John McCain died on August 25th, 2018. He was 81 years old. The senator was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, in July 2017 and, until recently, had been treating the cancer with radiation and chemotherapy. Even during the treatment, Senator McCain continued to travel, correspond with loved ones, and serve in his role as U.S. Senator, most notably to cast the decisive No vote to preserve the Affordable Care Act.
The final passing set off a wave of memorials and tributes, as well as a few people who pushed back, albeit mildly, against the idea of actual sainthood. From the somewhat mischievous youth to his war heroics and time as prisoner of war—and then coming back to serve his country as a congressman, senator, presidential candidate, and stateman—the importance of his vote and the significance of his stature only increased throughout his life and political career. Surveying some of the most well-respected writers and publications, one of the most striking qualities that stands out is the longevity, not just of the man but of the legacy itself.
From Robert D. McFadden, The New York Times, in demonstrating McCain’s heroic posture while serving as a prisoner of war:
Once he was visited by a group of North Vietnamese dignitaries. A prisoner, Jack Van Loan, said Mr. McCain shrieked at them. “Here’s a guy that’s all crippled up, all busted up, and he doesn’t know if he’s going to live to the next day, and he literally blew them out of there with a verbal assault,” Mr. Van Loan told Mr. Timberg. “You can’t imagine the example John set for the rest of the camp by doing that.”
From Philip Elliott, Time Magazine, in describing McCain’s dark sense of humor and one his favorite sayings, ““It’s always darkest before it’s totally black.”
The accompanying glint in McCain’s eye captured the combination of fatalism, determination and comic relief that defined his distinctly American spirit. Few knew better than the former prisoner of war, veteran legislator and two-time presidential contender that life is cruel, the fates are fickle and the situation can always get worse. Best to call it like you see it, crack wise and forge ahead.