I often explain to audiences that although I am a Democrat, I am bi-partisan in my work as an educator. We have to find–and have found–friends on both sides of the aisle if we’re going to move to high ground for our students.
And I explain that I represent NEA members who are Democrats and Green Partiers and Independents and Republicans. In fact, I will say, a Republican personally gave birth to me.
Mom’s a Republican. My Dad, may he rest in peace, was a Republican. They raised their six children to love family, which can be a strain during political seasons. My brothers and sisters and I are very diverse in our politics these days. But we love each other and try to connect with the lessons of our parents as to what love of country means; our responsibility to show respect for communities of all races and religions; when to stand up for someone; and when to stand down and let someone grow up.
My father had few personal heroes. John McCain was one. Dad gave two campaign contributions in his life: one to a Democrat (me, when I ran for Congress in Utah) and the other to John McCain in his presidential race. He loved the man for speaking his mind in so many cases where others just spoke from distributed official talking points.
I remember Senator McCain at a televised town hall of supporters during his campaign for president against then-Senator Obama. A woman was given the microphone and she explained that we couldn’t trust Barack Obama because he was an “Arab.” Another supporter said he feared Senator Obama becoming president because he “cavorts with domestic terrorists.”
The rally seemed to want the red meat of “slash your opponent with any sharp object handy,” no matter true or false. Senator McCain could have agreed with them. He could have whipped up the crowd’s excitement and gone for the easy cut, and they would have loved him for it.
He didn’t. He disappointed them. He corrected them. He said to that rally, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about.”
They booed him. And he eventually lost to Senator Obama. He might have lost that election anyway, but I imagine that in some quarters he didn’t help himself by taking the high road and refusing to let false accusations and unprincipled attacks stand against his opponent.
Maybe we’ve gotten into the sorry mess we’re in right now–where we’ve come to expect scorched-earth politics–because too many strategists think Senator McCain didn’t sink sufficiently low in underhanded mudslinging and name-calling. Who knows?
What I do know is that Senator McCain was my father’s hero and in this time of crisis, he is my model. It is possible to oppose and fight for your side without de-humanizing your opponent. It is possible to be a part of this messy democracy and still be a decent person.
We salute a national hero who has fallen. May his lessons live. May the memory of his courage under fire; his integrity; and his faith in our civic virtues be our national blessing.