In late-2012, when U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye fell in ill health, I regret not speaking up more forcefully about his important legacy as a war hero and Democrat deal-maker who could work with Republicans.

Today, I don’t want to make the same mistake with another stalwart of the Senate, John McCain, another war hero and Republican deal-maker who could work across the partisan aisle.

In 1998, when I was a no-name first-time candidate for the Hawaii Legislature, I had the privilege of meeting Sen. McCain and his wife Cindy in Waikiki. The senator and his wife first met each other in Hawaii decades earlier and visited our islands frequently with fond memories. He was just beginning the process of looking at his first run for president in 2000.

Senator John McCain is mobbed by journalists in the basement on his way up to cast his vote in the Senate Chamber. 23 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/CIvil Beat
Sen. John McCain is mobbed by journalists in the basement on his way up to cast his vote in the Senate Chamber, February 2015 Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It was a remarkable experience for me to just spend a few minutes chatting with an American hero and national leader. It was a humbling honor years later for me to interact with Sen. McCain — and Sen. Inouye — in an official capacity as a congressman on the House Armed Services Committee.

While I did not always agree with every position taken by Sen. McCain, I have always admired his courage and resolve. I share in his disappointment that Congress has yet to pass comprehensive immigration reform. I marvel at his political courage to fight for campaign finance reform. And I will miss Sen. McCain’s consistent advocacy that peace is best preserved with a strong defense and his advocacy that freedom is best served by a limited government.  

A Reagan Republican

Most of all, however, I will miss the senator’s raw bluntness to speak his mind without a politically correct, TV-tested, filter.

In his recent autobiography, he aptly described the right-wing internet trolls peddling conspiracy theories as “crazy town” folks who are “impervious to reason, facts, and common sense.” Sen. McCain appropriately hit the right wing House Freedom Caucus as the “say-no-to-everything crowd,” and accurately pointed out that the alt-right political operatives like Steve Bannon and the America First crowd “misunderstand American culture and exceptionalism.”

Sen. McCain, in his own words, described himself as “a Reagan Republican … Not a Tea Party Republican. Not a Breitbart Republican. Not a talk show or Fox News Republican. Not an isolationist, protectionist, immigrant-bashing, scapegoating, get-nothing-useful-done Republican.”

I will miss the senator’s raw bluntness to speak his mind without a politically correct, TV-tested, filter.

“Not, as I am often dismissed by self-declared ‘real’ conservatives, a RINO, Republican in Name Only,” declared McCain. “I am a Reagan Republican, a proponent of lower taxes, less government, free markets, free trade, defense readiness, and democratic internationalism.”

Whatever your opinion of the senator’s politics, no one should doubt that John McCain was a man who lived his life embedded with a deep commitment to honor and lived by the code of “Country Before Self.” President Trump’s callow rebuke of Sen. McCain’s brave perseverance under torture by our nation’s enemy, as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, speaks volumes about the true inner character of both men.

I am saddened that our nation has lost a true American hero in the passing of John McCain; saddened that the Trump-controlled Republican Party has lost its way and no longer has a place for leaders like John McCain; saddened that Hawaii’s government lacks inspirational leaders and heroes like John McCain and Daniel Inouye before him.

I am inspired, however, because of the enduring words Sen. McCain has left us on the true state of our nation:

“With all of our faults, all our mistakes, with all the frailties of human nature as much on display as our virtues, with all the rancor and anger of our politics, we are blessed. We are living in the land of the free, the land where anything is possible, the land of immigrant’s dream, the land with the storied past forgotten in the rush to the imagined future, the land that repairs and reinvents itself, the land where a person can escape the consequences of a self-centered youth and know the satisfaction of sacrificing for an ideal, where you can go from aimless rebellion to noble cause, and from the bottom of your class to your party’s nomination for President.”

This is the America, and the Hawaii, that I will forever hope and pray for.

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