Any peacenik can tell you that John McCain thought exit strategies were for wusses when he voted for George W. Bush’s Iraq war or sang “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” on the 2008 presidential campaign trail. But he sure did one hell of a job of managing his own goodbye. For years to come, Americans—cranky peaceniks included—will remember McCain exactly the way he wanted to be remembered. How many figures in public life as contentious as he was can make that claim?
In every important way, what America meant to McCain – the son and grandson of admirals, and the “Hanoi Hilton’s” most famous POW during his five and a half years of often brutal captivity in Vietnam – was the opposite of everything ostensibly patriotic that Donald Trump has ever spewed from his mouth or farted with his eyes. So it’s no wonder that Trump’s presidency was so key to defining, or redefining, what McCain ought to mean to America. Banning Trump from his funeral was extraordinary proof that McCain knew that well enough to spell it out in neon.
Nonetheless, everything about his conduct in the last year or so of his life amounted to a work of art.
We have to ask: What if he’d made it to the White House?
We’d be remiss if we didn’t underline how much “America’s honor” was an idea McCain believed in to the marrow of his bones.