John McCain and Western political leadership

John McCain and Western political leadership

The West still has hope for the future as long as politicians such as John McCain continue to remain active in political life. I say this despite the fact that I was happy Barack Obama beat him in the 2008 United States presidential election. I felt that way because I agreed much more with his positions than I did with the Republican nominee’s.

But I believe every politician – regardless of where they’re from or what position they were elected to – should carefully watch a video of the moment during the 2008 US presidential election when McCain responded to a woman at one of his campaign rallies who began cursing Obama. McCain responded by politely rebuffing her statements and said of his Democratic opponent that he “is a decent man and a patriot.”

McCain lost the election, but he assured himself of posthumous recognition – that intangible and extremely durable good that proves to be valuable for a politician after a defeat or after his death.

John McCain symbolizes an enlightened establishment that played a significant role in helping the US achieve and then maintain hegemony after World War II. When Donald Trump started to question the main pillars of Western power, the first one to respond to him in defense of those pillars was the Republican senator. It took a lot of guts to go up against the president of his own party. But McCain is not the kind of politician who minces his words, and he proved that yet again when he stood up to the newly elected leader of the United States in defense of his questioning of the pillars of Western power.

Having endured six years of torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, such political squabbles must seem like an ephemeral and painless game to Senator McCain. What is quite remarkable and surprising though, is that despite what he had been put through, he was one of the first politicians to call for the rehabilitation of diplomatic relations between the US and Vietnam, and he worked very hard to achieve that.

A few months ago I had a chance to see Senator McCain at a public discussion in Brussels. His answers were sharp yet grounded, with plenty of modesty and no cheap mockery. His remarks at the talk bore little resemblance to the hollow words passed back and forth these days between our politicians. Today the West lacks leadership, as indicated in the United Kingdom with Brexit. We face many challenges and lack strong leaders in the face of Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and others.

It makes you wonder if the foundry that produced leaders like John McCain has closed down, and it makes you wonder what that means for the future of the Western world.

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