Saturday, August 25, 2018

John McCain, American Hero: The People You Respect The Most Are The Ones Who Frustrate You The Most

John McCain was without question both a good and great man, a complex man, a brave man, a one-of-a-kind American hero. And, too, he was a powerful paradox.

As kind as he was irascible, as humble as he was arrogant, McCain was often willing to reach across the aisle for the good of the country. 

Unpredictable, but truly decent, he was to put it bluntly a master of cutting through the bullshit.

And he was someone who demonstrated rare, and in this day and age virtually extinct acts of true decency in the political arena. The day he respectfully scolded a woman at one of his presidential campaign rallies who called Barack Obama a "liar" and an "Arab" is one for the ages.

"No ma’am, no ma’am,” McCain said forcefully but calmly to the nonplussed crowd of mostly Republicans. "He is a decent family man citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about."  

It's the kind of thing that positively and profoundly distanced McCain from the beltway pack. He was indeed a maverick, a rebel. He thought for himself, he was an independent in the truest sense, and usually for good.

He could also be a loose-lipped, dangerous macho hawk far too eager at times to send troops to Syria and various other hot spots around the globe.

But that's who he was. A warrior. A fighter. An admiral's son and admiral's grandson. 

I’ve covered John McCain throughout my career, and I must admit I have decidedly mixed feelings about his political legacy. But not the man. I liked him. Always have, always will.

He did so much good while in Congress, and his overall positive legacy is unbreakable. 

But for me the biggest frustration and curiosity about John McCain during his public life by far was that he did not do nearly enough for his fellow veterans. 

His legacy on taking care of his own was greatly and inexplicably flawed.

It is indisputable, and disappointing, and hard to understand or reconcile. But the people who frustrate you the most in life are the ones who you love and respect the most.

When someone does things so courageous and kind, your expectations rise. And then you find yourself even more surprised and disappointed when that person does something that seems out of character.

But I have always had a theory about John's mixed record on veterans issues. I think it is all about the trauma he suffered in Vietnam.

I am of course not the only one who thinks Sen. McCain had Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) from his years spent in a Vietnam prison.

Many, many veterans with PTSD have a curious psychological tendency to keep a safe distance from their fellow veterans. Too much of a reminder, perhaps, of the horrors of war. 

For 25 years I've been proudly covering the plight of Vietnam veterans and their exposure to Agent Orange, the horribly toxic herbicide from Monsanto that was used by the US government in Vietnam to flush out the enemy.  

After Sen. McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma, I was the first reporter to show a likely link between his cancer and exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam. 

After that story ran at Healthline, several other national news organizations jumped on the story, which we addressed in my follow-up story on the fallout from the diagnosis.

Glioblastoma is not yet on the VA's presumptive list of cancers caused by Agent Orange, but it should be, say brain and cancer experts nationwide.

McCain had a golden opportunity to do something positive for his fellow vets who were suffering with the same type of cancer. He could have addressed Congress. He could have said something about it in his poignant final book. 

He could have simply written a letter on behalf of his fellow Vietnam vets who are fighting this obviously devastating type of cancer. He could have done something. But he chose to do nothing.

I believe it was difficult for him to deal with his fellow Vietnam veterans. It is an explanation that I think helps explain his clearly incomplete-at-best record on helping his warrior brothers and sisters.

The bigger point is that he has done so many great things for so many people.

He spoke his mind. He didn't suffer fools. He had a brilliant and sardonic sense of humor. I will forever have great respect for him, and my heart goes out to his family. 

And needless to say, anyone with an ounce of insight and decency can see the glaring differences in character between John McCain and Donald Trump, the man who kept putting McCain down. There is no comparison. 

One is a great American, a brave American who fought for his country and worked with political opponents to find solutions and compromise. 

The other is a con man, a two-bit hood, a clueless degenerate, pathological liar and chicken hawk who lied about bone spurs in his foot to avoid fighting in Vietnam.

Rest in Peace, John. You are the hero. 


  1. Perfect Jamie. I was in Navy Boot camp when he was captured in 1967. I finished my 4 years of active service in 1971 and two years of reserve sevice in 1973 and was released honorably from my 6 year enlistment. John McCain was released the same year.
    Very often I did not agree with Mr. McCain. But there's never been one moment I haven't respected his patriotism and service to this nation.

  2. Yes, John McCain IS indeed the hero. May he rest in peace knowing he did right by his country.

    1. Thanks Ann. Well said. He did indeed... except not nearly enough for his fellow veterans, as I write.

  3. Fantastic look at the dichotomy of Senator McCain. Perhaps someone will pick up where he left off and carry the mantle for it veteran brothers and sisters.

  4. Thank -you Jamie. As your opinion reflects the truth . Of a man who deserves the dignity and honor of being remembered as a hero. May John McCain <> R.I.P.

    1. Thanks Don. A hero indeed, if a flawed one. But then who is not flawed?