Stephen Duprey: McCain was a courageous leader and an amazing friend

  • Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., receives the Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. The honor is given annually to an individual who displays courage and conviction while striving to secure liberty for people worldwide. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) Matt Rourke

  • Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., addresses a crowd in Nashua, N.H., Monday, Sept. 27, 1999, where he annoucned his plans to run for president. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) STEVEN SENNE—A.P. file

  • Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and his wife Cindy, smile as confetti falls on them at the end of their 114th New Hampshire town hall meeting with voters at the Peterborough Town House in Peterborough, N.H., Sunday afternoon Jan 30, 2000. Peterborough was the sight of McCain's first town hall meeting in April 1999. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia) <%% 0 PICTURE_OK HEADER_OK 2 2 %%> STEPHAN SAVOIA—A.P. file

  • ">

    FILE - In this Sept. 14, 1973, file phot, John McCain is greeted by President Richard Nixon, left, in Washington. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump criticized Sen. John McCain's military record at a conservative forum Saturday, saying the party's 2008 nominee and former prisoner of war was a "war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured." McCain spent 20 years in the Navy, a quarter of it in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp after his jet was shot down over Hanoi during a bombing mission Oct. 26, 1967. (AP Photo/File) Anonymous—A.P. file

  • ">

    FILE - In this fall 1967 file photo, John McCain is administered to at a Hanoi, Vietnam hospital as a prisoner of war. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump criticized Sen. John McCain's military record at a conservative forum Saturday, saying the party's 2008 nominee and former prisoner of war was a "war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured." McCain spent 20 years in the Navy, a quarter of it in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp after his jet was shot down over Hanoi during a bombing mission Oct. 26, 1967. (AP Photo/File) Anonymous—A.P. file

  • Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., receives the Liberty Medal from Chair of the National Constitution Center's Board of Trustees, former Vice President Joe Biden, in Philadelphia, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. The honor is given annually to an individual who displays courage and conviction while striving to secure liberty for people worldwide. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) Matt Rourke—A.P. file

  • FILE - In this July 14, 1961, file photo, then Lt. John S. McCain III, left, and his parents, Rear Adm. John S. McCain Jr. and Roberta Wright McCain take part in the ceremony to commission McCain Field, the U.S. Navy training base in Meridian, Miss., named in honor of Adm. John S. McCain, in photo at top, respectively grandfather and father to the two McCains. Ten U.S. sailors are missing after a collision between the USS John S. McCain and a tanker early Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, east of Singapore, the second accident involving a ship from the Navy's 7th Fleet in the Pacific in two months. The 154-meter (505-foot) McCain is named after U.S. Sen. John McCain's father and grandfather, who were both U.S. admirals. (AP Photo/File) —A.P. file

  • Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., shakes hands with chair of the National Constitution Center's Board of Trustees, former Vice President Joe Biden after receiving the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. The honor is given annually to an individual who displays courage and conviction while striving to secure liberty for people worldwide. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) Matt Rourke—A.P. file

  • Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and his wife Cindy, smile as confetti falls on them at the end of their 114th New Hampshire town hall meeting with voters at the Peterborough Town House in Peterborough, N.H., Sunday afternoon Jan 30, 2000. Peterborough was the sight of McCain's first town hall meeting in April 1999. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia) <%% 0 PICTURE_OK HEADER_OK 2 2 %%> STEPHAN SAVOIA

For the Monitor
Published: 8/25/2018 8:53:38 PM

John McCain is gone. With his passing America lost an authentic hero and one of the last champions of bipartisanship in politics. The world lost one of the most tireless fighters for freedom and human rights. And I lost a dear friend. But even in this sad time I know John would want me to offer up one of his favorite joke lines: “In the words of Chairman Mao, it is often darkest before it goes totally black.”

But even today, it is not totally black because the inspiration and example John McCain gave us will endure. As he faced his final days John was as optimistic as ever about the future of America, and indeed the future of our world. He was confident new champions would take up the causes he embraced. He thought himself one of the luckiest people to have lived. He was not afraid to face whatever comes next. And he still laughed at my jokes.

