McCain: the right kind of tough guy

When my boys were growing up and I was trying to help them find the fine line between the hard and soft sides of life in America, I pitched this: “Be as tough as you have to be, but no tougher.”

It’s this line – between warrior when necessary and lover always – that John McCain mastered. He was diamond-tough when on mission in war or politics and capable of empathy and deep friendship when not.

Partly because he had sorted out this balancing act, he lived and died as a role model for what an American leader should look, act and talk like.

My one direct contact with Sen. McCain came when he was campaigning for the presidency as the Republican nominee in 2008. He was the star of a big rally at the Bucyrus plant in South Milwaukee, with their house-size tar sands shovels as the backdrop.

Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard CEO who later ran for president in 2016, was the moderator of a panel of the responders to his speech, and I was privileged to be one of them. It was a big show, with dozens of national journalists in the entourage.

A half-hour beforehand, we had a chance to hob-nob with McCain in a small private room. He was gregarious, fun and comfortable in an unscripted setting. He knew his own mind, so was unafraid of being misquoted. I can’t remember what I asked him before or after his talk.

I do remember how he handled one pushy executive who arrived late and launched into a lobbying pitch. Republicans had been floating the use of the U.S. Post Office to manage the bailout of individual Americans who had been caught with under-collateralized and under-water mortgages.
The CEO loudly objected to a government agency to do that work. He said something like: “Let the private sector handle it.”

McCain listened, gave the man the stink eye and responded, “You mean like Countrywide?” That was the private company that had peddled a slew of the unstable mortgages that triggered the Great Recession. It was vintage McCain, who was known for his quick repartee. He had cut off the self-serving intrusion with four words. The guy probably wrote big donation checks for the GOP. It didn’t matter to McCain . The pre-speech conversation moved on.

The recession was in full fury at the end of the George W. Bush Administration, and the unpopular war in Iraq was grinding on. Those inherited issues proved too much for McCain to overcome. The American people opted for a cooler academic personality, Barrack Obama, a stark contrast to McCain’s warrior persona.

A St. Paul columnist, Don Davis, recalled Sunday a moment when an elderly woman declared at a Minnesota campaign stop: “I don’t trust Barack Obama because he’s an Arab.”
McCain grabbed the microphone from the then-75-year-old woman’s hands and chastised her. ‘He is a decent person and he is someone you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States.’ “
That display of toughness, belief in the American value of inclusiveness and respect for his opponents captured the whole McCain package.

When he lost by seven points to Obama, McCain accepted the people’s decision with grace.

His deep belief in American values came into play again in 2016. Though he tried to align himself with Donald Trump after he became the surprise nominee, McCain’s stiff back prevented him from doing so. McCain stood up to the bullying of women and minorities and withdrew his support of candidate Trump before the 2016 general election. The last straw was the tape of Trump’s sexist comments.

McCain’s view of American values and the president’s were always diametrically opposed.
His funeral service last week was one of the finest chapters in his life of a loving and lovable tough guy. This country needs more John McCains.

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  • Tim

    His funeral was nothing but a political bash against Trump. How many funerals have you been to when they turned it into a political rally??? By the way Torinus you never mentioned the Keating 5 scandal in which McCain was part of and cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Oh wait I guess you would have gotten to that eventually right?

    • Chris Crosse

      Looking for a fight are we Tim? Why not consider respecting John’s opinion vs. telling the doer of deeds how they should be doing them better. Just a thought. Be well.

      • Tim

        What’s wrong Chris, nobody is allowed to disagree with Torinus when he writes his opinions? I guess the first amendment only applies if you agree with the writer. By the way why not have Torinus rebuttal instead of you putting in your dumb opinion.

        • Chris Crosse

          I believe John is above the fray. I just thought your post was trashy and wanted to comment on it. As I said before, be well my fellow American.

          • Tim

            So I guess it’s against your rules to comment on someone’s article if you don’t approve of it? Guess again this is America my friend.

          • Tim

            Besides it does not seem to bother Torinus when he trashes our President or even people who run for the local school board whom he does not agree with. If he does not like the critics who respond to him, well to bad because he needs to learn to put his big boy pants on and deal with it.

          • JohnTorinus

            In the America that’s counts, citizens don’t fling insults from behind a curtain of anonymity. Step up and tell us who you are and where you come from.

          • Tim

            Oh Johnny are you on that subject again? You’re always wondering who someone is. I thought you might be busy writing your next anti Trump article.

          • JohnTorinus

            The subject of your lack of guts will never go away.

  • Barbbieb

    Senator McCain was in Appleton at the Copper Rock Cafe downtown during the 2008 campaign. Char Stevenson, Shirley Gillespie and myself waited by the back door for the Senator to arrive…because I had an old invitation to a ‘pool party’ at his home in North Phoenix for the hard working supporters on his campaign back in the 80’s. I brought that invite along to show the Senator and he immediately saw the address and recognized that my address was near his home at that time!! I asked him to sign the ‘letter’ and he was very gracious and asked ‘what are you doing in WI’…I have some photos of that day…Roger Roth was there, I recall, with some other McCain supporters..although it was a small gathering. He later came to the OCRP Lincoln Day Dinner…thanks to Jack Voight’s efforts. It was a lot of fun, along with some hard work, working on John McCain’s campaigns in Arizona, where we lived at that time. In those days, he was very good for Arizona.

  • Michael Holloway

    Mr. Torinus, you are spot on for this Rockefeller republican (one of two in the USA, I believe). While I try to listen to all voices, I’ve learned in the Trump era that not all voices are worth the while – the 35% who will follow Trump upon his shooting someone on 5th avenue (Friedman captured it better in the N.Y. Times – are not worth my listen. Keep writing. Whether I agree with you or not, like George Will (no offense, I consider you a poor mans Will), I enjoy your reasoned discourse.

    • Bill green

      Sounds like sour grapes to me. By the way it’s more than 35% so get your facts straight before making your comments.