By Raoul Lowery Contreras
When the television networks announced that Sen. John McCain had won the 2008 Florida Republican Presidential primary, I jumped out of my chair and told my invalid mother that I was sending a donation to his campaign that minute. She asked how much? I said $100, she said send him that much for me too.
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My mother was a lifelong Kennedy Democrat, so her pledge surprised me, her lifelong Republican son. She liked Republican McCain because she was a member of the “Greatest Generation” and she adored military heroes. McCain was a military hero in her mind, in my mind and in the minds of millions of Americans.
Survival of more than five years as a prisoner during much of the Vietnam War made him and fellow American prisoners heroes by any definition.
McCain also ran for President in 2000. The media loved him. Media attached themselves to McCain — the quintessential political maverick — in droves; everywhere he went hundreds of journalists followed him and everything he said. The Senator looked like he might knock off the establishment favorite, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Then came the South Carolina Republican Primary, which the media suggested McCain had a real shot at winning. He didn’t win; South Carolina turned on hero McCain by voting for Bush. McCain was left standing alone.
On a warm September 2000 day in San Diego my better half and I attended a fundraiser for San Diego Congressman Brian Bilbray that featured McCain. Before the luncheon speech at the beach hotel, I asked Bilbray if he would introduce me to the senator as I had never met him. We walked over to McCain and he took my out-stretched hand in both his hands.
“I served under your father (Admiral John S. McCain Jr., commander of Pacific forces),” I said. Smiling, I continued, “I would have served under you if you had been in the military.” Without blinking an eye, McCain looked at me and said, “F-ing Marine.”
Both the Senator and I laughed; everyone in the room looked over. Bilbray looked like he was experiencing cardiac arrest. The Senator and I exchanged a Mexican “abrazo” — a man’s hug — and we laughed again.
When the lunch was over, we walked out of the hotel and standing alone in front was McCain, waiting for his car. No entourage; no gaggle of media. We stopped and talked with him, just the three of us. My better half had bought his new book in New York City just weeks before and he had signed it at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in the twin towers, which would be destroyed a year later on another warm balmy September morning.
When the valet brought his car, the Senator gave me another “abrazo” and said goodbye with, “Be well, Marine.”
Those few minutes I spent with John McCain were, in my experience, priceless. I have recounted the story many times since, especially to military folks. Everyone laughs. One exception: Sen. John Kerry; he didn’t laugh when I told him the story. I’m glad Bush wiped him out in 2004; no sense of humor.
McCain became my personal hero that day in 2000 in San Diego. When then-candidate Donald Trump insulted and belittled McCain for not being a hero because he, Trump, only admired men who were not captured, I blew a fuse.
Trump’s dislike of McCain continues even as the Senator stopped treatment of his cancer. That is shameful; that shows America Trump’s true character.
When one compares character of McCain with anyone else, there are few men who measure up, especially when you consider what he endured as a prisoner held by the Vietnamese Communists.
Real men must stand up now to be measured by standards the Senator left us as his legacy.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.
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