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McCain’s sage advice: Seek common ground


John McCain’s death reminds us no one’s epitaph should be written at the conclusion of a life chapter, stirring or otherwise, but at the end of his or her life’s book.

McCain, senior senator from Arizona, was a flawed man and statesman — he would be first to concede this, as we all should be about conceding our own shortcomings — but he soldiered on in life’s challenges with dignity, honor and charm. He served his state and this country well and left behind wisdom we should heed.

Small wonder that his Senate colleague John Cornyn, R-Texas, wrote movingly and well about McCain’s record as a warrior, a statesman and as a beloved father, a maverick whose record “was the envy of many.”

“The firmness of his character, and unyielding love for this country, were unmatched,” Cornyn said.

Or that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, too, lauded McCain and asked Texans to pray for his soul and his family.

“John McCain was born to lead,” Abbott said. “Throughout his military career, his years of cruel imprisonment and torture as a prisoner of war, his decades of dedicated service in Congress, and his quest as a candidate for the highest office, his fighting spirit could not be broken.

“Though he could have chosen the easier path in life, John McCain would never surrender his love of country. He was an American warrior.”

His service in war defined much of his early adulthood. His service in Congress defined the rest. His valor in war was matched by his valor in peace.

Returning to the Senate last year after his diagnosis of brain cancer, McCain took to the floor to advise colleagues — all 99 — to see their duty as greater than to party or self-interest. In a speech, he urged them to see the nuances and customs of the Senate in a brighter light. It was in compromise, in reaching across the aisle to seek consensus, he said, that senators do their most effective work for the people and the nation.

The best senators, he said, men and women from all political camps, knew “they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively.” They pursued incremental progress, part of the grinding yet relentless march toward greatness.

In the twilight of his service, he saw a Senate crumbling in spirit, its members prisoners of their own mean intentions, driven by a need not to reason together but to draw lines that might never be crossed.

“I hope we can again rely on humility, on our need to cooperate … to learn how to trust each other again,” he said. He did not live to see it. But he left us his wisdom, if we will heed it.