Elegy for a Maverick of Mixed Premises
With the loss of Senator John McCain, his legacy of 'Duty, Honor, and Country' has been cemented into the national consciousness. But is all of it good?
Most men are gray in terms of their convictions. They hold onto good and life-affirming ideals while also clutching toxins at the same time. Many men have exhibited this dichotomy much like the late Senator John McCain. As he espoused “Duty, Honor, and Country” during his lifetime, the words encapsulate the man’s entire outlook on politics and life as a whole. Two out of the three ideals show a sense of what is the worst in an individual, duty and country.
Duty is an anti-concept that is propped up to mean “surrendering one’s own values in a chase for completing a task that from which one derives no pleasures and seeks no gain.” Country is the other noxious notion. It is to be thought of as sacrificing your goals, your hopes, your values all in the name of serving the nation only. McCain even ran for President of the United States once on this ideal. It codified his entire existence in that respect. But honor... that is the one saving grace that lent the senator his passkey as a man of some principles. Honor represents all that is good and righteous about an individual. It is exemplified in the man or woman who knows that to possess it, one must first have respect for oneself.
John McCain held onto some semblance of self-esteem even under the rhetoric of duty and country. He had to have some sense of it to become a naval fighter jet pilot. The gumption that it took for him to suit up on missions that would eventually lead him into enemy territory presented a man who could face down any challenge. As he was captured, deprived of rations, and beaten brutally by his Vietnamese captors, McCain continued to hold onto his honor. The only problem is that he could have held onto that same honor while being released early.
His duty and commitment to country welled up in his soul and he denied an escape from further punishment due to his loyalty to an anti-concept and the false notion that country comes before individual. The man lived with severe damage to his arms and his psyche. Couldn’t he have at least allowed himself to be discharged? Would that have been too selfish of him?
McCain remained a fixture of the United States Senate, McCain became vociferous when it came to political matters about which he felt passionate. In a remarkable, sad, and wrenching act of altruism, the Senator from Arizona voted down the repeal & replace decision on Obamacare. Now, he would’ve probably done the same for the proposal to block Medicare and Medicaid but those are not even third rail policies. They’re no rail. Politicians wouldn’t even consider touching anything close to the rails if these issues remained on the docket. Senator McCain brought about a humanity and an intensity that is rare amongst Republicans.
There was an honesty, albeit misdirected, but he brought to the fore the sense that the fighting warrior could sway his base. However, he promulgated sacrifice and selflessness at every turn (which politician hasn’t?). But what separated him from other government officials is the fact that he used the currency of being a Prison of War (POW) to remind people, “Ooh, he must be strong and so unselfish to want to stay when he could have been released.” This bled into the floor of the Senate as most bureaucrats withdrew from their derision of McCain due to his military service. And that’s what the current president didn’t do. Trump jabbed at Senator McCain’s service questioning whether he’s an actual hero just because he got caught. While this was abhorrent, it does illumine the fact that McCain’s service was still marred with self-sacrificial service instead of egoistic actions.
The Senate proved to be a powerful platform for McCain although he made irrational votes such as repealing Roe v. Wade (May 2007). Again, this is duty that drove the senator to choose the vicious idea that a woman has no right to what happens to her body. Country, in McCain’s mind, seemed to be about subjugating the individual to the nation.
He had conditioned himself to be a man of duty, wanting to put his life and mind on the line to persuade his fellow senators to find “grace” in putting others, the United States, whomever above himself. “To serve a cause greater than yourself” is something worse than a contradiction in terms. It means that you don't exist for your own sake but for a geographic designation. And without individuals, there exists no country.
It means that Senator McCain lived with fallacies and flaws. But honor, that is what propelled him to voice the ideas and to be able to stand up for the concepts that he understood would better himself, despite the selfless rhetoric. It’s profound irony that the approach to the Senate and his failed bids for the presidency (2000, 2008) the latter resided on the premise of “Country First” when he wanted to be first in the polls. Never able to cut through the nonsense that this represents, McCain faltered on the promise of reason, individualism, and capitalism that color the landscape of America.
Senator McCain’s death is a representation of a man of mixed premises. On one hand, he held onto the sense of a true American patriot. His honorable service in the United States Navy showed his ability to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. McCain would be sworn to do so again as a Senator. He knew that in order to shift from being a warrior in the skies and on the ground and a fighter in the United States Senate he would have utilize honor as a tool of distinction.
His choice of the running mate Sarah Palin may’ve been one of McCain’s largest missteps. For not considering the intellectuality (or lack thereof) of then Alaskan Governor, McCain failed to realize for his campaign the strategy to keep the brains and do away with the fluff. Still, Senator McCain returned to the Senate floor and because of his mixed premises, he continued to battle for what he felt was right.
Duty, honor, and country will forever be the memorable way that Senator McCain behaved in the political sphere and as a man. It’s just too bad that he never discovered a proper philosophy that would have shown him how to pitch out duty and country and preserve honor as a man of full self-esteem.