John McCain was my first political hero.
I was 18 when he was running in the Republican primary, and at the time I was deep into reading The New Republic and becoming a political junkie.
It’s kind of embarrassing to admit now but I had McCain on TIME Magazine covers hanging up in my high school bedroom next to posters of my favorite bands (Picture McCain’s face next to LIVE’s “Throwing Copper” and Radiohead’s “OK Computer” posters.)
I cast my first ever vote as an 18-year-old in the presidential primary, April 4th, 2000. I drove home during my senior year lunch hour to vote in our polling place, the Calamus Town Hall.
McCain got crushed. I looked up the results just now and he had only 18% of the vote compared to GWB’s 69%. I donated $10 to the campaign (my first ever political contribution) in hopes of helping him come from behind. I remember being devastated when the Super Tuesday victories mathematically eliminated him from the nomination. I’m still pissed at South Carolina for that.
Then you grow up and you realize your heroes are people too and you don’t always agree with them. Just eight years later I voted against McCain in the presidential election. But some of my most vivid positive memories of that campaign are moments from McCain. When one of his supporters said she didn’t trust Obama because “he’s an Arab,” McCain without hesitation took the microphone away and said “No, ma’am. No, ma’am. He’s a decent, family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” His concession speech was also a masterful display of dignity.
When I look back at my first political hero I think about what I liked about McCain as a person, not just a politician. I read “Faith of My Fathers” and found his story of surviving as a POW prisoner riveting and incredible. I think about his genuine desire to work across the aisle to limit money’s influence in politics, which drew me to him in the first place. I think about how he handled himself with brain cancer and the final principled stands he took. I think about his willingness to put country over party.
He’s a hero not because he was captured. He’s a hero because of his lifelong willingness to serve something larger himself, which hopefully will inspire others to do the same.