With the death of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) last week, Israel lost a strong and steady friend and America lost a vital voice for civility in our increasingly rancorous and dysfunctional political universe.
McCain was a blunt and outspoken political conservative. That put him at odds with an American Jewish majority that remains heavily Democratic and progressive — but throughout his career, he was a conservative even a liberal could respect and admire.
A Vietnam war POW who endured torture and later became a leading voice against the use of torture in the war against terrorism, McCain was a staunch defender of Israel throughout his political career. He first visited Israel in 1979 with the late Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-Wash.), a national security hawk and pro-Israel leader on Capitol Hill. McCain became a leading proponent of the U.S.-Israel strategic partnership and an early activist in the effort to thwart Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, saying that “the United States of America can never allow a second Holocaust.”
During his unsuccessful 2008 presidential run, he repudiated the endorsement of the powerful evangelical leader John Hagee because of comments suggesting that the Holocaust was part of God’s plan to bring Jews to Israel.
Until death silenced his voice, McCain argued forcefully against the accelerating U.S. retreat from leadership in the international arena.
“A passionate advocate for American global leadership, Senator McCain rightly bemoaned those who favored a U.S. pullback from world affairs,” said David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, in a statement last week.
McCain’s ability to work across party lines — an almost extinct quality in today’s Washington — was demonstrated when he teamed up with former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) in winning passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, known thereafter as ‘McCain-Feingold.”
And at a time when the press is under intensified attack by leaders of his own party, McCain understood and defended its critical role in our democratic system.
“Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely,” he wrote in a January Washington Post op-ed. “Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom.”
McCain was far from perfect, but he was candid and even humorous about his mistakes — including his choice of Sarah Palin as his 2008 vice presidential running mate. He later acknowledged that he should have followed his instinct and named his close friend and colleague Sen. Joseph Lieberman for the second slot on his ticket. As American politics continues its descent into rancor, rage and recrimination, John McCain’s steady and civil presence on the political scene will be sorely missed.