Like millions of other Americans, I watched a lot of the two memorial services held recently to celebrate the life of Senator John McCain. As I was witnessing the beautiful service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., I asked myself why I was doing this. After all, Senator McCain was a Republican and I’m a confirmed Democrat who didn’t always agree with or like his stance on national policy. But just the day before I’d heard Larry Fitzgerald outline how it came to be that he and McCain could possibly have developed the friendship they had and his list of “differences” was long and powerful. I needed to go deeper into my own self to find an explanation for how sad I kept feeling, for how the phrase “what a loss” kept rising to my consciousness as one speaker after the next reminded me of McCain’s history and style.
I think a lot of us have hungry political hearts. If we are old enough to remember when Senators and Representatives at the national and state levels actually worked together to pass legislation, then we yearn for those days. If we are young enough only to have seen gridlock and self-interest motivate a rapidly growing partisanship that supersedes all other considerations, then we hunger for a dream that our elders keep telling us once prevailed in this country. I’m in the former category, so I understand what made such political behavior possible–it was a recognition that compromise must lie at the center of functional political policy-making. And compromise, contrary to how it is currently being pitched by too many of our political leaders, means no one gets all of what s/he wants. Compromise does not mean the party holding a numerical majority gets to force the minority to keep giving way in order to get crumbs of what it started out wanting. That’s political strong-arming. And compromise does not mean a tacit lowering of expectations on the part of an electorate that feels increasingly impotent to work genuine change. So what I want most right now is for all us millions who watched and wept at the memorial in Arizona and then the formal religious service in D.C. and then the cortege delivering Mr. McCain’s body to its resting place at the Naval Academy Cemetery to act in November. The highest honor any of us can pay this man who stood on principle and who seemed to value in tangible ways a country that embraced diversity and plurality is to vote for candidates who mirror his ethic. It’s not enough to sit passively and feel nostalgia over what is being lost; what is required is active energy in the service of moving us toward people and programs that affirm allegiance to the common good and reject a mentality of “us vs. them.” That persistent and insistent stance is how to honor Senator John McCain in a resonant way that would, I believe, bring that signature impish grin to his face.