John Sidney McCain, US Senator, Navy Captain, Republican presidential candidate in 2008, presidential primary candidate in 2000, political maverick and reformist, was laid to rest last Sunday at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, where in 1958 he began his military career. As US Navy jets streaked overhead to give the former pilot the last respects, the world mourned the exit of a man of courage, a principled man with convictions who strove to do the right thing throughout his political and military career.
John McCain died four days shy of his 82nd birthday, an authentic American hero. He was a hero not because as a Navy Pilot his Sky Hawk jet was shot down near Hanoi and he was severely injured during the Vietnam War.
He became a hero when the North Vietnamese high command, realising he was the son of a US Navy Admiral, wanted to release him from the prisoner-of-war camp. He turned down the offer unless all his colleagues in the camp were granted the same treatment. He endured nearly six years of torture and solitary confinement. The torture he endured in the hands of the Vietcong was instrumental to his uncompromising rejection of torture and his move to punish CIA officials who indulged in it during the Iraq War. McCain believed that any information derived from torture is likely to be tainted.
McCain was a symbol that politics can be played with honour, and among those who paid him the highest tributes were his two fiercest competitors – former President Barack Obama, his opponent in the 2008 presidential election, and former President George W. Bush who beat him during the Republican primaries of 2000. During the bitter slug with Obama in 2008, a Republic woman denigrated Obama but McCain defended him. That was three weeks to Election Day when candidates tend to seek and latch on every calumny against an opponent. But not McCain, indeed, he urged his supporters to stop hurling abuses at Obama. This was a time the Klansmen and Tea Party, and Donald Trump-led ‘Birthers’ and other racists disseminated a whispering campaign that Obama was not born in the United States.
In the legislature, he spent 37 years fighting great issues from campaign finance reform, to immigration and spending reforms. He fought tooth and nail and eventually ended “pork barrel spending” in the US Congress, the equivalent of our National Assembly members’ “constituency projects.” Although the ideological divide among members of Congress is sometimes extremely bitter, McCain frequently crossed the barricades to collaborate with Democrats, even against the sentiments of his party colleagues. He earned the sobriquet of “maverick” by being a Republican vote that could not be taken for granted. Thus it was one of those heroic acts of defiance of his own party that even while on hospital bed, he bravely arrived to cast the singular negative vote against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act otherwise called Obamacare in July 2017 which was then an obsession of Donald Trump and the Republican Party to ensure the final burial of President Obama’s signature legacy. His vote sank the bill. He gave a cheerful and his usually humanistic rationale that until President Trump and the Republicans produce an alternative to Obamacare, the millions of Americans protected under that programme deserved protection.
He was a hawk against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State which informed his willingness to support American arms sales to Nigeria even when the Obama administration was having second thoughts owing to accusations of human rights abuses against the Nigerian military.
He had urged the Obama administration to move squarely against Bashar al-Assad of Syria at a time the Obama administration was loathe to get militarily involved in the Middle East after the grueling American experience in Iraq. McCain always stood for the truth even when it hurts. He was not infallible. But he always self-corrected. He regretted his initial decision to oppose the Martin Luther King National Holiday. He was a principled man and he lived and died a man of truth. May his tribe ever prosper and may Nigeria produce legislators who would emulate John McCain.