It is hard to believe a year has passed since the death of Sen. John McCain, a genuine American war hero and former GOP presidential candidate who was gracious in his loss of the 2008 election to Barack Obama. On this first yahrzeit of the Arizona Republican, his widow, Cindy McCain, has come up with an appropriate and timely campaign to honor his legacy of bipartisanship and decency: Acts of Civility. In weekend television appearances, she outlined the urgent need for a restoration of the kind of fair-minded and respectful manner in which her late husband conducted himself in office and on the campaign trail.
Recall this scene from the 2008 campaign, one that is hard to imagine in the hyperpartisan atmosphere of today:
At one of McCain’s town hall meetings, a supporter attacked Obama as an “unpatriotic Muslim.” McCain took back the microphone and firmly told the voter that he totally rejected her misinformed screed.
“No, ma’am,” he said flatly. “He’s a decent family man, a citizen who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”
A longtime colleague of McCain in the Senate, former Vice President Joe Biden, also took note of the anniversary of his friend’s death with a welcome message of reconciliation and civility.
“John lived by a code that sometimes seemed to be from another era, where honor, courage, character and integrity mattered,” Biden said in a statement. “But in truth, John’s code was ageless — an American code, grounded in decency and basic fairness and an intolerance for the abuse of power. A code neither selfish, nor self-serving.”
Biden added that McCain’s example would be a good one for every American to follow:
“John believed so deeply and so passionately in the core values of our nation, that he made them seem more real, and he made it easier for the rest of us to believe in them, too. He made us proud of ourselves.”
As a leading Republican in the Senate for decades, McCain sought liberal Democrats to co-sponsor his bills, including his friends Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold. Like the true Senate giants of the past, McCain could argue forcefully with fellow senators, but always with respect and civility.
Now, Cindy McCain laments how bitterly divided the nation has become, not only in the halls of Congress but even at the family dinner table. She urges all Americans to take a deep breath and reach out to make peace with those with whom we disagree.
Is she being naive and Pollyannaish? We think not. Disagreeing without being disagreeable is a noble goal, one that is within reach with the proper effort.
John McCain was a great American and a good friend of the Jewish people and Israel as a sister democracy. As our High Holidays approach, let us honor his legacy of acts of civility and true repentance, and practice what his example demonstrates.
As our High Holidays approach with its themes of repentance and teshuvah, our own Jewish community has an opportunity to acknowledge that we do not differ from the general population and its highly partisan and divisive rhetoric in our daily dealings with family members, friends and professional associates. Whether we are discussing crises facing our local community, the political landscape in America or Israeli policies, let us do so in the spirit of our Prophet Isaiah, who said, “Come, let us reason together.” Such a conscious effort to respect the views of others, making amends to those we have strongly disagreed with—would be an excellent way honor the legacy of John McCain.