Adieu, Senator John Sydney McCain (1936- 2018)
One of the iconic figures in contemporary politics in the United States of America, Senator John Sydney McCain passed on recently after a long battle with an aggressive cancer of the brain at the age of 81.
The American people and government have celebrated his life. The national flag, which is hoisted in the White House is flying at half-mast in his honour.
His funeral has been made a national event in appreciation of his service to the nation.
Men and women from the Democratic and Republican parties have paid glowing tributes to the senator they branded a ‘maverick.’
How did Senator John McCain achieve this stature? What lessons are there to learn from his career in public service?
Elected on the platform of the Grand Old Party (GOP) in 1982, that is the Republican Party from the State of Arizona, McCain served in Congress as a representative for 30 years.
In those three decades, he made a name for himself as a man of honour, dignity, sound ethical principles and an abiding commitment to the ideals of the American Republic.
He had the uncanny capacity to reach across the aisle even on contentious issues because according to him, all legislators were ‘elected to make laws for the benefit of the people’ and not to stand on conflated egos over issues of national significance.
Born to Naval Officer John S. McCain and Roberta McCain on August 29, 1936, the young McCain attended about 20 schools in all for his education.
As a young man, he excelled in wrestling and graduated in 1954.
In line with family tradition set by his grandfather and father respectively, McCain trained at the United States Academy at Annapolis and graduated in 1958. He started his early military career after he was commissioned as an ensign.
After two and a half years of training at Pensacola, he qualified as a naval aviator.
In 1960, he completed his training and became a naval pilot of ground-attack aircraft.
He escaped death on several dangerous missions due to his carefree attitude and recklessness as a pilot.
In 1967, he was captured by the Vietnamese when his A-4E Skyhawk was shot down by a missile over Hanoi during a bombing mission.
Although he was severely injured, his captors refused to treat him. What followed made a legend of him.
He was beaten and tortured for information. He was deformed by the enemy while in incarceration and carried some of those scars till the end of his life.
The severity of his experiences as a Prisoner of War (POW) is what action movies are made of.
He was placed in a cell with two other Americans in December 1967 where he was not expected to survive. In 1968, he was placed in solitary confinement.
In the middle of 1968, his father John S. McCain Jr., was named commander of U.S. forces in the war theatre in Vietnam.
The North Vietnamese offered him early release ahead of co-prisoners. McCain heroically and stoically rejected the offer.
In doing this, he stuck to the Code of Conduct, which states in Article 3 that ‘I will accept neither parole nor special favours from the enemy.’
The torture became more severe so much that at a breaking point, he was compelled to make anti-U.S. statements.
However, he refused to sign additional confessional statements and continued to receive beatings.
He remained a POW for five and a half years. In 1973 he was released and headed back home a hero to join his family.
From 1977 till he joined politics he served as the Navy’s liaison with the U.S. Senate. He retired from the Navy in 1981 as a captain.
It was indeed the beginning of the second phase of his career as a public servant for his country.
In 1981, he was elected into the House of Representatives and served there till he won an election into the Senate in January 1987.
As a senator, he gained national visibility after the 1988 Republican Convention, when he was mentioned as being on the short list of Vice Presidential running mate to George H.W. Bush.
He was named a maverick because observers saw that he took pride in challenging leadership of the GOP on issues he disagreed with and was therefore difficult to categorise.
By 1992, he had become so influential in American life that Time
(magazine) named him as one of the ‘25 Most Influential People in America.’
In 2000, he made a bid for President and lost in the primaries to George Bush of the Republican Party.
He tried again and became the nominee of the GOP, facing then Candidate Barack Obama in the general elections.
He was defeated in the elections and promptly congratulated the President-elect, promising to work with him.
In the Senate, he distinguished himself as a broad-minded politician who concentrated on core issues.
He often reached a rapprochement with fellow senators from the other side of the aisle. He placed America ahead of self-interest.
When he became ill last year with cancer, he returned to the Senate to cast a deciding vote that defeated President Trump’s proposal to ditch ‘Obamacare’ without an adequate replacement.
He also toured different countries after Trump was elected to reassure allies across the world that America would not abandon them.
He made peace with Vietnam and visited the so-called Hanoi Hilton Hotel, the place where he was detained and tortured during the war years.
He was also noted for his humour and his ability to mentor fresh senators from both sides of the political divide.
The author of ‘Character Is Destiny,’ ‘Hard Call,’ ‘Faith of My Fathers,’ ‘Why Courage Matters,’ ‘Thirteen Soldiers,’ McCain was a man of the world. He built bridges and ensured that the overall interest of the country was preserved.
On the home front, where is a McCain in our National Assembly? When should we begin to notice emergence of our McCain in whom there is no political guile?
Nigerian senators need to be properly schooled in the art of lawmaking and representation for national cohesion.
The life and times of McCain serve as an example on how to serve one’s country.
Certain values are to be held sacrosanct. A legislator is first of all an elected official representing the people, not private or selfish interests.
Indeed, the Senate is a citadel of the representatives of the people.
The extraordinary life of McCain is a remarkable lesson to persons who occupy public office in trust.
Emergence of a McCain here is still a bridge too far but the reasons are not too far too seek.
The selection process in our politics is deeply flawed. Men of honour are virtually absent.
We have entrenched mediocrity in our chambers. Scoundrels, men and women who are even facing indictments in law courts are being elected and nominated to serve in even sensitive offices including the hallowed chambers of the Senate where nominees for certain public offices are confirmed.
Sadly, leaders hardly look for public office and the McCains here can’t get party nominations for elective offices as ‘money answereth’ all political things. It is tragic.
Finally, we condole with the immediate family of the late McCain, who will be buried on Sunday after a memorial service at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland.
But they should be consoled that he lived a long and worthy life that will be remembered when the history of contemporary America is written.
We call on the senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to emulate the sterling qualities of the late senator: they should always stand for that which is fair, just and equitable for humanity.
That is the only way to ensure immortality and the survival of the nation. And so, we bid a good man, an authentic statesman, John Sydney McCain, adieu!
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