Editorial: Was McCain the last maverick?

September 19, 2018

Maverick, noun: An independent-minded person. Synonyms: individualist, nonconformist.

The textbook definition does not have anything to do with politics. John McCain may have been the last of an endangered species, the American politica mavericus.

For the few days since the longtime senator and two-time presidential candidate died of brain cancer in Arizona, the airwaves and internet have been thick with eulogies and anecdotes about the man who spent five years as a prisoner of war and continued his public service in the capitol when he came home.

They remember the things he did that seem staggering. Who would give up a chance to leave captivity, staying to be beaten until all of the other prisoners were released, too? They remember the things that seemed illogical. Who would stop during a campaign appearance to correct a supporter -- a voter -- about her unflattering opinions on the other guy?

They remember the recent. Who would stand in the way of the vote when the party leadership and the president have both made the result they want clear?

The answer is simply McCain. The maverick is unable to do anything that goes against his beliefs.

It is hard to argue with McCain’s conscience as he wore it so clearly on an arm he could not raise above his shoulder after his abuse in Vietnam.

He opposed abortion and supported adoption. His adopted daughter Bridget was proof of that commitment.

He supported free speech and a free press, and more than anything, the freedom to disagree with both your opponents and your compatriots. He knew that a real win in government was not for one side or the other, but something in the middle.

“Incremental progress, compromises that each side criticize but also accept, just plain muddling through to chip away at problems and keep our enemies from doing their worst isn’t glamorous or exciting. It doesn’t feel like a political triumph. But it’s usually the most we can expect from our system of government, operating in a country as diverse and quarrelsome and free as ours,” he said in 2017 in his last address on the floor of the Senate.

Today, there is no end to the quarrel and no start to the compromise, and as we become more divided by partisanship in which your idea cannot be correct simply because of your party, it may be that in saying goodbye to our last political maverick, we say goodbye to any hope of seeking a settlement instead of picking a side.

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