Albert Einstein once said, “Few are they who can think with their own minds and feel with their own hearts.” Sen. John McCain was one of those few, and insightful Americans will miss him.
It is my belief that the great man of these times has just passed away, and that his passing is a metaphor for the passing of what has been the Grand Old Party. I say that with deep sadness, as someone who has been a lifelong Republican, and a long admirer of McCain. In the tradition of our venerable two party system, McCain well understood that American stability, freedom and prosperity are the result of two broad-based political parties, and that lasting advancement has traditionally come from building consensus that crosses party lines.
Partisanship is necessary so that the people have a choice. In the extreme, however, no choice is offered when the goal is only to tear down the other side. Today’s political parties are no longer broad-based center-right and center-left coalitions. They are wrecking crews. But in addition to that, on the Republican side, there is overwhelming submission to a single individual who has no core philosophy of any kind. That does not constitute a political party.
There could be no more vivid contrast than between President Donald Trump and McCain. Both are flawed and fallible. But while McCain has a history of expressing remorse and regret for his mistakes, Trump is utterly incapable of either. McCain has been guided by a moral compass. That is something Trump, in both his political and personal lives, seems never to have had.
Like Barry Goldwater, the man he replaced in the Senate, McCain was never anyone’s man but his own. Right or wrong, he acted on his convictions, even though his stands might require sacrifice. Whether it was his decision to refuse to be released as a POW, support of a troop surge in Iraq, dogged opposition to torture, resistance to the dark influence of money in politics, or his vote against the repeal of Obamacare, McCain put his convictions about his country ahead of himself.
As is often the case with people of principle, McCain was outspoken and combative. He sometimes offended his fellow senators, and while always respected by them, was never an “insider.” McCain got into a spirited spat with Montana Senator Conrad Burns over a Burns earmark to test DNA from the fur of grizzly bears, which McCain found wasteful and frivolous. McCain once famously said that he didn’t seek the office of U.S. Senator ”to become Mr. Congeniality.“
Now the demise of the Republican Party pretty much coincides with the passing of John McCain. But like the mythical Phoenix, emblematic of Arizona, a new conservative party of principle might rise again. The Honorable Senator from Arizona would certainly have stood, shoulders squared and ready, to fight to make that happen.
Bob Brown is a former Montana Secretary of State and State Senate president.