John McCain died on August 25th, 2018. The anniversary of his death resulted in many news outlets reviewing his career. Some lamented the passing of a United States Senator who was able to work across the aisle.
I knew the Senator. He was on the Senate oversight committee that held more hearings than I wanted, on what the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) was doing. I chaired the FCC during President George H.W. Bush’s administration.
Senator McCain was always straightforward in his conversations with me. I didn’t sense a hidden agenda. Most of our discussions betrayed his intense curiosity. Channels and devices that we now take for granted were in the early stages of change, and he was interested in what was taking place.
McCain was among the most principled elected officials I met. But he was not rigid. And while he could be impatient and dismissive, he valued unity. He was a true patriot who understood that prolonged division weakens a country.
I am often asked why so few elected Members of Congress show courage in the face of President Trump’s slashing personal attacks. Obviously the question is not asked by Trump lovers. Private conversations reveal that a fair number of Republicans who voted for Trump are resigned to take the bad with the good.
Most often the good is Trump’s nominations to the Supreme Court. It is often stated rhetorically as in: “Who do you think Hillary would have nominated?” Fair enough.
But what about the “bad”. Most say, quite pointedly, that they “don’t like the man.” Since it appears that Trump will once again be the nominee of the Republican Party, there will be a new weighing and balancing before ballots are cast on November 3, 2020. Will character weigh more heavily this time around?
In the meantime, do not expect many 21st Century versions of John McCain. Most persons who hold office, on both sides of the political divide, believe their Party is their only vehicle to hold office. And, they cannot imagine an alternative career that will give them status and benefits equal to what they now have. They are probably right.
Yet, I am even more convinced that most elected officials are cursed by short-termism—especially on environmental and fiscal policy. They are on the wrong side of history. Their legacy will not linger as John McCain’s has and will. Elected officials who yield to personal motive over public trust will quickly be forgotten.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.