Elephants in the Room

John McCain Is a National Treasure

The Republican senator reflects the better aspects of what our democratic system can produce.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21:  U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) gestures to U.S. Rep. Peter King before the presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC.   Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as President of the United States.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) gestures to U.S. Rep. Peter King before the presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as President of the United States. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

I first got to know John McCain when I was a fresh-faced analyst at the recently established Congressional Budget Office and he was a captain in the Navy’s Office of Legislative Affairs. We dealt briefly with each other when he served in the House of Representatives, and I was an official in Caspar Weinberger’s Defense Department. Over the years I got to know him quite well, and the better I came to know him, the more my respect for him continued to grow.

I was one of George W. Bush’s “Vulcans,” so I did not work with McCain during the 2000 presidential campaign, but I never stopped admiring him, then or later. I did support his ill-fated run for the presidency against Barack Obama, and was glad that he remained his outspoken self when he returned to the Senate.

But McCain is more than just outspoken, more than a man of words. He is that unusual politician who is a true crusader for what he thinks is right. Totally fearless, he will take on anyone, including the current resident of the White House. He is a powerful voice for freedom around the world, and has been the inspiration behind the International Republican Institute, which fosters liberal democracy in those parts of the world that do all they can to resist it.

His determination to do what is right has manifested itself as much at home as abroad. I recall that during the early stages of what became a major scandal involving bids to build a new tanker, prior to my testifying before him, McCain told me that before the investigation of the bids was over he would see to it that people went to jail. He was prescient — and also dogged in getting to the bottom of the matter. Two years later, senior officials at the contractor and a senior Air Force official did go to jail, just as McCain had predicted.

John is often called a maverick, because the media likes to depict him as acting on his own. That is not the case at all. It is not just that he is close to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and to several other senators. It is that he has admirers on both sides of the aisle, including Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which McCain chairs. He has been a successful chairman in no small part because he works well with others, even if they do not always share his views.

I have traveled with McCain, heard him speak countless times, testified before him, met privately with him, and been berated by him. (I have been told that unless he has cursed you out, you really don’t matter to him.) He has been exceedingly nice to my son, Roger — he tells me that Roger is talented … and that he takes after his mother.

Others have begun to write about McCain as if he has left us. That most assuredly is not the case. A man who withstood torture in Vietnam as a prisoner of war should never be written off. McCain is a national treasure. May he recover quickly and continue to be a shining light and inspiration not only to me, as he has been, but to all Americans, and indeed, all people who are free or long to be.

Photo credit: WIN MCNAMEE/Getty Images

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola