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McCain’s example may help O’Rourke

September 6, 2018

U.S. Sen. John McCain’s memorial last week was a beautiful reminder of the days when America seemed a kinder, gentler, more rational nation. Democrats and Republicans gathered to pay tribute to a man whom everyone except the president of the United States considered a hero.

McCain’s last wishes came through loud and clear. First: No Donald Trump at his funeral. Second: Former foes welcome. The senator’s top two former political opponents, both of whom denied him the presidency, were chosen by McCain to deliver homage.

George W. Bush and Barack Obama as eulogists were not surprising choices for a man like McCain. He didn’t make needless enemies. He mended fences with Bush after a heated primary that cost him the nomination of his party for president. Four years later, he defended his opponent, Barack Obama, calling him a “good decent man” after an angry woman in the audience called him an “Arab.”

There’s a connection between McCain and Beto O’Rourke, Democratic nominee to be U.S. senator from Texas, although I’m not putting the two on the same pedestal. Their backgrounds are totally different — one, a man of duty even as a youth, a military man and a dedicated public servant until the end. The other, a punk rocker, a weed smoker in his youth with a pretty serious DWI citation on his record. Still, in this new world where anything goes, that shouldn’t matter to opponent Ted Cruz. After all, he forgives Trump for just about anything.

Examining the similarities between McCain and O’Rourke, for the sake of simplicity, I’m writing this comparison as if McCain were still alive: First, both men approach issues and challenges with candor, conviction and definiteness. Two, both are mavericks — open and true to their values, even when they clash with party loyalists. Three, both are open, fearless and refreshingly honest. Fourth, when they mess up, they admit it — McCain owned up to his mistakes, including what he thought was his biggest one —that is, voting for and supporting the Iraq War. O’Rourke admitted from the beginning to the improprieties of his reckless youth — the media didn’t have to uncover it.

Many of the issues McCain and O’Rourke support are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, yet both find plenty of wiggle room in the middle. One is an unapologetic liberal with a conscience; the other, a staunch conservative with a heart. They both believe in America as a land of opportunity with doors that open wide for any willing heart. They both believe in hard work, family and opportunity for all. They both listen to and respect opposing views.

A perfect example of this was O’Rourke’s 1,600-mile road trip with fellow Congressman Will Hurd, much of it chronicled on Facebook. This was a great example of their will to compromise in a sensible way for the greater good. Both agree that the immigration question can be solved by understanding that America needs immigrants to continue to grow and prosper. And that, by and large, immigrants are not a threat to our security.

Back in 2008, I had the opportunity to spend about half an hour talking one-on-one with McCain about immigration. This happened about the time that his hard-fought, with Sen. Ted Kennedy, Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 was unraveling. He had introduced the revision from the human side of things, as well from the economic point of view, and had concessions that made all the sense in the world. He was frustrated by its failure after years of negotiating.

“When I walk out my door here in Washington,” he said with sadness, “there’s nothing I do that doesn’t give me the benefit of an immigrant’s contribution every day — from the food that I eat that’s prepared by Latinos, to the office I work that’s cleaned by them. Without immigrants, including the Latino leaders and business leaders emerging, this country could not function — we must find a way to make more immigrants legal, so they don’t have to live in fear.”

As Obama observed in his eulogy, “McCain enjoyed being contrary, but he was always ready to negotiate on the important things. And he got the last laugh by having George Bush and I say nice things about him before a national television audience.”

Will anyone remember or care in November about the last few days, when McCain reminded us of how presidents, whether Democrat or Republican, behave? If voters remember, O’Rourke might have a chance. After all, who would have predicted 18 months ago that a Democrat could come riding in from the blue and have one chance in hell to unseat Ted Cruz?

But as I write this, its seeming more and more possible. Perhaps we’ve realized that Ted Cruz isn’t enough like John McCain.

Lionel Sosa is a San Antonio marketing executive.

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