Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Up Close with Sen. John McCain
I'm still thrilled. Last night I spent an evening with the "presumed" GOP presidential nominee. Being steeped in politics, coming that close to the center of the tornado would be exciting on any account. But last night I shook his hand, chatted amiably for awhile--and was honored--by a real hero.
Being the spouse of a public person has over the past many years brought handsome perks. I've attended a White House Chanuka party and shaken the hand of George W. Bush, who was cordial and accepted my invitation to come to our home for a Sabbath meal. (I'm still awaiting the call of his scheduler). I've been tickled to host at our Sabbath table senators and congressmen and movie stars and pundits. I've been star-struck when philanthropic entrepreneurs and the conductor of our Philharmonic orchestra shared a Sabbath meal in our home.
But as engaging and impressive as they all are, every time I hear about the heroism of John McCain, I am moved to tears. I choked back emotion last night when I heard him speak of his courage in the Vietnam prison dubbed the Hanoi Hilton as "just what anybody in those circumstances would do," and then extol the bravery of fellow prisoners like Navy Col. Bud Day whose arm, severely broken in torture, was straightened by the candidate with a makeshift bamboo splint. He answered questions about why he's so private about his family with a report on his wife and children, including two in the military, one just back from Iraq.
I heard him speak casually in a small group of about 25, and then more extensively to a larger hall of perhaps 300 supporters. He moves as he speaks, stepping forward, to the side, and back. He looks directly at listeners. He speaks without notes, though he held a 3 by 5 index card in his hand for his half-hour talk. He doesn't always use eloquent words, and sometimes re-phrases. He's funny--one-liners and pithy jokes--and then tells you where he got them.
When he confidently asserted that he understood terrorism, understood the threats our country faces (while Barack and Hillary do not), you knew by the way he stepped--imperfectly (eschewing the provided podium and microphone)--that he lives every day with physical evidence of that knowledge.
What I noticed most in his remarks is that he is forthright, confronting his differences with his audience rather than pandering to them. He knew, for example, that many conservatives scoff at green Al Gore's global warming-ism, but he's committed to environmental efforts, brought up the topic and explained his reasoning (we won't be worse off if we do something about it--in fact, the inventor of those curly florescent light bulbs didn't lose money, and our economy will similarly benefit--but if we do need to act and yet refrain, our kids could inherit a deathly scenario). He doesn't mind ticking people off, and says so. The one word that comes to my mind for John McCain is...integrity.
My heart fluttered when he was not only cordial but effusively complimentary, giving my husband high praise and--this was PEAK--interrupting the middle of his speech to a large crowd (after our intimate reception) to actually ask ME to stand up for recognition!! When I heard the strong applause for my husband's work, I was gratified and couldn't wait to tell him. After his talk, as Sen. McCain lingered, chatting and shaking hands with all who approached; I thanked him for his gracious gesture, and once again he was effusive.
I don't think I've come down from my evening with the man I do believe will be our next President. But perhaps I'll get yet another chance for a personal chat. When I invited him to our Shabbat table, the Senator said he'd love to come.