Requiem for the last of a kind
“To fight for the right, without question or pause…
To be willing to march into Hell for a Heavenly cause…” — Joe Darian
I don’t suppose it should be surprising that a man whose living room’s walls and bookshelves are adorned with artistic depictions of Don Quixote, is a man who would admire the life of John McCain. After all, any linkage of the two characters, one fictional, the other larger than real life, practically screams for the forcing of metaphors like a bad writing school.
But not all metaphors are created equal. Let me tell you a story.
One of my more treasured possessions is a playbill from the 1965 Broadway production of “Man of La Mancha,” a musical adaption of Cervantes’ 17th Century masterpiece. It was given to me years ago by my boss, mentor, friend, Joe Ellis, both as an expression of affection and (I later suspected) to serve as a moral compass for a young newsman, but before I was so honored by it, that originally Picasso-painted playbill had served as inspiration for what remains the single best editorial I have ever read, penned by Ellis upon occasion of the death of a dear friend, former Lt. Gov. Charles Sullivan.
The first Mississippi Press Association award I ever won was for the deadline coverage of the 1977 plane crash that claimed Sullivan’s life, and the editorial Joe wrote in its wake was headlined “The Quest,” which most folks don’t know was the original title of that musical’s hit song, most popularly known now as “The Impossible Dream,” lyrics from which are quoted above.
It won the John Oliver Emmerich Award of Editorial Excellence that year and it should have because it rightly and ever so eloquently captured the oft forgotten truth that the way a man lives his life is more important that what he might accomplish within it. It spoke of honor, and respect and courage and sense of duty and the notion that dignity might be retained, even within a world filled with indignity.
And it implied that merely an honest striving for such higher human verities, even “The Quest” for such, is sufficiently ennobling to transcend that which is no more elevated than death.
And so it is for U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), American patriot, United States hero, national treasure. We shall not see his like again soon; we may not see his like again ever.
McCain’s death, a final battle he waged for the past year against glioblastoma, the same form of brain cancer, that also claimed the life of one of his closest friends and unlikely Senate allies, Democrat Ted Kennedy on the same date, Aug. 25, in 2009, marked the final check off of a generation of U.S. senators who considered their elected seats positions of honor and their institution a historically sacred one in which the great compromises which formed America were forged.
“Very few bear the wounds of valor,” the wordsmith historian John Meacham said upon hearing the news of McCain’s passing.
McCain, of course, spent five years as a prisoner of war in the infamous North Vietnamese “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp, the last two of which in solitary confinement because he refused release after the North Vietnamese learned, that as the grandson and son of four-star admirals, he could be a propaganda bonanza to them. He had broken arms and a leg and was tortured pretty regularly, but to leave before those incarcerated longer would have been dishonorable.
“I fell in love with my country when I was in prison in somebody else’s,” McCain once wrote. And despite what happened to him there, he led the effort to normalize Vietnamese relations with the United States.
He replaced one of the fathers of the modern Republican Party in the Senate upon the retirement of Barry Goldwater and earned the label of “maverick” for sometimes teaming up with members of the other party to accomplish something he thought needed and bucking his own party on things he personally thought wrong for the country.
But those who have and continue to refer to him as the new Republican cuss phrase RINO, do so out of ignorance. McCain was a conservative, a rock solid Goldwater/Reagan/Bill Buckley conservative. He just wasn’t a damn fool party-above-country partisan that his party seems now to prefer at its own peril.
When he knew he was facing his own mortality, John McCain gave an interview to Tom Brokaw last year in which the veteran newsman asked what he would like to have on his tombstone. “He served his country,” McCain said, adding, “hopefully with the word ‘honorably’ on it.”
And, of course, he did. John McCain was a patriot and a hero, but he was also just a good man and the country could use a helluva lot more of both.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.