Following the August 25 death of Arizona Senator John McCain, whose storied life and decades of service as a member of Congress will be long remembered, moments that inspired respect in our intensely partisan era of politics have resurfaced. One such moment occurred in 2008 while McCain was running for President against then-Senator Barack Obama.
At a town hall meeting with constituents, a woman came to the microphone and said:
I can't trust Obama. I have read about him, and he's not, um, he's an Arab.
Cutting her off, McCain took the microphone and refuted her point:
No, ma'm. He's a decent family man [and] citizen that just I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that's what the campaign's all about. He's not [an Arab].
McCain's point was not a perfect one. Though he intended to come to Obama's defense, he allowed the constituent's baseline misunderstanding (that an Arab is less of a citizen, less of a family man, and not fit to be President) to go unquestioned by simply saying his opponent was none of those things. While it's true that Obama is not a Muslim, his religion or ethnic background should have made no difference when it came to his political convictions.
The moment is still notable for McCain's willingness to defend his opponent—something one could hardly imagine a certain Republican presidential nominee doing in 2016. During the course of his campaign, President Trump accused his opponent, Hillary Clinton, of multiple conspiracy theories, emboldening the most radical fringes of his base in a shameless effort to gain popularity.
Though it's never gained as much attention, another moment from the same Town Hall — perhaps even more inspiring — came when a constituent commented to McCain:
...and, uh, frankly we're scared. We're scared of an Obama presidency.
First of all, I want to be President of the United States and I don't want Senator Obama to be. But I have to tell you, I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared as President of the United States.
In what now reads as ominous foreshadowing of the Republican party's modern tendencies, the crowd then booed their own nominee, shouting Obama is a "liar" and a "terrorist."
Knowing full well that he could work the crowd into a frenzy by conceding the truth of Obama's decency, McCain instead insisted:
I want to fight, and I will fight. But I will be respectful. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments, and I will respect him.
Though Obama would go on to defeat McCain in the election, he would later describe the Arizona Senator as a man who was "willing to say things regardless of the politics."
Following the Senator's death, Obama released a statement saying:
Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John's best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt.