September 3, 2018
John McCain, a Vietnam War hero, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona in 1982 and elected to the Senate in 1986. As President Obama mentioned at his memorial service last Saturday, the Senator was a conservative Republican, but his more than three decades of work in the Senate was underscored by bipartisanship and political courage which often put him in conflict with his own party (*).
In 1955 John F. Kennedy, at the time a junior senator from Massachusetts, published his Pulitzer Prize winning book “Profiles in Courage” on eight of his historical colleagues for their acts of courage and integrity in the face of overwhelming opposition. Looking at the respect shown to Senator McCain across America’s political spectrum, one can assume that he too might have figured among them had the book been written today.
In 1994, John McCain co-sponsored a bill with Senator John Kerry that called for ending economic sanctions against Vietnam. In 2000, during a visit to Vietnam, he said that he could not yet forgive the guards who kept him at Hoa Lo Prison. Talking to reporters he also said: “I think the wrong guys won. I think that they lost millions of their best people who left by boat, thousands by execution and hundreds of thousands to reeducation camps.” Nonetheless, he became an ardent supporter of normalizing relations with America’s former adversary. He may have concluded eventually that the Vietnam war was not exactly the right war and cruelty in war knows no boundaries.
The Memorial Service held for Senator John McCain at the Washington National Cathedral last Saturday was a remarkable event. A Washington Post article said, “The funeral served as a robust and united defense of the Washington institutions that have been a cornerstone of American democracy and that Trump has sought to undermine” (**).
Those who had the privilege of addressing not only those present there but also millions of others who watched the ceremony on their television screens, made eloquent remarks which underlined why they had so much respect for him. Senator McCain was an outspoken critic of President Trump. And, those speakers without calling names also censured him. Hopefully, what they said will reflect positively on American politics.
The following are excerpts from President Obama’s remarks:
“And much has been said this week about what a maverick John was. Now, in fact, John was a pretty conservative guy. Trust me: I was on the receiving end of some of those votes. But he did understand that some principles transcend politics, that some values transcend party. He considered it part of his duty to uphold those principles and uphold those values. John cared about the institutions of self-government, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, rule of law, separation of powers, even the arcane rules and procedures of the Senate. He knew that in a nation as big and boisterous and diverse as ours, those institutions, those rules, those norms are what bind us together. They give shape and order to our common life, even when we disagree. Especially when we disagree.
“John believed in honest argument and hearing other views. He understood that if we get in the habit of bending the truth to suit political expediency or party orthodoxy, our democracy will not work. That’s why he was willing to buck his own party at times, occasionally work across the aisle on campaign-finance reform and immigration reform. That’s why he championed a free and independent press as vital to our democratic debate. And the fact that it earned him some good coverage didn’t hurt either….
“And finally, while John and I disagreed on all kinds of foreign-policy issues… But John understood that our security and our influence was won not just by our military might, not just by our wealth, not just by our ability to bend others to our will, but from our capacity to inspire others with our adherence to a set of universal values, like rule of law and human rights, and an insistence on the God-given dignity of every human being…
“… we enjoyed the time we shared away from the bright lights. And we laughed with each other. And we learned from each other. And we never doubted the other man’s sincerity or the other man’s patriotism, or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team. We never doubted we were on the same team…” (emphasis added)
What Mr. Obama highlighted in Washington is more than relevant to Turkey’s declining democracy and political culture. Turkish politicians should take a close look at John McCain’s years at the U.S. Senate, particularly on political courage, bipartisanship and rising above party interests. And again, they should study the lessons in John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage”. The book was translated into Turkish years ago, but printed copies are no longer available. Somebody should make sure that the book is reprinted and made available not only to the members of the parliament but also the Turkish public craving for some display of political daring.