John McCain and the lost art of decency

Show me a politician—any politician, anywhere—who still talks that way in the 21st century, or will ever talk that way again. In that sense, McCain’s death marks the passing not only of a spirited public servant, but the disappearance of a certain brand of decent self-awareness in public life, a recognition that politics isn’t a reality show, or any kind of show, but a real and serious business on which millions of lives and the fates of nations depend. Like his hero Robert Jordan, in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, McCain always believed that “the world is a fine place and worth the fighting for.”

Did McCain often fall short? Yes. He had his craven, infuriating moments. Fending off a conservative primary challenger in his 2010 Senate re-election campaign he, by turns, flip-flopped on overturning the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays serving openly; abandoned his support of comprehensive immigration reform; chose not to support a legislative fix after the Supreme Court overturned a key element of his signature campaign-finance reform law; and even went so far as to declare that he had never considered himself to be a maverick at all, prompting Jon Stewart to note that he had not only sold his soul, but sold it short.