What we can learn about John McCain from 'The Restless Wave'

Kaylah Jackson
May 29, 2018 - 3:42 pm

© Tom Tingle-USA TODAY Sports/ Simon & Schuster


"This is my last term." Fate-filled words written by John McCain, 81, in his latest memoir "The Restless Wave. Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations"

The "maverick," as he is affectionately known by many, recounts not only his life of service dating from his years in the U.S. Navy but his journey to becoming a man who displays insurmountable courage, never backs down from a fight and yet, is privy to the beauty of bipartisan compromise. Co-authored by McCain's previous Chief-Of-Staff, Mark Salter, this life story reveals much more about the Arizona Republican Senator and former Vietnam War POW than what you might have caught a glimpse of on the campaign trail.

Here are a few takeaways from "The Restless Wave."

A loss is a loss

From issues with financing his 2008 Presidential campaign, working through the financial crisis of the same year, expressing regret in not choosing Joe Lieberman as his running mate, and eventually selecting Sarah Palin; McCain offers an insightful look into the journey of his campaign for the American Presidency. He doesn't speak from a "woe is me" stance but rather takes no issue in acknowledging the mistakes he made along the trail.

He writes, "There's no use bitching about how you were treated in a presidential campaign after it's over, and I've always tried to resist doing that. We caught some breaks. We messed up sometimes. We took some lumps we deserved and some we didn't. On the whole, it was the privilege of a lifetime...I had a full opportunity to persuade Americans they should trust me with the security of prosperity of our civilization. I didn't convince them."

Compromising isn't a bad word

Often portrayed as a hard charger, what is revealed is how much introspective thinking McCain has done over the years serving in the Senate. He makes a point to note in detail, his position on torture, particularly waterboarding saying, "I'm a champion of compromise in the governance of a country of 325 million opinionated, quarrelsome, vociferous souls. There is no other way to govern an open society, or more precisely, to govern it effectively. Principled compromises aren't uniforms. They can be found when we put political advantage slightly second to the problem we're trying to solve."

He also notes his extensive work across the table with the late Ted Kennedy on issues of campaign finance reform, patient's bill of rights and of course, and his notorious "thumbs down" on the Senate floor to repeal Obamacare.

Torture is wrong

"The notion that abuse that included waterboarding was permitted by the Geneva Conventions was as bizarre as it was acceptable."

McCain said this after recounting a letter he received from an Army Captain who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and expressed his dismay for what he referred to as "death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, forced physical exertions, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment."

As someone who spent years as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam, one could argue that he knows best how to contextualize and rationalize with the U.S. military's history of detainee operations. He revisits his work to change the War Crimes Act noting he received flack from the public and human rights activists but unabashedly states "I don't need any more approval than a quiet conscience."

Pride in self

"I was a Republican, a Reagan Republican. Still am. Not a Tea Party Republican. Not a Breitbart Republican. Not a talk radio or Fox News Republican. Not an isolationist, protectionist, immigrant-bashing, scapegoating, get-nothing-useful-done republican," he writes.

In John McCain's revelation that this is his last term serving in the Senate and through the lens of living with brain cancer, "The Restless Wave" reads happy, content and hopeful: for a life that was worth living, a people worth serving and for a nation who his own "imperfect service" served him so well.

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