WEATHER AUTHORITY : Dense Fog Advisory View Alerts

What made my friend John McCain so exceptional

We've known for over a year -- since John McCain shared his cancer diagnosis -- this day was coming. But it...

Posted: Aug 27, 2018 9:28 AM
Updated: Aug 27, 2018 9:28 AM

We've known for over a year -- since John McCain shared his cancer diagnosis -- this day was coming. But it is still heart-breaking and difficult to accept that this man, a larger than life figure, is gone. He leaves such a void.

It was the honor of my life to know John McCain. I met him in the early 2000's. He would go through Miami a lot back then, on his way to the US Navy Base in Guantanamo. I was his National Hispanic Co-Chair in 2008. Please let me tell you a little about my friend.

John McCain

Political Figures - US

Elections (by type)

Elections and campaigns

Government and public administration

Immigration

Immigration politics

Immigration, citizenship and displacement

International relations and national security

Political candidates

Political platforms and issues

Politics

US Federal elections

US Presidential elections

John lived to be almost 82 years old. I remember speaking to him a few days after his diagnosis. I called to comfort him and give him words of strength. Instead, I wound up crying so hard on the phone I could hardly get any words out. It was John who gave me strength and comfort. I can hear his calm and steady voice in my head, speaking in that familiar cadence. He said not to feel sorry for him. He was adamant about this. He said he was a fortunate man. He had lived a full life, much longer than he ever expected.

In all the time I knew John McCain, he never complained. He was not one for self-pity or agonizing over regrets. I never heard him talk with bitterness about his five years as a prisoner of war. I never heard him complain about the physical pain and lack of mobility he endured every day of his life after that. I never heard him complain about losing two presidential elections. I never heard him complain about his cancer diagnosis.

John was also authentic. He was humane and compassionate. John laughed easily and heartily. In his 80s, he could still laugh like an immature teenage boy when watching some stupid movie or clip. He liked to tell jokes -- sometimes the same jokes over and over again. He had a self-deprecating sense of humor.

'Sorry, mom'

John could also get deadly serious. I saw him give a speech at a gala dinner a few years ago. He was making the case for Congress to act on immigration reform. He was furious at the inaction and lack of political courage shown by some.

He punched the podium hard and cussed in frustration. I was sitting at John's table along with his mom, Roberta, who must have been a spry 95 years-old then. John received a standing ovation. But when he came back to the table, I heard his mom tell him, "Johnny, we did not teach you to curse in our house." And John McCain, this, larger-than-life figure, put his head down, and said, "Sorry, mom."

One time, John got livid with me. We were having dinner with his wife, Cindy, and Sen. Lindsey Graham. It was a very busy restaurant in DC. I made a passing comment about Sarah Palin. I can't remember what exactly I said, but I'm sure it was snarky. John screamed at me, got red in the face, punched the table and got up to leave several times.

You see, John McCain was a loyal and chivalrous man. He was grateful to all those who had helped him along the way. He hated for Sarah to be attacked or mocked. He felt responsible for putting her in that position. John called me every day for almost a week after that to apologize. That's how John was. He had the humility to acknowledge when he was wrong, and he valued friendship. I'll tell you what though, I never again said anything remotely negative about Palin in his presence.

Fighter for freedom

John was a principled man. He loved freedom, and he fought for it all over the world. We would often talk about events in Latin America. He thought it was important to look beyond our borders and fight for human rights. I don't know how the hell he did it, but he was somehow engaged and informed about the political challenges across the globe, and at the same time he knew the roster and stats of every sports team in Arizona.

So many times through the years, I called to wish John well on some holiday, and he would answer his old flip phone in some far-flung part of the world where he was visiting our troops.

I helped brief John for Spanish language debates and interviews during the 2008 presidential campaign. There was so little to brief him on. He knew what was happening in Cuba and Nicaragua and Venezuela. He knew the names of the leaders fighting for democracy, and he knew the names of the despots and dictators. John gave a damn about the people of the world. He understood a more democratic world meant a safer America.

John did not see color or creed or economic status. John judged people by their character. He saw good and bad. I traveled a bit with him during the 2008 presidential campaign. His bus and plane were always full of friends and family. And we were a motley crew. John had friends from his early Navy years, POWs, congressional colleagues, people who'd worked for him and friends he'd made along the way. Once you made it into John's heart, you were there to stay. Loyalty was important for him.

You could have strong disagreements with John, lively debates, shouting matches even, and it didn't matter. He did not expect to have his ring kissed. He did not want to go unchallenged.

I went to see him once to ask that he vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina nominated to the Supreme Court. We argued about it intensely for about 15 minutes. He said no. Then we grabbed lunch and laughed a lot. I won't even tell you about the fight we had surrounding the 2010 Senate primary in Florida. It lasted for months. But none of those things impacted our relationship one bit. That's just not the way John saw life.

John was always a Navy pilot at heart. He didn't play it safe. He took big gambles, literally and figuratively. He risked his political skin leading a bipartisan effort with his friend, Ted Kennedy, to pass immigration reform heading into a Republican presidential primary. It was a crazy thing to do, and he paid a price. But he did it because he believed it was the right thing to do for America.

