Robert Azzi: John McCain – standing honorably against this present darkness

  • In this Oct. 11, 2008, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks at a rally in Davenport, Iowa. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 9/4/2018 2:33:14 PM

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Paine wrote in 1776. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

I quoted Paine not long ago when I criticized Vice President Mike Pence for praising convicted racist and presidentially pardoned Joe Arpaio at a political rally in Arizona, calling him a “tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law.”

Sadly, it’s time to call upon Paine once again.

On Aug. 25 in Arizona, Sen. John McCain died.

On Aug. 27, a Seacoast resident who recently served as a high-ranking N.H. Republican official shared a Facebook post falsely claiming that John McCain was a “traitor (who) gave information that led to the downing of 60 (American) aircraft, trained North Vietnamese air defense personnel (and) made over 30 propaganda broadcasts against the US, which he moved to have classified when he was elected to the Senate.”

Such obscenities about a man who was captured, tortured and maimed for life while serving in a war, so maimed that John McCain was unable, for the rest of his life, to raise his arms above his shoulders, unable even to comb his own hair without help.

Such abhorrent postings are not uncommon; to the “sunshine patriots” who thrive off them it doesn’t matter whether McCain was a fellow wounded warrior or whether he went out of his way defending Obama for being a “decent family man.”

Such postings from those who couldn’t even wait until McCain’s body was cold take their lead from an insecure, shallow person who couldn’t even bear to keep the White House flag at half-staff until the senator’s internment.

Sen. McCain was a complex and, I believe, morally conflicted patriot, a product of America’s best and worst natures, Many Americans, as I, both critiqued and cheered him.

I cheered for a man who stood strong against zealotry, who loved America and championed our aspirations for liberty, justice and freedom for all.

I critiqued a man who felt Palestinians were unworthy of a state of their own.

McCain shouldered an inherited commitment to honor, service and country as best he could. While I totally disagreed with his sometimes eager willingness to use military might – from cheer-leading the invasion of Iraq to his Bomb-Bomb-Bomb comments about Iran – his condemnation of torture, his willingness to correct a voter about whether Barack Obama was an Arab, and his support of John Kerry in 2004 when Kerry was being unfairly swift-boated by the Bush campaign made me admire his willingness to occasionally stand apart for things he believed in.

The man who called Bush’s ad criticizing Kerry’s military service “dishonest and dishonorable” was eulogized this past weekend by that same President George W. Bush.

Eulogized, too, by President Barack Obama.

Eulogized in Washington’s National Cathedral by two men who had defeated him in elections – eulogized by two men he so respected that he picked them to honor him at his funeral service.

And, thankfully, honor him they did.

McCain lived a life rightly, even though some choices were wrongly taken. Never perfect, but driven to serve and honor a nation inspired by ideals enshrined in law and vision by our Founding Fathers.

McCain – human, fallible, both heroic and flawed – stands before us as a moral, mortal repudiation of the ignominy of a vulgar and diminutive person who shrank from the service of his country.

Trump cowers in the shadow of a man who spent a life serving America while he, today a president whose French cuffs are embroidered with “45,” was protected from the draft by a wealthy father who found a doctor who could get his son deferred for bone-spurs.

McCain often endeared himself to detractors through self critique when he failed to live up to ideals he set for himself. He recognized, for example, that his selection of Sarah Palin, his opposition to MLK Day, his explaining “I understand both sides” in a controversy over the Confederate flag in South Carolina were mistakes wrongly embraced.

Today, McCain, who stood in America as an unrepentant patriot, “deserves the love and thanks of man and woman” – if only for his well- choreographed repudiation, to his last verse, of the pernicious autocracy that presently threatens this nation.

On Sunday, as America celebrated Labor Day weekend, McCain’s oldest son, Doug, delivered the final reading as the war hero, the senator, the family man – the maverick – was buried in Annapolis.

The reading, from Ephesians, was McCain’s final call to resist autocrats.

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12 (NRSV)

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. He can be reached at His columns are archived at On Thursday, Sept. 6, the Hooksett Public Library will be hosting his “Ask a Muslim Anything” program in the Hebert Room at 6:30 p.m.)

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