In my lifetime, I do not remember a funeral like we saw with Senator John McCain’s. The pomp and circumstance displayed over several days gave witness to a nation mourning much like it would the death of a President. That has intrigued me. Are we mourning just the man, or is it the loss of something more?
McCain was born in a different era somewhat mysterious to the current generations grown up on social media and self-service. McCain represented the age of America where citizens were taught a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. He was in no way a man without faults. There’s his first family we don’t hear much about, and then there is the debacle of putting Sarah Palin only a step from the Presidency. He knew he made mistakes but he didn’t let it define him. He may have simply been a candidate in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the age of Eisenhower, McCain probably would have been a President. Kennedy’s and Bush, Sr’s war time experiences are the only ones remotely close to McCain’s. McCain survived a real hell and still felt called to serve. I think that is why we are so moved. McCain represented an upaid debt; a living proof that we still haven’t evolved.
Is it because we couldn’t elect such a man as President, or is it not coming to grips with the killer of American youth that was Vietnam? Maybe it is a simple wistfulness for what could have been? To feel some grief over John McCain does give me hope that American hasn’t lost her soul. I’m a bit surprised at my own reaction since I come from the other side of the aisle. I find myself wondering whether I’ve always been fair with him. I had the pleasure of meeting Senator McCain very briefly when he swung through Tallahassee a few years back. The autograph he scribbled across his book a reminder of that opportunity for my oldest son to see a true American hero.
We didn’t learn the lessons of Vietnam. We haven’t learned how to hold leaders accountable. We haven’t learned how to ensure our political process gets the most qualified candidates elected. We haven’t learned with today’s mass media on how to tell fact from opinion. It’s getting easier to disagree and more beneficial to not tell the truth. Now, as the years go by, the Presidencies of Obama and W will receive greater historical scrutiny, especially the start of never-ending wars and the unfettered growth of economic inequality. Some will wonder in retrospect whether the best candidates won. Certainly, the current occupant is testament to our need to learn from the lessons of the past. And that is probably the final testament of the man John McCain. He died after a lifetime of service to country under the shadow of a man elected on everything but. We can do better.
Daniel Parker is an author, educator, and public servant. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org