John never gave up. In 2007 his presidential campaign was given up for dead. He found himself without money and had to fire many people, and some of the ones who weren't fired, jumped ship. But the guy just didn't quit. He was taking small commuter planes. He kept doing town halls. He carried his own bags and traveled without staff. It was his sheer-will and leadership that kept a small band of political pirates going.

Political resurrections aren't easy. John did it. He went on to lose that election to Barack Obama. Some would have gone out to pasture and taken their leave. Not John. He got up and got back in the arena. There is nothing he hated more than being on the sidelines. He loved to say, "a fight not joined, is a fight not enjoyed".

John was not a perfect man. He'd be embarrassed to be spoken about that way. He made mistakes. He had regrets. He erred in judgment at times. But John McCain was a good and decent man with a huge capacity to lead.

Even in his dying days, it was not about him

John lived his faith. He served his country with honor. He loved his family. He was grateful for the opportunities life gave him. John was a happy man. He did not dwell on losses or the bad things that had happened to him.

It wasn't the trappings of power that appealed to him. It was the opportunity to make a difference that mattered. He strove every day of his life to serve a purpose higher than himself. Even in his dying days, it was not about him. It was about the future of America, defending democracy, standing up for what is right and fighting against what is wrong.

I hate that we are losing John at a time when he still had so much to give. I hate that we are losing him when America needs him most. Even as he retreated to Arizona a year ago, to face his illness with dignity surrounded by the place and people he loved most, even then, John was showing us the way. He could have focused just on himself and his circumstances, but until his last days he was showing political courage and moral clarity.

We shouldn't cry for John. He wouldn't want us to. We should be inspired by him.

A lot of people in government will be expressing their condolences and paying their respects to John. John would ask them and us to do what he did in so many difficult junctures in his life -- put country first.

Honor John's memory by not remaining in complicit silence against injustice and abuse, by not looking the other way when democracy is threatened, by not pandering to divisions and bigotry. Honor John by not standing on the sidelines but joining the fight to defend those values which make America exceptional.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 515504

Reported Deaths: 10296
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34999558
DeSoto33360432
Hinds32743643
Jackson24906392
Rankin22565405
Lee16455245
Madison14954283
Jones14158248
Forrest13834260
Lauderdale12311323
Lowndes11357193
Lamar10693140
Pearl River9748244
Lafayette8868143
Hancock7849132
Washington7559169
Oktibbeha7229138
Monroe7068179
Pontotoc7033110
Warren6885178
Panola6791135
Neshoba6744210
Marshall6707142
Bolivar6468151
Union643598
Pike5942157
Alcorn5921107
Lincoln5540136
George510680
Prentiss508285
Tippah495683
Itawamba4884107
Scott478999
Tate4777117
Adams4776125
Leflore4749144
Copiah458195
Yazoo458092
Simpson4566117
Wayne443472
Covington434895
Sunflower4319106
Marion4295112
Coahoma4244110
Leake414191
Newton396182
Tishomingo386894
Grenada3789109
Stone366166
Jasper341266
Attala340490
Chickasaw318367
Winston318392
Clay312978
Clarke301695
Calhoun286850
Holmes272889
Smith270552
Yalobusha244947
Tallahatchie232353
Greene225149
Walthall222166
Lawrence220242
Perry214556
Amite210357
Webster206548
Noxubee188843
Montgomery182157
Carroll175441
Jefferson Davis174343
Tunica163539
Benton153139
Kemper145441
Choctaw137027
Claiborne134839
Humphreys132239
Franklin126530
Quitman107828
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson97134
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 848137

Reported Deaths: 16185
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1164052005
Mobile743681384
Madison53497738
Shelby38435371
Baldwin38195589
Tuscaloosa36152644
Montgomery34562782
Lee25655264
Calhoun22630520
Morgan22530411
Etowah20069520
Marshall18846318
Houston17777426
St. Clair16958359
Limestone16195220
Cullman16157306
Elmore15940295
Lauderdale15069307
Talladega14260302
DeKalb13083271
Walker12168380
Blount10779193
Autauga10560157
Jackson10214196
Coffee9435192
Colbert9366210
Dale9044192
Tallapoosa7285202
Russell710065
Chilton7090170
Covington6969197
Escambia6967144
Franklin6364108
Chambers5801142
Marion5437132
Dallas5302210
Pike5129109
Clarke485786
Lawrence4850130
Winston4793110
Geneva4655136
Bibb435795
Barbour370680
Butler3444101
Marengo342993
Monroe338366
Randolph337867
Pickens334890
Fayette331785
Henry321166
Cherokee320364
Hale319189
Crenshaw261678
Washington256852
Cleburne255460
Lamar253555
Clay252969
Macon246367
Conecuh193562
Coosa186048
Wilcox178538
Lowndes178468
Bullock152845
Perry141840
Sumter139841
Greene130545
Choctaw94428
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 61°
Columbus
Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 61°
Oxford
Cloudy
° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: °
Starkville
Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 61°
A few thunderstorms will likely spring up on Sunday ahead of an incoming cold front that will arrive Monday and bring widespread rain and lower temperatures.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather