In service of my family, I have spent the majority of the month of August on the road - thousands of miles driven, thousands of miles in the air. The month culminated with moving Kendall from Dallas to Boston to begin her stint at Harvard. And while much has happened in the world the past 31 days, and I have wanted to sit at the keyboard, there simply has not been time.
That being said, while driving home yesterday, the final leg of my travels, I listened to the service being held in Arizona for Senator John McCain - one of many memorials, observances, and honors being held for him leading up to his final rest at the U.S. Naval Academy on Sunday. And getting to my keyboard was high in my mind.
John McCain was not a perfect person, in fact, the first person to call out John McCain was John McCain. Politically, I stand on the opposite aisle. I know his past, his foibles, his penchant for profanity, his responsibility for foisting Sarah Palin upon us all.
I also know his heart, his humanity, his dogged determination to adhere to a code quite alien to most of his younger colleagues.
Those are the things that were repeated as speaker after speaker took the podium yesterday in Phoenix.
McCain was remembered as a friend, a confidante, a bad driver. But what resounded the most was him being remembered for daring to not only acknowledge the other side, but crossing to stand with them. Tommy Espinoza, a longtime friend and godfather of one of McCain's sons, remembered early on in their relationship when John asked him to co-chair his first Senatorial campaign.
Tommy reminded McCain he was a Democrat.
McCain's response? "I don't care, you're my friend. I want you to co-chair it."
Fast forward through the years to McCain running for President. He asked Tommy to speak on his behalf at the Republican National Convention.
"Senator, I want to remind you I'm a DEMOCRAT."
McCain's reply, "I don't care, you're my friend, I want you there." Then he added with a sly smile, "Watch out when you start your car."
There were many anecdotes like this during the service. Moments of laughter, for sure, but moments that served to remind everyone that McCain simply did not care about the optics. He was a throwback to when bipartisanship was an active endeavor, not a dirty word. When disagreeing on the politics did not preclude being friends with "the other side."
For over two decades the two men tangled in the Senate when their views clashed on important issues, yet their friendship only deepened and endured. They both understood loss, suffering, anguish, sacrifice - from a very personal place. They both came from a time when the Senate and the house were places of respect, higher ideals, and a common goal - the betterment of this experiment called the United States of America.
I laughed as Biden recounted them receiving awards for bipartisanship and civility in politics. "John and I looked at each and said, ‘What the hell is going on here?’"
These two men were there when it all began to turn to shit. They both remembered in the 90s being cautioned about sitting with one another in the Senate, as they often did. Because it didn't look good. They both knew things were sliding into an abyss where shouting would become a norm, where questioning an opponent's patriotism would become commonplace, where so much as crossing that invisible line would draw swift rebuke from your side.
Like so many, Joe Biden has been reflecting on just why McCain's death has caused such a national pause. Well, at least such a pause among those who understand it is possible to champion a cause while not threatening others with violence or death. (The hatred, vitriol, and disrespect from the MAGAt population has been vomit inducing.)
McCain, for all his faults, was a lion, much like Teddy Kennedy, with whom he shared the cancer that took them both, with whom he also served. A public servant with wisdom, depth, experience, intelligence, and an understanding that this nation is not great unless it is great for ALL OF US.
What slithers through the House and Senate now - yes, slithers, as there is not much backbone to be found, is far more interested in currying favor, clinging to power, and lining their pockets. "We the people..." for them is "WE, the people who matter..."
Joe Biden spoke of McCain's optimism. "John was a hero, his character, courage, honor, integrity. I think it is understated when they say optimism. That's what made John special. Made John a giant among all of us. In my view, John didn't believe that America's future and faith rested on heroes. we used to talk about, he understood what I hope we all remember, heroes didn't build this country. Ordinary people being given half a chance are capable of doing extraordinary things, extraordinary things. John knew ordinary Americans understood each of us has a duty to defend, integrity, dignity and birthright of every child."
It is evident in the planning and thought he put into his own arrangements, that he was sending a final message to this country: Be better, not bitter. THat we are so much better than where we currently stand. So many of his choices, including Trump being barred from his services, clear rebukes of Trump and the scourge of his venality. The speakers in Arizona - true friends, despite being a D rather than an R. Opponents who beat him in Presidential races - George Bush and Barack Obama were personally asked by McCain to deliver eulogies on Saturday. One of his pallbearers for the D.C. service is his friend and Russian dissident, Vladimir Kara-Murza. Others include Biden, Defense Secretary Mattis, Gary Hart, even long time friend Warren Beatty throughout the various services.
Reaching out. Striving to do better, be better.
Joe Biden summed it up. "Bottom line was, I think John believed in us. I think he believed in the American people. not just all the preambles, he believed until the American people, all 325 million of us. Even though John is no longer with us, he left us clear instructions. ‘Believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here.’"
All 325 million of us.
That means the poor, the wealthy, the blue collar, the white collar, the pink collar, the spectrum of the LGBTQIA rainbow, every pew of every religion, black people, brown people, white people, ALL people.
This is what will win out. There are far more clearheaded, openhearted, farsighted voters than there are regressive MAGAts. Momentum is forward, despite the desperate attempt to pull us backwards. And the Trumps of this country, this world, will not win in the end. We the people, will prevail and continue to form a more perfect union.
Trump is an anomaly, a tumor on the body politic. But if his ascension has had one positive note, it is that his hypocrisy, his bile, his ignorance, his disdain for this country - all things McCain openly despised in him - have served to galvanize those who had previously stood, uninterested, uninvested, on the side.
John McCain will never be remembered as perfect. But he will be remembered. As a war hero who famously said "I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's." As a father, husband, colleague, friend. And as a fierce force in the halls of Washington.
I agree with Joe Biden, "To paraphrase Shakespeare, we shall not see his like again."
RIP, Senator. Crank the ABBA and watch while we carry on.