Danielle McLaughlin: John McCain is proof there are still heroes in America
OPINION: "I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support – unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I'll be back soon, so stand-by".
John McCain, a giant of the US Senate and known the world over, tweeted this message on Thursday morning in the aftermath of news that he had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer.
Irreverent as his nickname the "Maverick" would demand, McCain wasted no time getting back to policy, releasing a statement from his recovery bed criticising the Trump administration for throwing in the towel on a CIA programme that arms rebels in Syria and for having no plan at all for the Middle East.
At a time in America when the presidency seems just a small step up from celebrity (just ask Kid Rock, or The Rock), where career politicians are derided as swamp monsters, where political discourse has coarsened to the point of contempt, and where the political divide is a chasm where the right and left can't even agree on the same problems anymore (let alone the same solutions), John McCain serves as a reminder that politics – and politicians – can be honourable.
Now don't get me wrong, this is not an obituary. I write this week simply to remind Americans, New Zealanders, and everyone else in between, that American heroes do exist, and that what made this country truly great – freedom of speech and dissent, public service for public service's sake, and sacrifice to uphold ideas greater than yourself – has not disappeared overnight in the age of Trump.
McCain hasn't lived a scandal-free life. To raised eyebrows, he divorced the mother of his three eldest children in 1980, moving on from the woman who had raised those children while he was a POW in Vietnam to Cindy, an heiress whose family money helped launch his political career.
And nor is that political career – now nearly 40 years in the making – untarnished. His 2008 pick for vice president, Sarah Palin, was more than the "unconventional" running mate he and his team had hoped for. While Palin – a tax cutting, straight talking governor from Alaska – hit the ground running as a "hockey mom" many Americans could identify with, her inexperience weighed heavily on the ticket.
An infamous interview with Katie Couric in which Palin could neither identify a single newspaper or magazine she read nor a Supreme Court case she disagreed with, revealed that although Palin was a political natural, she was also a political liability.
Perhaps most telling about the McCain/Palin ticket is not that he chose her, or that he took the 2008 loss to Barack Obama so personally, but that to this day he has never said a negative word about Palin, despite her various gaffes and setbacks as she has descended from governor to political celebrity to political historical fact.
And McCain's basic decency was on full display during the 2008 campaign, as far-right racism and birtherism threatened the campaign of his opponent, Barack Hussein Obama. McCain never gave in to the cynical, easy attacks, choosing instead to wage a war of ideas against the young Senator from Illinois.
McCain is the son and grandson (and namesake) of US navy admirals. Born into some privilege and certainly into great expectations, he distinguished himself as a navy pilot and a patriot who endured the unthinkable in service of his country. Shot down over Hanoi in 1967, he endured more than five years of brutal imprisonment, torture, and medical malfeasance at the hands of the North Vietnamese.
Americans of all stripes now wait and watch and cheer for the recovery of a man who represents to many how much we seem to have lost. And it is Palin's words, on a stage in Minnesota in 2008 as she formally accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination, that mean as much as anything right now. She lauded McCain as a "true profile in courage" and noted that "in politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change".
This giant of the Senate, this leader of men, is a principled fighter. And he'll keep fighting. For his life, for his family, and for his country. And along the way, as he always has, he will serve as a much-needed reminder that true heroes still walk among us.
- Sunday Star Times