Three lessons I learned from John McCain

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks with reporters ahead of a health care vote July 27 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (CNS photo/Aaron P. Bernstein, Reuters)Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks with reporters ahead of a health care vote July 27 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (CNS photo/Aaron P. Bernstein, Reuters)

On Feb. 13, 2002, John McCain and I were standing in a crowded room next to the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives when the senator yelled, “Quiet down!”

A monitor showed the floor debate over “Shays-Meehan,” shorthand for a campaign finance law I had introduced in the House with my Republican colleague Christopher Shays. The Senate version of it would come to be known as “McCain-Feingold.” Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat who had become a national figure as a civil rights activist in the 1960s, was speaking in strong support of the bill, and Senator McCain wanted to hear him.

When the congressman finished, the senator leaned over to me and said, “Marty, we’re lucky we get to serve with the likes of John Lewis. That’s what makes this institution so great.”

I have since left Congress and now serve as president of the University of Massachusetts. As I reflect on my relationship with Senator McCain, who on Saturday lost his long battle with brain cancer, I realize there are several lessons students can learn from his remarkable life and legacy.

Nonpartisan statements of values l have been largely lost from our national dialogue.

First, you define your own values.

Of course, John McCain is best known for his “maverick” streak of independence, reaffirmed last summer when he broke from his party to vote against a “skinny repeal” of Obamacare, the signature legislative accomplishment of his onetime opponent for the presidency.

During that 2008 presidential campaign, a woman at one of Mr. McCain’s town hall meetings suggested that Barack Obama did not have the country’s interests at heart. “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues,” Mr. McCain bluntly told the woman, one of his likely voters.

Ten years later, direct, nonpartisan statements of values like that have been largely lost from—or drowned out of—our national dialogue. Our next generation of leaders can change that.

Second, challenge the status quo with superior ideas.

John McCain was a famously rambunctious student at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he graduated fifth from the bottom of his class. Later in life, after he was already a war hero and had embarked on his political career, he learned to channel his anti-establishment streak.

Never sacrifice your dignity or integrity for short-term gain.

The senator and I came together because we both saw the corrosive effects of money on our government. He wanted to disrupt our campaign finance system not just for the sake of change but because it was the right thing to do to preserve the integrity of our elections. His powerful advocacy for legislation that many of our colleagues thought ran counter to their interests made all of the difference.

Senator McCain demonstrated that challenging the status quo works best when you are able to articulate why your approach is the better one.

Third, consider now how you want to be remembered.

John McCain’s son and namesake, Navy Lieutenant Jack McCain IV, wrote an eloquent tribute in which he explained how his father survived more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, “suffering gravely for refusing early release,” because he wanted to return home with honor. As the senator himself would later tell the midshipmen at his alma mater, his embrace of honor came from a powerful force: the dread of dishonor.

Today’s college students belong to what I believe is our brightest and most talented generation but one raised with social media, where nothing is valued more than eliciting a reaction. John McCain’s example is that no matter your age, your life story is already being told. Never sacrifice your dignity or integrity for short-term gain.

As our next generation of leaders, college students will have to tackle our nation’s most pressing issues. I hope they will look to John McCain’s life and six decades of service for inspiration.

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David Power
2 years 1 month ago

We should all be judged in death on our impact on those we lived with .If The iraqis and syrians not to mention the palestinians who were pulverised by the weapons he voted on sending had a say John McCain would not be seen well.He never met a war he did not like , a man with a hammer everything he saw was a nail.Thousands if not millions of children innocent children died at the hands of this man and his militancy , America save your tears for one who fights for peace

