McCain: ‘I liked Barack’ fits well in his legacy of civil discourse

Reporter’s note: In journalism, when a promise is made that remarks are off-the-record, that promise does not pass with the interview subject’s death. In January 2016, a former reporter for Phoenix Business Journal interviewed Sen. John McCain about the economy. At the conclusion of the interview, the senator was asked, with an off-the-record promise, about the state of national politics. The 20-minute conversation has never been published. With the death of Sen. McCain, some of his comments are found to be poignant considering his “Letter to the American People.” Representatives of the McCain family gave permission for those comments to be shared as part of the Senator’s legacy. The remainder of the conversation remains off-the-record.

There were still a dozen candidates contending for the Republican presidential nomination and two on the Democratic side on that day in January when Sen. John McCain took time from his campaign for a one-on-one interview about the economy and global trade.

After the formal interview, in answer to an off-the-record question, he talked about civil discourse and the state of the national political conversation. President Barack Obama was still in office. Around the table in his private campaign office, the senator sat in his chair, speaking about various candidates and the rigors of campaigning to be the president of the United States. He then became more relaxed.

The next part of the conversation answers a question some have asked, why Sen. McCain would have asked former President Barack Obama to give one of the eulogies.

“I like (Barack),” said Sen. McCain, about then President Barack Obama. “I don’t always agree with him, but I respect that he believes he is doing what’s right for the country.”

The Senator expressed concern at the polarization occurring in Washington and its spreading across the country.

“We are a diverse people and instead of fighting it, we should be honoring our differences,” he said. Sen. McCain talked about how challenging it has been to be a divided legislature.

“When Bill Clinton was president, he would call in the majority leadership and talk about actions he planned,” he said. “We wouldn’t always, in fact most of the time, rarely, agree with his plans. Sometimes he would make changes after listening. But we would leave the meeting with each side knowing where the other stood. Sure, there was opposition from the Republicans, but it was respectful overall. The same with how the president (Clinton) responded to us (in the Senate).”

The Senator regretted that such meetings before a major announcement were not occurring in 2016. He said he was “saddened” that surprise announcements forced the Republicans to take harder opposition.

“As Americans, we need to talk to each other, we need to listen,” Sen. McCain said. “Together, even with our differences, we make this a great nation.”

The Senator concluded the conversation by saying that the different views often made the outcome better for the country than one side or the other refusing to listen or consider opposing views.

The January 2016 remarks were so prescient. Sen. McCain pressed his belief that respectful discourse is what will heal the nation and nurture our democracy. It’s not heard often today, but for years it was often stated that the founding fathers of this nation called this the “great experiment” in democracy.

In a nation with its share of regretful decisions, it’s the tradition, the country’s history, that in the end, Americans do what is right. The moral compass of the public always ends up pointing in the right direction, no matter how the path meanders towards the destination.

John McCain set a direction to American greatness; if the nation turns to the direction of his words.

Photo courtesy of AP

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