It is OK to remember John McCain fondly

When I was a freshman in college, I got very involved, and very invested in the upcoming presidential race in 2000.

Being a young, politically minded student, forming opinions and wishing to express them, I decided to try out column writing for The Maine Campus, the University of Maine’s student newspaper.

It was my first exposure to column writing, and the first column I wrote was about a little known senator from Arizona — John McCain — running for president in the Republican primary against George W. Bush.

I was not kind.

I liked McCain’s openness, and his habit of speaking his mind, even when he knew it wouldn’t be popular. But despite this, the guy just rubbed me the wrong way. There were many reasons, mostly ideological, that aren’t necessary to rehash now. I simply wasn’t a McCainiac.

Since that election my opinion of him never really improved. I’ve just never been terribly charmed by McCain, and disagreed with him on many of his political positions.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona., speaks after he received the Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center in October. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Yet, I will miss him, I will remember him fondly, and I am saddened that his voice is now missing from this country.

Despite my many disagreements with him, I never had any doubt that he loved this country and wanted to make it a better place, or that he had devoted his life to the service of others. His sincere belief in, and defense of this country — both in the military and in his time in public office — are things I will forever be grateful for.

But watching people react to McCain’s death has been, rather predictably, disappointing. It doesn’t matter what expression is being made — positive or negative — or who is making it — a liberal or a conservative — the reaction has been awful.

Conservatives who say he was a good man, and try to remember him with respect and dignity are immediately attacked. A cacophony immediately erupts, with detractors falling all over themselves to interrupt the polite remembrance by attempting to “correct the record” by listing all of the times McCain supposedly sold out the movement, or took positions that “betrayed” conservatism.

Other conservatives who have always hated McCain, and have taken that dislike to new levels in the last two years, don’t even bother trying to hide their contempt, and use the event of his death to attack him, as some kind of catharsis for the frustrations he caused.

Members of the left are equally as mixed up.

People like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a radical socialist running for Congress in New York, decide to do the decent, dignified thing, and try to remember McCain warmly in whatever way she could. Said Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter: “John McCain’s legacy represents an unparalleled example of human decency and American service. As an intern, I learned a lot about the power of humanity in government through his deep friendship with Sen. Kennedy. He meant so much, to so many. My prayers are with his family.”

Immediately the backlash began. “Alexandria NO!” said one user. “Sorry, nothing humane about being a life-long Republican,” said another. “He supported policies that caused the suffering and deaths of millions of people,” said another. “McCain died doing something he loved, denying someone medical care,” said yet another.

Being nice to a dead man who was a political opponent is, apparently, beyond the pale to an increasing number of people.

And of course, much like the conservative opponents of McCain, his leftist opponents also seized on his death to volunteer every complaint they could think of against a man who can no longer defend himself.


As a friend recently observed himself, I find nothing quite so contemptible as someone dancing on another man’s grave.

How you treat someone — particularly a public servant — in death is not a reflection on them. Instead, it is a reflection on you. Your maturity, dignity, respect and honor.

McCain’s life and career is a matter of public record. We are all free to have different perspectives on it, and yes, we are free to think that he was wrong. But that debate and that conversation will take care of itself over time.

Right now, put down the knives, and remember the good. Focus on the good. And if you can’t do that, it is fine to just be quiet, and resume your hatred of the man in a week or two.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.