rose-ellen caminer
2 years 1 month ago

I used to think about him as you do; that he was a war monger who "never met a war he did not like" .I thought he was a hater, first of the Vietnamese, then of the Arab Muslims when he supported the Iraq war. I thought he was the way I believe most people who volunteered to go to Iraq were, not because they suddenly wanted to free some Arab people from a tyrant, after we were attacked by 19 of them, but to kill as many as they could.That's how I felt about McCain ; another "lets turn the place into a parking lot" war monger, ignoramus and hater who just wanted vengeance against Muslim Arabs for 9-11. {Afghanistan had logic and justice to it; if that's where Alquada was, that's where you are justified in going to get them]. But when he, alone with Graham, took the side of the Syrian Sunnis who Assad was killing en masse and called for at least a no fly zone to stop Assad from bombing Sunnis, when he expressed his belief that this mass murdering regime needed to be toppled, when he went against the media's narrative, went against the Right and the Left politicians, and pundits and probably even Intelligence and Pentagon who all said "Muslims killing Muslims let Allah sort it out" as men, women and children were being bombed, tortured, crucified beheaded, burned etc., when he went against the Left and the Right who said; Assad may be a murderer, but he's good to Christians so lets not topple him cause who knows what happens after, as the horrors in scale and in kind, against Sunni civilians continued unabated [prior to ISIS and only when ISIS went into "our" Iraq or started killing westerners and Christians did we care ] ,when he went against the prevalent political narrative which was that anyone who opposes Assad was a fanatic fundie Muslim terrorist, some even said that the white helmet Syrians who were recusing children from bombed buildings were really ISIS at night. [ talk about Putin fed propaganda]. When he alone with Graham visited with anti Assad rebels and believed adamantly that they were NOT all fundie fanatics, as the politicians and much of the media were claiming, including it looks like Obama who was unwilling to provide a no fly zone to protect men, women and children and whose idea of opposing Assad was to to arm like 4 rebels , while Assad was engaged in systemic campaign of atrocities , then I knew I had been wrong about him. He really did want to liberate people; whether Viet Nam ,Iraq and Syria. He may have been ignorant about Viet Nam and Iraq but it was not neo con racism, bigotry vengeance, US imperialist war mongering that motivated him to support these unjust wars against the people of those countries. [as he later learned about Viet Nam].
He was vilified in the media and by the Right and the Left for having the moral clarity of seeing that the world cannot stand by when you have a police state dictator engaged in whole sale mass murder of countless men, women and children. Another holocaust was taking place against another Semitic group; Sunni Arabs and he took a stand to stop it.
He wanted to be remembered as a patriotic American, a point of great pride; THE coin of the realm in this hyper militaristic and nationalist 21st century America, but God reads hearts and really he was more then that, he was a humanitarian, a humanist who saw the atrocities on the scale that Assad was committing against Syrians the way everyone else sees Guatemalans fleeing domestic violence and gangs, as amoral imperative to act! God bless you my brother in Christ John McCain; may Jesus Christ's light shine upon you.
He was wrong about Palestine, nobody's perfect; this is America.

Tim Donovan
2 years 1 month ago

I admired Senator McCain for his sincere principles, moderation, and willingness to defy typical Republican policies. Although he gave the 2006 commencement address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, in 2000 he criticized Falwell and Pat Robertson as "agents ofp intolerance." In my view he was too willinpg to support war. However, he was a man of courage who was tortured while being imprisoned for more than five years in a Viet Con g prison, and in the Senate worked to normalize relations with North Vietnam. He also opposed the violence of legal abortion, and he and his wife adopted a child from Bangladesh. According to the Washington Post (August 26, 2018), McCain "ran against the GOP grain by favoring campaign finance reform, liberalized immigration" and opposed the CIA using techniques commonly referred to as torture against terrorism suspects. He also was so willing to work in a bipartisan manner that Democratic Sen. John Kerry considered offering him a spot in 2004 as his vice -presidential running mate. Finally, although I 'm gay, like McCain I oppose gay marriage. Yet ohe was willing to listen to other people's opinions. He respected the views of his wife Cindy and daughter Meghan who favor same-sex marriage.

E.Patrick Mosman
2 years 1 month ago

"Shays-Meehan,” shorthand for a campaign finance law I had introduced in the House with my Republican colleague Christopher Shays. The Senate version of it would come to be known as “McCain-Feingold.”
Mr.Meehan fails to note that the Supreme Court found McCain-Feingold unconstitutional.

John Walton
2 years 1 month ago

I would ask friends of mine: "What problems do you have with the First Amendment". For the record, I donated vigorously to his campaign in 2008, and the world would have been a better place had he been elected.

Stanley Kopacz
2 years 1 month ago

He probably would have won except the Alaska dingbat would have been a heartbeat away. She was kind of a pre-Trump prototype. I know enough people who would have voted for him otherwise. Actually, I wanted the Repubs to stay in power and eat their own recession. Except I liked McCain too much to have him take the beating. I wanted a more standard Republican.

Stanley Kopacz
2 years 1 month ago

At least there was some solidity to the man. Something you could push off from or grab onto or argue with or possibly persuade. He was a respectful man and therefore worthy of respect. Unlike the amoeba that is our fake president.

