Since I first wrote this piece on Saturday morning, my pal Mike Moran dug out the original column I wrote from my interview with John McCain in 1999. This is it:
1. We all know how John McCain crashed into North Vietnam and was held and tortured for five-plus years. We’ve all seen the photos of his broken body, and we’ve all seen examples of his unbroken spirit.
2. My wife was on one of her child-care missions to India in the early ‘90s, and she sat next to a man on the flight out east. He said Sen. McCain was the leader of some vets who provided needed goods to Vietnam because they believed in putting something back. He gave my wife his card and said they could help ship material to orphanages or hospitals in Vietnam.
3. I was covering a Senate hearing into the International Olympic Committee. (Sen. McCain pretty much blasted an American Olympic official for a flip answer.) I had an interview scheduled with him at lunch break, and he disarmed me by chatting about sportswriting – a good politician, for sure, and good company.
I said I knew something about him – and I told about my wife’s flight with McCain’s Vietnam-vet buddy. I asked the senator why, after what had been done to him, did he help provide goods to Hanoi? With his broken arms and shoulders, he gave a shrug that I can only describe as eloquent. The shrug said, it’s the right thing. (Then he went off again on the I.O.C. -- John McCain temper in action.)
4. I was watching live during the 2008 campaign when the lady in the red dress labelled Sen. Obama “an Arab,” and I saw John McCain’s instant reaction as he politely reclaimed the microphone, backed away, and said: “No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”
Sheer grace under pressure.
5. I had forgotten this until Brian Williams played it on MSNBC Friday night. At McCain’s concession speech in 2008, he began this way:
My friends, we have come to the end of a long journey. The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly. A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Sen. Barack Obama — to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love.
In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans, who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president, is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.
And he went on from there, more about the historic side of the election than about himself. I know he probably had somebody good writing the speech, but he delivered it, and he delivered it well.
6. Early on July 28, 2017, with Sen. Mitch McConnell glaring at him, Sen. McCain issued a thumbs-down on the proposal to gut the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. He said the proposal did not meet his personal test. This means millions of Americans continue to receive medical care.
7. Earlier this month, the president of the United States talked 28 minutes about a defense-spending bill.
The bill was named, by Congress, for Sen. John McCain, who was home in Arizona, dying of brain cancer.
The president, still in office as of this writing, never mentioned the name of John McCain, American hero.
8. The latest news is that right through the weekend, the president, still in office as of Monday morning, did not have a good word to say about the life and death of a real American hero.
The one thing I forgot to say, explicitly, in the first version of this piece is how much I liked John McCain in person, and how I kept saying, during his campaigns in 2000 and 2008 and even when I was exasperated with some of his stands: "He's really a good guy."
Our prayers are with Sen. John McCain and his family.
8/25/2018 12:59:44 pm
8/28/2018 02:15:58 pm
Hi, Altenir: Great to hear from you. I haven't caught up with your family photos...but will. McCain was Old School, as the saying goes. He had a concept of country that has been questioned starting with Vietnam, but the attention to him (and to other vets) has made me more aware of the country that was fighting a war when I was a little kid, early 40s.
8/28/2018 06:13:59 pm
Dear George: Thanks for the reply. I read your article about US Open in The New York Times. Your description geographically of these places made me feel inserted in the space and time. I confess that I do not follow tennis, but I liked very much of your text, including the citation of Maria Esther Bueno - to the Brazilians - and Maria Bueno to the world. She was a great woman and a tennis player.
8/25/2018 09:38:35 pm
This is being written shortly after the announcement of the Senator*s passing. What if he had won the Republican nomination in 2000? When he was on the Sunday talk shows, he commanded respect. You may not have agreed with his politics but you were compelled to listen to his views,
8/28/2018 02:24:35 pm
Dear Jeff Geller: Nice to hear from you. McCain was hurt badly in the primaries by folks who refer to themselves as "The Good Christians," who put out, and lived with, the innuendos about McCain having a child of color. He and Cindy adopted a child from Bangladesh. That came out of a private college in the South -- Not Liberty, that time. So, yes, imagine if McCain had won. Would he have gotten snookered by the phony info about nuclear weapons in Iraq? He did, as senator. But he would have had access to the information higher in the pipeline. Hard to say. I preferred him to W....let's put it that way. GV
8/28/2018 12:01:50 pm
I voted for the wrong guy in 2008. This, for me, rubs it in.
8/28/2018 03:50:37 pm
8/28/2018 02:35:50 pm
Brian, nice to hear from you. You know how much I admire the Obama. But I add, in 2008, I told friends and family how much I liked McCain the senator (if not the candidate.) Fact is, in 2012, I said how I liked Romney from meeting him a few times during his Olympic service -- smart, approachable, did a good job in Salt Lake City, and has a good relationship with his wife.
8/29/2018 12:27:20 pm
George, how like you and friends to have discerned Sen. Mc Cain’s strengths. The scene with the woman, was etched in my memory and I shared the story on my page, before it went viral. It defined his character. I don’t remember sharing any policy agreements with him, save The Affordable Care Act. When I worked on The Hill in 1966, my friend Jack Forsythe was Counsel to the Senate Labor and Welfare Committee. As we talked one day about the civil Rights Bill and the 64 LBJ-Goldwater election, Jack told me Goldwater, conservative as he was, was no segregationist, the contrary. Where have Conservatives with conscience been hiding?
8/29/2018 12:41:56 pm
9/2/2018 10:30:09 am
John McCain has been one of my heroes since I was a young Naval officer on an aircraft carrier in Vietnam while he was a POW in Hanoi. He was a hero to all of us, as were all of our POW's. Ultimately, friends of mine who were shot down and captured during the last year or so of the war ended up imprisoned with McCain. I've always followed his post-Vietnam career in the Navy and later in politics, with interest. He's not always been wise in some of his choices, but he's always been straightforward and never not a good man. He made some mistakes-Sarah Palin, anyone?-but usually acknowledged them with grace and humility. All one had to see was who showed up for his funeral to understand the great respect, even affection, people from both sides of the political aisle felt for him. Even Trump's closest advisors were there. As Meghan McCain eloquently eulogized her father, watched by, among others, Ivanka Trump, I could only imagine what must have been going through the mind of the current President's daughter. Was she thinking ahead to the time when she will be the one who has to talk about her father? I think the Trump funeral will necessarily be a much different affair.
9/2/2018 02:27:57 pm
Oh, I bet it will be different. Imagine having to explain 45 in a decade or two.
9/3/2018 10:42:19 am
David Leonhardt's opinion piece in today's NYT "They Sat in Hypocrisy" adequately captured my feeling as I watch John McCain's memorial service on Saturday.
9/3/2018 10:56:48 am
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.