ‘feminist’ card both attractive and weak, as his vice-presidential running mate.
Impervious to success and failure, Kipling-style, he found his greatest refuge in heading the Senate Armed Services Committee, from which he led the development of the recently-passed bill on the improvement and increase of the U.S. Armed Forces budget, a bill that bears his name. He will be remembered for many wide-ranging things, but many prefer to remember him for his response to a fervent anti-Obama voter during the 2008 presidential campaign: “No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” The sad fervor with which Americans have mourned his passing explains the significance of his figure well: He was a dignified man who dedicated his life to improving the lives of others. This is the best epitaph, an epitaph this figure deserves in these times of tribulation and weakness.
*Editor’s note: The identitarian movement (otherwise known as identitarianism) is a European and North American far-right and white nationalist movement that originated in France.