Paige Smyth
2 years 1 month ago

When I think of John McCain, I think of one word. Bitter.

rose-ellen caminer
2 years 1 month ago

John McCain, bitter? You must have have him "mixed up with somebody else". He was gracious in defeat, gracious in facing a terminal illness, admitted past mistakes, retuned in a spirit of peace to Viet Nam, and had a sense of humor through it all. Bitter? John McCain? What the bleep are you talking about?

John Walton
2 years 1 month ago

Nope, he was a bitter man, and it seethed from every pore of his body.

rose-ellen caminer
2 years 1 month ago

Nah,you must have him mixed up with some other vets; the stereotypical Viet Nam vet seething with bitterness for decades because they got called baby killers to their face and never got a parade , or those Iraq /Afghan vets seething with bitterness that they had to "fight with their hands tied behind their backs" who numbed their seething bitterness with drugs, or became spouse abusers, or suicidal or homicidal like the vet who took a page out of isis and rammed his car into Times Square.[The empathetic term is PTSD.].You are not citing evidence for your claim about McCain seething with bitterness with his every pore but just expressing a seething with bitterness veteran trope. Mc Cain had passion and was gracious to the end.

brucemay77@gmail.com
2 years 1 month ago

We can talk until we’re blue in the face about John McCain’s. “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” John McCain (and I have met him and have a personalized copy of his first book. He personalized it because my son told him I was a Vietnam Era veteran.) He surived over five years in captivity at the “Hanoi Hilton” and did not take their offer to be released early because if his father and grandfather’s military service. John McCain, a true American hero, was certainly a class act ad honorable man. RIP, Sir.

John Walton
2 years 1 month ago

So y'all know, McCain crashed so many planes in his checkered Annapolis career that he was very close to being cashiered out of the service academy. He was an intemperate risk taker.
Saying this, and noting that I contributed to his 2008 campaign, I find it rather curious that those who offering encomia today called him a racist in 2008.

Carlos Orozco
2 years 1 month ago

Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Palestine and Ukraine are witnesses of the suffering and bloodshed that resulted by implementing the plans designed by the likes of John McCain. I remember the news of the the now deceased war criminal meeting in secret with "moderate" forces in Syria during 2013. Criminal, disgraceful and dishonorable. If that was not enough, how about his role in propagandizing for open conflict with Russia?

rose-ellen caminer
2 years 1 month ago

Syria is not a fundamental country.They WERE moderate rebels but because the world stood by and allowed Assad/Putin to engage in a holocaust, of Sunni Syrians, because we would not even provide a no fly zone they are all either killed or fled. Ask the refugees, the 2 million of them , why they fled and if they support Assad.
If Alquada was also there fighting Assad. that confirms for me that they are freedom fighters fighting all middle east dictators and their supporters. [core alquada were NOT fundie fanatics either, btw and we were not attacked by them for not being Muslims but for our support of regimes and other policies that benefitted us only. Actually if we really oppose brutal dictators they should have been our natural middle east allies but we had cozy deals with ME dictators during the cold war because they also opposed the soviets].We fought alongside The Soviet Union during world war two, it does not make us commies, and the Syrian rebels who may have fought with alquada to topple the mass murderer Assad and his regime, does not make them alquada either.It certainly does not make them fundamentalists. You are just spouting second hand talking points to smear Mc Cain, who did have first had knowledge about Syrian rebels.
And lumping all the conflicts together , is lazy and or manipulative. I agree with you that wanting open conflict with Russia is wrong. Then again I believe they have right to their freedom of speech including to influence via propaganda on the internet what we think and how we vote. And we have the same right to try to influence them by what we say online.

Stanley Kopacz
2 years 1 month ago

McCain has to be given credit for transcending the lock step anti-science of the Repub party on carbon dioxide. He recognized the problem and supported this country taking a lead in addressing it.

Allison Quinn
2 years 1 month ago

John McCain was too pro-War and pro-violence. His efforts most definitely caused death and misery for many people.

Stanley Kopacz
2 years 1 month ago

McCain's 106yo mother got to experience one of the many blessings of extreme old age. Seeing her aged child die. Shame he couldn't hang on for a few more years.

Kevin Murphy
2 years 1 month ago

Why would I listen to anything Mr. Meehan has to say? He's just another America Mag Catholic prototype. http://www.ontheissues.org/MA/Marty_Meehan_Abortion.htm

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