A pilot whose plane was shot down by enemy fire, who was tortured and held captive for five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war. A politician who did not hesitate to defy the party line when he judged it was for the good of the country.
An independent voice who did not bow to pressure and did not stay silent even when his position triggered reactions among supporters of his party – like when he voted against overturning “Obamacare.”
Deeply conservative yet still a unifying force, Senator John McCain, who died on Saturday, always looked for the common ground. His broad appeal was confirmed at the ballot box, as he represented the state of Arizona first in the House and then in the Senate for over 32 years, usually winning with very large majorities.
His cross-party appeal will also be confirmed once more when former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush will reportedly deliver eulogies at his funeral. Bush defeated McCain in the 2000 Republican primary, whereas the Democrat Obama won the presidential race against him in 2008.
McCain, whom I had the good fortune to meet during an event at Congress, believed that major national goals can be achieved through cooperation. Being morally right was more important than achieving victory at all cost.
He made that very evident during a town hall meeting with Republican voters during the 2008 campaign. When one of his supporters said that he was “scared” of Obama, McCain replied that his Democratic rival was a “decent person” and one who “you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States.”
And when a woman said that she could not trust Obama because he was “an Arab,” he once more did not yield to cheap populism. Taking the microphone, he said: “He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what the campaign’s all about.” These moves did not win him support among some Republicans, but it increased the respect he commanded from both sides of the aisle.
The maverick American politician’s passing makes me think how much better off Greece would have been today if it had politicians of McCain’s caliber – that is persons with clear ideological beliefs, but at the same time strong moral principles and real patriotism, qualities that would allow them to compromise and cooperate where the country’s interest dictated, rather than descend to vulgar and divisive rhetoric.
Indeed, our country would be better off if instead of the disastrous division that has hijacked public debate since 2010, our politicians, across the ideological spectrum, chose to put the national interest first and tried to reach some level of understanding, even if that did not always please their voters.