I want to recall those three things about John McCain: his courage, his unwavering optimism, and his sense of humor.

Almost everyone knows about his physical courage and the torture and hardships he endured while a prisoner in North Vietnam. While some have uncharitably questioned his courage, I would ask this question: who among us would have the physical and moral courage to refuse early release from horrific prison conditions knowing that doing so would result in years of solitary confinement, unimaginable physical pain and torture and an uncertain fate, because it violated the code of conduct you promised to uphold? While McCain never thought of himself as a hero and rarely talked about what he endured, those of us who had the privilege of knowing him well had a greater understanding of just what incredible courage it took to survive. While many noted his awkward wave and the uncomfortable way he raised his arms, few actually knew the extent of crippling injuries and pain he endured his entire adult life. He never complained about his injuries and laughed when North Vietnam claimed in the 2008 campaign that he never had been tortured.

More significant than his physical courage was his moral courage. He aggravated the conservative wing in his party by refusing to vote to dismantle the affordable care act because of his dismay over his party’s failure to follow any semblance of open hearings, deliberation and debate. The scorn, vile, obscene posting and talking head rants wishing him to die quickly bothered him not one bit.

“Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio, television and internet. To hell with them! They don’t want anything done for the public good,” McCain said last summer. Good advice for us all. The condemnation for working to solve the immigration crisis with Democrat Ted Kennedy made him laugh. The animosity he encountered within his own party for taking up the cause of campaign finance reform didn’t phase him. Fighting to eliminate earmarks endeared him to neither side and incurred it loathing from the monied K street crowd. Just as when Democrats routinely scorned and pilloried him when he supported his basic conservative views, that kind of criticism didn’t bother him.

Beyond that kind of courage, McCain possessed what opinion writer David Brooks recently called an “authentic inner self” and when he did something that went against that inner core it bothered him. Almost unique among our elected officials in American life today, McCain was willing to openly admit to failings and then to try to make amends.

Perhaps the best example of that was in the 2000 South Carolina Presidential Primary. The issue was whether South Carolina should continue to use the Confederate flag as a state symbol. Governor Bush declared that it was a symbol of heritage and that it was a question for South Carolina alone to decide. John McCain’s position mimicked that of Bush although anyone who knew McCain could tell that he was troubled even stating that position. He was not courageous in that instance.

He lost the South Carolina primary and soon thereafter lost his chance at the Republican nomination. However, after his campaign was over, he returned to South Carolina and in a public statement admitted that he had not either been true to himself or the voters of that state when he had equivocated on the issue during the primary. He apologized and stated his true position that he thought it was such a symbol of oppression and symbol of slavery that the state should remove it. There was little or no political upside to traveling to South Carolina after the primary was lost, and little chance that he would ever have the opportunity to run for the nomination again. Yet McCain did it because it bothered his conscience that he had not been true to what he really believed and for political expediency he had danced around a contentious issue. Going back was courageous.

Imagine how much better our Congress and executive branch would serve its citizens if high officials were willing to be as candid and willing to admit to lapses in judgment the way McCain did.

John McCain’s optimism about life, the role of America and the world, and the future of the world itself was only matched by his relentless doggedness in pursuing human rights for all people. Wherever there was trouble in the world, or a government oppressing or slaughtering its people, McCain was sure to be there. As his friend Lindsey Graham like to say: “if there was shooting, John McCain was on a plane to go there.” McCain understood far better than almost all of his generation that words of support, and standing up to bullies and thugs around the world made a difference. Whether it was fighting for a free Tibet, calling out the murderous Assad regime in Syria, or confronting Putin over his invasions of Georgia, Crimea and the Ukraine, McCain never wavered in his belief that not only were people entitled to basic human rights but that in the end those rights would prevail. In 2017 alone, when he was likely suffering the cancer that ended his life, McCain traveled to four continents, 24 countries and traveled over 100,000 miles in defense of human rights and the right to self determination.

There were many discouraging days, and years in that fight. Yet despite all the misery, death and oppression McCain witnessed in the world he never once wavered in his optimism about the future and his belief that ultimately all people deserve to be, and would-be free. He, more than many of our presidents, gave hope and inspiration to people around the world. Last summer when he and I traveled to Europe for a short vacation he was besieged by admirers because of his stalwart defense of NATO and his willingness to stand up to Putin and the lawlessness of Russia. I asked him many times if he ever got discouraged or pessimistic and he told me that just the opposite was true. When he saw an oppressed people or country it inspired him to work even harder and reaffirmed his belief that the best years not only for our country, but the world, lie ahead. He was a realistic optimist.

He thought America was exceptional and that despite all of its shortcomings, our democracy was unique in the world. The everyday stories of average Americans persevering reinforced his optimism. Even when it was clear after the economic collapse in the Fall of 2008 that he was likely to lose the election, McCain campaigned talking about the best days of America ahead. McCain knew that his words and message could help bring a country together. His concession speech election night was, in typical McCain fashion, forward looking, charitable, optimistic and with no bitterness at all.

In a rare feat, most of the press were not aware of, and might still not know, almost daily in the Autumn of 2008 McCain would meet with the family of a serviceman or woman who had been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Those were very tough, emotional meetings. They drained any of us who were in the room. I asked McCain why he did it day after day. He told me that even though he was probably going to lose the election if he could make just one family a day feel a little better, or offer a little support, then the day was worthwhile. And even though those were sad meetings, McCain invariably inspired a little optimism about the future for each family.

Finally, no recollection of John McCain would be complete without noting his terrific, biting sense of humor. Scores of articles have been written about his salty language and his fiery temper but not nearly enough about how much he loved to laugh. Whether it was a saucy joke, laughing about a particularly stupid action some politician had taken, or just a practical joke, John McCain loved to laugh. I am certain that is one reason he and I became such good friends and why he kiddingly used to say that in his administration I would become his secretary of fun. He kidded me about one day when I wore a long beach cover-up that looked like a woman in a bikini that I got more reaction to that sophomoric humor than any policy announcement he made in the campaign. Often when we were touring a factory or meeting with business leaders or dignitaries McCain would introduce me and tell the dignitary we were meeting with that I was doing very well on the work release program from prison. He loved to see the reaction of the dignitary we were calling on when he shared that news.

Another day when McCain was bone weary he gave a completely rambling non answer to a question from a member of the press. Offstage he asked me if it was the dumbest thing he had said. I replied: “so far but it’s only noon and you have plenty of opportunity to top it.” Instead of being angry at my flippancy, McCain laughed as hard as anyone. He liked to laugh at his own foibles and never took himself too seriously. After all, anyone who declared, as he did in 2000 and 2008, that the purpose of his campaigns was to talk about serious issues AND to have fun, had the right perspective on the craziness of campaigns. I was lucky because I got to be in charge of fun. When I last visited John a few weeks ago his eyes twinkled when I told him my latest joke about Liam O’Malley finally winning the toast of the week contest at his local pub.

His telling of corny jokes was a staple of his famous town halls in 2000 and 2008. We got so good at predicting when one of his standard jokes was about to surface that the press corps put a top ten McCain joke bingo card game together. All who attended his NH town halls will recall tales about the O’Reilly Twins, the difference between a fish and a lawyer, the difference between marines and navy sailors and many other lines that were part of his patter. He loved to laugh. John used to joke that after he lost in 2000 and then again in 2008 he got over the losses just fine. He said he slept like a baby after those losses. You know- sleep for two hours, wake up and cry, then sleep two hours. I know many of us who knew and loved John McCain will be doing the same.

Shortly after he learned he had cancer he and I had dinner and he was frank and realistic about his prognosis and the future. He then reminded me “no one gets out alive Steve, not even you.” It was his reminder to me, and is a reminder to us all, that life is fleeting and that it is important to take stock of where you are in life and to focus on the things that count. John McCain focused on things that counted.

McCain led a remarkable life of purpose and service. He made our politics, our country and the world a better place. Right to its very end he led his life with courage. He thought himself one of the luckiest people ever, and he loved to laugh. What a remarkable friend I had – New Hampshire’s senator from Arizona.

(Stephen Duprey is a local business owner who also is active in New Hampshire Republican politics.)




Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy