If 70+ Life at the Top had a medal to present for heroic service to the American people it would go to John McCain, the senator from Arizona and former presidential candidate who cast the deciding vote to defeat the so-called “skinny” repeal of the Affordable Care Act. In so-doing he confirmed a lifelong reputation for courage and independence that has put his life on the line from the time he was a Navy aviator in the Vietnam War and endured five and a half years as a prisoner of war (two of them in solitary confinement) while undergoing torture that would have broken a lesser individual. That life is again on the line from a virulent brain cancer, but he remains upright and forthright, two qualities that have distinguished his career.
We have come to know and admire that John McCain first hand. When he was on the Senate Commerce Committee and I the editor of a magazine covering the broadcasting industry, we met for an extended interview on Capitol Hill regarding his policies toward industry regulation. At what became the end the questioning turned to the First Amendment, about which our publication took an absolutist’s view toward extending its protections to the electronic press — as opposed to the printed press, which historically and still enjoys those protections. Senator McCain held a less liberal view, and little hesitation in voicing it. I offered opposing viewpoints with I thought the proper respect due his rank and reputation, but the conversation must have continued beyond his patience. After saying “I will never convince you of my opinion and you will never convince me of yours,” he abruptly and summarily left the room. Both I and the staff that had witnessed the exchange sat stunned and speechless.
That was the short-tempered McCain, who was known around then a more mannered Washington — after his release from imprisonment in Hanoi — as having an instinct for trigger-fingered quickness that was often used against him when he ran for President. But there is and was another side to McCain, who believes in giving opponents an even break. The next morning, when I returned to my office, there was a member of his staff waiting at the elevator, having hand-carried a personal letter to me from the senator apologizing for his abrupt demeanor. But not taking back his opinion.
The Republican party and the world at large have again met the McCain I know and honor, and who so greatly epitomizes those others we celebrate for being older, wiser and still in the game.