Last week’s news was dominated by dueling funerals. The lives of John Mccain and Aretha Franklin were celebrated with laughter and tears. They both came from disparate backgrounds – McCain from a famous military family and Aretha the daughter of a minister in a black ghetto of Detroit. They were both flawed, she twice a preteen mother who became addicted to alcohol and nicotine, and he a rebellious Annapolis midshipman who seemed to not have found a sense of purpose until suffering years of extreme torture as a prisoner of war. Who could have predicted that these youngsters would be accorded such epitaphs? She in an 8 hour funeral preceded by a week of celebration where she was feted as “the queen of soul” and a major civil rights activist. Equally unlikely was that McCain would become an honored world-renowned political figure who nearly became President.
HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
Of particular interest to me was the transition of McCain from irresponsible hell raiser to one who came to be revered as a model of integrity. His explanation was: “In prison I fell in love with my country”. However; I suspect that it may be more accurate to say that he fell in love with his countrymen. The bonding that occurs in situations where people must rely on others for their continued existence rivals that which we feel for our closest family members even our children. Much military training is designed to encourage such bonding by doing everything as a group, marching, enduring hardship, suffering together and devising situations in which mutual dependency is essential to success. Such bonds become so strong in combat situations that those who are forced to leave their buddies may actually grieve and request a return to combat. After capture and his identification as the son and grandson of admirals McCain was subjected to extremely violent torture. He credits the care received from his fellow POWs for saving his life, and he would continue to profess his love for them throughout his life.
THE GOOD AND THE NOT SO GOOD
It is not surprising that McCain would come to accept those codes of honor that were likely drilled into him ad nauseum as a child. Mark Twain expressed it well with his statement:
“when I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around, but when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned
Whatever influences came to bear, the qualities of integrity, truthfulness, respect, courage, compassion, loyalty, devotion to duty, and humility were repetitively ascribed to this man by his eulogists. These are all terms which could be listed under the term honor, a quality that finds particular emphasis in the military academies, and which undoubtedly was the standard expected of him as he grew up. At some point in his life he seems to have adopted this code of honor which he attempted to apply to his political career. He did not always behave in an honorable fashion as exemplified by his involvement in the Keating savings and loan scandal, and even worse his abandonment of his crippled first wife for a younger and more affluent one.
To his credit however McCain did assume responsibility for his actions expressed regrets for these dishonorable behaviors, and has sought to make amends. He even berates himself for having broadcast a Vietnamese propaganda message after having undergone months of unbelievable torture. Many (myself included) have disagreed with some of his positions, but his courage has only been questioned by one person – a guy who was rejected by his local draft board due to his bone spurs.
OK TO BE AFRAID
His idea of valor was: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite one’s fears”. He was willing to take up any cause which he felt was righteous even those contrary to his party’s position. To accomplish his goals, he was willing to work hand in hand with democrats as demonstrated by his co-sponsorship of the McCain Feingold act designed to limit the effects of big money on elections, or on an immigration bill with Ted Kennedy. In both cases these guys were far to the left of McCain politically and these relationships did not endear him to the party elite.
True to his ideal of never letting an opportunity go to waste the good Senator set about to arrange in minute detail his funeral and interment. In my opinion, he did so with two goals in mind. He had expressed a great deal of dismay about the divisiveness in our government consequently; he wished to set an example of how those with differing political leanings or party affiliations could come together and even be civil. The seating arrangements sent a message that you should learn how to get along or at least tolerate each other rather than treat members of your opposite party as if they were fugitives from a Leper colony. McCain must have enjoyed working out the seating arrangements. I can imagine the chuckle as he seated Al Gore next to Dick Cheney. I was heartened to see George Bush share a mint with Michelle Obama. Of course, those of all political persuasions were invited, and the eulogists were likewise all former adversaries.
THE FUN PART
Yes, the hurrah for bipartisanship was an obvious theme, but I suspect the most delicious of his decisions was to publicly snub the one person who he has not forgiven. It was made clear that President Donald Trump was not welcome to the party. How this must have hurt the Donald for this is the person for whom the spotlight was invented, the guy who pushes other dignitaries out of the way in order to be front and center for the photograph at all those international meetings, the guy who demands not respect but adulation, who is on pace to wear out Air force one as he travels the country seeking crowds who will cheer him. This is the guy who is never wrong consequently; does not need the word apology in his vocabulary. It must have been humiliating for the greatest President in our history to be upstaged by a corpse. Way to go John.
HE WILL BE MISSED
In previous blogs I have expressed my concerns as to what I consider a lack of statesmanship in our government. Webster defines statesmanship as “wisdom and skill in the management of public affairs”. It seems to me that we lack that wisdom in our congress. Since McCain’s death and throughout this prolonged burial process I have heard many comments such as: “We will never see the likes of him again”. That thought is indeed frightening to me for we already suffer from a deficit of the likes of him, and if there are to be no more we are in deep trouble. For all his faults he was a statesman best exemplified by his oft quoted statement that “nothing is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself”. Obviously were we to follow this motto many problems would be solved. Unfortunately, such a strategy has no value in the case of those with narcissistic personality disorder for they are convinced there is no greater cause than themselves.