The Life and Legacy of America’s Maverick

War hero. Author. Presidential nominee. Senator. Maverick.

John McCain, owner of these and more titles in his 81 years of life, passed after a year-long battle with brain cancer on August 25. As a noted Republican politician and presidential nominee, the unconventional senator received the title “maverick,” meaning independent and unorthodox, as he reached across party lines and political leaning to make substantial change in American legislature. The prisoner-of-war and senator earned this moniker time and again in his many professional roles, and his legacy reflects his revolutionary attitude.

McCain served as Navy Lieutenant Commander in the Vietnam War, where he suffered severe torture as a Prisoner of War near Hanoi, Vietnam. Never self-seeking, McCain’s treatment during his five and a half-year imprisonment was unknown until reports emerged after his release. These reports revealed not only several severe injuries, multiple broken bones and long periods of starvation rations McCain suffered in this time, but also that he had been in solitary confinement for over a year before his eventual release. Vietnamese soldiers’ intention behind cruel torture was solely extracting American information. As a young soldier, however, McCain refused to yield to aggression, and responded with his keen sense of humor. For example, rather than naming his fellows in his squadron, McCain supplied the names of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line.

Arguably, his proud faith in his country and defense of his comrades, in addition to his sense of humor, was his first public display as “Maverick” John McCain. Certainly, combining selflessness, wit, intelligence, and sheer grit is far beyond unorthodox for a prisoner of over five years. McCain’s bravery and lighthearted determination in such grave circumstances foreshadowed his habitual perseverance in his political career throughout the rest of his life.

Upon his return to U.S. soil, McCain continued serving his country as a Representative and later Senator from Arizona. In his 35 year-long political career, he once again revealed his independence amid steadfast belief in his country. He was irrefutably Republican in his stances, votes and views as Senator, but recognized and practiced compromise with moderates and Democrats. Time and again, McCain reached across the aisle, putting country above party, yet another “maverick” practice in today’s polarized, party-centric Congress. One such example of his ability to agree with Democrats is with presidential opponent Barack Obama in controversial areas like immigration- McCain notably supported a path to legalized citizenship for illegal immigrants. Staying true to his motto, “country first,” John McCain was not afraid to make enemies on either side of the political aisle in pursuit of broader progress for the people of the United States, fueled by compromise, understanding, and teamwork amongst the legislative body.

As eager as he was to vote across the aisle, McCain was equally willing to call out his colleagues for their lack of cooperation and logic when lawmaking. Especially closer to the end of his life, he challenged Congress more and more to imitate his outlook on politics by listening to and cooperating with opposing political parties. In one address to the Senate floor, just following brain surgery, McCain said in reference to previous and current admirable Senators on both sides, “Their ambitions were frequently in conflict. They held different views on the issues of the day… but they knew that however sharp and heartfelt their disputes, however keen their ambitions, they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively.”

John McCain’s “maverick” spirit was, at its core, found in his utter fearlessness in the face of obstacles- from ruthless torture as a prisoner-of-war to party-privy legislators in Washington. Not only does McCain’s inspirational life serve as an example for congressmembers on both sides, but for all Americans to put morality, logic and humanity above personal or party interest. The Maverick preached cooperation, understanding, patience and determination, and these lessons he exemplified will survive him for years to come.

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