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Commentary

A get-well card for Sen. John McCain

I've never been friends with Sen. John McCain. Never liked him, never voted for him — not in any of his two congressional races or six U.S. Senate races, which apparently made little difference, since he won all of them handily.

I didn't vote for him in his 2008 Republican presidential run against Barack Obama. Never even considered voting for him, really — especially after his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate, which unleashed her shrill voice and the even more shrill outburst of the tea party that followed. And I pretty thoroughly hated him for his TV ads that always addressed me as "my friend."

That's when I joined the army of non-supporters who chanted at their TV sets, "I'm not your friend, you old bastard."

But today, I've joined another army: wishing John McCain well in his battle against brain cancer.

McCain, 80, was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor after surgery to remove a blood clot above his left eye last week. Treatment options include a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.

"Glioblastoma" is an ugly word that describes an ugly kind of cancer. It's an aggressive kind of brain cancer that killed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy less than 15 months after it was discovered.

For a state best known for saguaros and sunsets, Arizona has produced a surprising lineup of congressional giants. (Sorry, Al Franken, you had the misfortune of living in Minnesota; but I am enjoying your book, "Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.") But, of course, there was Ernest McFarland, the Senate Majority Leader from 1951 to 1953, and one of the "Fathers of the GI Bill." And Barry Goldwater, who was the first Arizonan to grab the Republican reins and run for president in 1964. He lost by a landslide, but he was a key figure in the resurgence of the American conservative movement that later swept Ronald Reagan and the others — including, I guess, Donald Trump (gack) into the presidency.

Rep. Morris K. Udall chased after the Democratic nomination in1976 against Jimmy Carter. His self-deprecating wit and humor would be so refreshing in today's political climate. Of course, in Trump's case all the humor and wit would be used to throw aides under the bus.

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Udall liked to tell a story about a café he visited in Iowa one day. "Hello," he said, "I'm Mo Udall and I'm running for President." And one of the café regulars said, "Yeah, we were just joking about that."

Can you imagine Trump trying to tell that joke about himself? His head would explode first.

But getting back to John McCain.

"McCain's significance inside Congress is hard to overstate," the Washington Post reported, "and his absence, however long, will reverberate across the Capitol."

Without McCain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can afford to lose only two more votes to salvage such beloved Republican issues as health care, taxes and defense spending. The Post also notes that McCain's absence would deprive the Senate of its "moral conscience" on issues such as the investigation of the Trump campaign's role, if any, in Russian 2016 election shenanigans.

Wait a minute. What moral conscience?

Anyway, McConnell said, "I know that he will face this challenge with the same extraordinary courage that has characterized his life. The entire Senate family's prayers are with John, Cindy and his family, his staff, and the people of Arizona he represents so well.

"We all look forward to seeing this American hero again soon."

That goes for me, too, Sen. McCain. Although I only spoke to you once, in an unmemorable interview when I was the political reporter for the Tucson Citizen and you were running for the District 1 seat in Congress back in 1982. You told me about your prisoner of war ordeal and I wrote it all down. Still, I didn't vote for you then and have never voted for you. But you have my vote now, and my prayers.

Godspeed, John McCain.

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This commentary was first published at witsendmagazine.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly tallied the number of McCain’s Senate campaigns. Hey, there’ve been a lot of ‘em.


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McCain at a 2013 town hall in Tucson.