A Medal for John McCain, Hero.
(This is the way an American hero acts.)
Some people become heroes once.
John McCain was a hero four different ways, by my count.
He was a hero in wartime and he was a hero during the stench of Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.
That is why I am celebrating the news that he has posthumously been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The medal is going to deserving people like
--Sandra Lindsay, a nurse who lives in the same town I do, who became the first American to be inoculated against Covid.
--Simone Biles, the Olympic champion who excelled despite being assaulted in one form or another by a rogue doctor, the gymnastics federation, and the FBI
-- Megan Rapinoe, who caught my eye with her brazen sorties as a star soccer player, and then caught the eye of the world with her support of female athletes and LGBTQ causes.
---And so many others.
John McCain touches my heart in a special way because he was a perpetual hero, and also a very human public figure.
I met him once in his office in 1999, when we talked so easily during a break in a Senate investigation of the Olympic movement. (He had just savaged an American Olympic official who sounded too vague to the senator.)
I began with a question about something else: my wife had sat next to one of McCain’s service buddies on a long flight to Asia. The man told her how the senator was quietly leading some vets to raise money and goods and shipping them to, yes, Vietnam – the same country that had broken his arms during a long and cruel captivity.
In his office in 1999, I asked McCain why he helped Vietnam. His answer was an eloquent shrug with his damaged shoulders -- a gesture of modesty.
John McCain was also a hero during his doomed campaign in 2008 when Republican voters vilified Sen. Barack Obama as “an Arab.” John McCain snatched the microphone back with the response that his fellow senator was a good man, a family man. McCain asserted that he would make a better president, but he told his own people that they need not worry about the loyalties of his opponent. That is the instinctive act of an American political hero. Or used to be.
The fourth time John McCain was a hero was in 2017 when it was apparent he was dying of cancer. With a post-operative scar on his head, John McCain strode, military-like, to the floor of the Senate, where his colleagues were voting whether to scuttle much of the health-care program known as Obamacare.
At 1:39 AM, John McCain faced the twisted Mitch McConnell and jabbed his right thumb downward, in a decisive gesture straight from the Roman Colosseum. No repeal. Ongoing health care for millions.
That, for me, is the act of a hero.
The recipients of the Medal of Freedom are always varied. I became interested in the medal in 2011 when Stan Musial, whose biography I was writing, was among the honorees. Through a Washington insider friend, I received a special guest pass, (more access than a journalist) and mingled with the guests and the recipients, including a fading Stan the Man.
I watched President Obama appear, so knowing and enthused about each of the recipients and their fields. I got to chat with Bill Russell, still fierce-looking, and tell Yo-Yo Ma how much I admired his diverse cello repertoire
On the way in, a Washington lawyer pal of mine was showing me a photo of himself with a very young President n 1961, and a handsome lady spotted the photo and said, “That’s my brother” – meaning President Kennedy. She was Jean Kennedy Smith, another recipient that day.
After the ceremony, Yo-Yo Ma sat in with a Marine string quartet in the lobby, and his pal President Obama stood near him, and on the way out, “back to work.” the President extended his hand to people nearby, and one of them was me -- an act of grace I will never forget.
So, yes, I count the Presidential Medal of Freedom as one of those great American honors.
Now the medal is going to other deserving recipients.
There is no A List and B List.
But I will say, in my heart, the recipient who thrills me the most this time around is John McCain, four-time hero.
7/2/2022 04:17:57 pm
McCain. Definitely a hero. I know this from my time in the Navy when I had friends who were POW's in Hanoi. But also the man who gave us Sarah Palin. You didn't mentioned Denzel Washington who I think is an outstanding choice. Ditto Simone Biles. But Megan Rapinoe? She wouldn't be on my list. And I'm sure we could have a long chat about that.
7/4/2022 09:25:52 am
7/4/2022 09:41:51 am
because of his father's position as Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet he could have had special treatment. When he refused he got a different, and brutal, kind of "special treatment". He was a very tough guy in very difficult circumstances and we all admired him very much for that. I can forgive some of his later mistakes. He was a good officer and a good man.
7/2/2022 04:37:16 pm
John: BTW, election was 2008, not 2012. Will fix later.
7/2/2022 05:12:41 pm
I have never cared for "look at me" players. I have always thought she decided early on to emulate Alexi Lalas whose outspoken manner and distinctive appearance helped to make him a household name. If she did it has worked for her. She never misses an opportunity to be on camera and became the go-to interview for journalists in need to a quick quote from a star player. You can be a good leader without always seeking to be the center of attention. But above all, I lost respect for her, and others in the team, because of what I consider the knowingly misleading and dishonest "equal pay" campaign.
7/4/2022 09:33:51 am
7/3/2022 06:12:31 am
I also have to question why Steve Jobs is on this list. And if he IS on the list then why not Wozniak too? I'm sure Biden and his people want to restore the prestige of this award after Trump thoroughly debased it by giving it to partisan creeps Rush Limbaugh, Jim Jordan, Devin Nunes, and a few well-known golfers. But the Biden standard seems not high enough, and overly influenced by popularity and political correctness.
7/2/2022 04:56:06 pm
Thanks, George. Very poignant tribute to Sen. McCain, a throwback to an era of statesmanship from today's current error of partisanship.
7/4/2022 09:29:32 am
7/2/2022 05:44:48 pm
John McCain qualifies as a national hero in so many ways, but his defense of presidential candidate Obama stands out as proof of one’s character.
7/3/2022 06:44:50 am
George, Sen. McCain only shrugged — didn’t explain at all his reasoning for the contribution? Also, did you (or an NYT colleague) write a story about what your wife tipped you off on?
7/3/2022 08:39:21 am
Hillel-the-Journalist asks a good question.
7/3/2022 08:36:59 am
George: The world needs more politicians like Mr. McCain. It’s cool that you shake hands with Mr. Obama. In 2011, I saw the Obama’s hand in a car waving to the people on the street at Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro. This is a Jungian synchronicity.
7/3/2022 09:03:05 am
7/4/2022 01:02:18 pm
Randy: I understand what you are saying -- but heroes like Edith Bell are at their best when countering the madness and mistakes of the elected officials. GV
7/4/2022 11:02:33 am
Sarah Palin was not John McCain's first choice. William Crystal and some other similar minded conservatives had a chance meeting with her on a trip to Alaska. They were taken by her feistiness, but never checked out her credibility. It was one of the things that probably cost him the election.
7/4/2022 12:01:54 pm
Edwin W. Martin Jr
7/4/2022 12:43:40 pm
When Sen. McCain, spoke up about Obama/ Muslim, etc. he won a permanent respect, not my vote, but a mark of decency.
Comments are closed.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.