GUEST COLUMN: John McCain – Courageous Conscience of the US Senate
“Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.” This line from West Point’s Cadet Prayer sums up the career of one of my role models, the late Senator John McCain. While sorting-out the estate of my late father-in-law, in an antique shop in nearby Arcadia, Florida, I bought an original edition of Profiles in Courage, written by John F. Kennedy when he was a US Senator. In this book, JFK tells the stories of various American statesmen who chose the harder right over the easier wrong. Had John McCain been born a century earlier, I’m sure he would have been included in Kennedy’s book.
Despite being more conservative than McCain, I have always respected him, not only as a fellow service academy graduate, but also for his wisdom. Such wisdom was born of courage as a Prisoner of War (POW) in the “Hanoi Hilton.” As a result, he challenged many in his own party on the use of torture in our Global War on Terror. Having graduated from the Individual Terrorism Awareness Course at the JFK Special Warfare Center at Ft. Bragg, NC, I don’t know what it is like to be tortured; only pursued. However, as McCain knew first-hand that information acquired via torture is not always reliable, then I must defer to his judgment. I would hope our CIA under its new Director, Gina Haspel, will do likewise.
Campaign finance reform was an issue on which the maverick McCain courageously challenged his own colleagues. Unfortunately, we live in an era where whoever spends the most almost always wins, whether on the national, state, or even local levels. Candidates at all levels are bought-off, then become beholden to benefactors, rather than voters. McCain-Feingold wasn’t perfect, but it was a start towards true campaign finance reform. Despite offers including Indy 500 tickets, thanks to inspiration from John McCain, I have never let anyone wanting to do business with Henry County so much as buy me a meal.
In 2007 I became 6th Congressional District Chairman of his 2008 Presidential campaign. Our then-Congressman Mike Pence would occasionally kid me about helping a “moderate” like McCain. However, Mike told me that after taking a trip “down-range” (to Iraq) with McCain, he came to respect him. What really impressed me about McCain was his bipartisan effectiveness (unfortunately we don’t see much of this in DC today). I saw it first-hand in November 2008, when I was invited to McCain’s Indianapolis fly-in. In addition to John & Cindy McCain, stepping off the campaign plane were some of his fellow maverick members of the US Senate, who had come along to help him campaign. They included Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Joe Lieberman (Democrat-turned-Independent of Connecticut), and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina).
With only 1% of our population now veterans, the growing military-civilian divide in our country was evident even in 2008. Democrats, and even some Republicans, falsely accused McCain of having no executive experience. What such people, without military experience, don’t realize is that ALL military officers have served as executives. Officers are selected for their leadership abilities, then developed for leadership positions. In my civilian career, I have occasionally encountered superiors who neither understand, nor appreciate this very basic quality of officer veterans, whether for veteran recruitment, project management, and, in some cases, even promotion. The irony is that, in 2008, rather than a Navy captain, a self-styled “community organizer” was elected President! A captain commands far more people, and at various levels, than a community organizer most likely manages. Although McCain lost Indiana to Obama, I worked as hard as I could to ensure that he won the 6th Congressional District, which he did with 52.4% of the vote (losing only Delaware and Madison Counties within the 6th CD).
With the passing of John McCain, Todd Young is now the only Annapolis graduate in the US Senate. Having served on Todd Young’s Steering Committee and as his Henry County Coordinator, I was among a group of veterans invited to the Indiana War Memorial in October 2016. This was for a private meeting with Senators Dan Coats and John McCain, as they were campaigning hard for Todd Young. During the Q&A, Senator McCain and I disagreed on Syria policy. However, I never lost respect for him.
McCain’s 2004 book, Why Courage Matters, is a modern-day counterpart to Profiles in Courage. Rather than only telling the stories of Senators and Congressmen as Kennedy did, McCain tells the stories of courageous heroes, ranging from explorers (John Wesley Powell) to civil rights leaders (John Lewis) to several veterans. Someday a similar book will be written. I’m sure it will feature McCain as the courageous conscience of the US Senate from 1987 to 2018. Be thou at peace, John McCain!
Nate LaMar, an international manager, also serves as President of Henry County Council, and as Military Academy Liaison Officer (West Point recruiter) for East-Central & Southeastern Indiana.