An Open Letter to Senator John McCain: Why We Need the Return of The American Hero

Shirley Li/Medill

Dear Sen. McCain:

Once again, your nation looks to you in our moment of need.

You have made service to our nation the calling of your lifetime, demonstrating time and again that during our most difficult moments, you have been willing to sacrifice so much of yourself, and to do so for the benefit of the nation you love. Whether it was your service in Vietnam, your resilience and grit during five-plus years in the Hanoi Hilton, or your more than 30 years of service as a Congressman and Senator, you have always acted (or appeared to) in a way that put the needs of our nation above your own.

Sadly, today, that same selfless approach is needed – perhaps more than ever. And once again, that need arises with you squarely in the center of the fight.

Senator, our political system is in shambles. Partisan gridlock has turned Congress into stone. Not only are voters more dissatisfied in their lawmakers than ever before, there is a growing sense that even in a dire emergency, our leaders would not be capable of emerging from their own petty bickering to get something done on behalf of the nation.

It wasn’t always like this. Lawmakers used to put the “best interests of the nation” ahead of their party’s political positioning, or their own personal political agendas and careers. They did it because it was the right thing to do. They did it because it was the important thing to do. They did it because despite the difference among political parties and political operatives, the common notion of providing for the nation we all love trumped all else.

They did it – because they were willing to put “Country First”.

Senator, the nation needs John McCain back in center of the political arena, and in the center of the political spectrum.

You have been there before. Remember the 1980’s and 1990’s? Back when you were every Democrat’s favorite Republican? It’s when you earned your reputation as a maverick. You didn’t care what other Republicans said about you – you acted in ways you thought were right, consequences be damned. That’s the John McCain we need today… back on board the Straight Talk Express.

I know in today’s political climate, it’s easier (and safer) to simply “go along”. I know that any Republican who looks to find common ground and compromise will be targeted by the political extremes. I know your job will be threatened. I know you’ll feel isolated and under attack. But in times of great need, you have taken those risks for your nation. And your nation needs you to take those risks again. Besides, you never considered not fighting the North Vietnamese, or giving up as a POW, or sitting out the Reagan Revolution, or challenging George W. Bush because you were afraid of the consequences. You were afraid of the consequences if you didn’t stand up in each of those cases.

What’s more, there is yet another legacy of American heroism waiting for you to claim. If your career were to end today, how would the first line of your political obituary read? As the man who lost the 2008 presidential election, and whose character was so unfairly assassinated in South Carolina in 2000. Sadly, in the partisan atmosphere in which we find ourselves, for many – those failures would challenge, if not eclipse your unwavering military heroism.

But, that legacy could immortalize you as the man who led his party into the wilderness of partisanship and gridlock – then worked tirelessly to bring it, and the nation, back from that brink. Even if Republicans were to wince at your efforts in this regard, think about the love and admiration those same moves would generate from the other party. You could, once again, be every Democrat’s favorite Republican.

And, better yet, it could work! Think of how many other members of your party are where you are… hoping for a chance to return the GOP to relevancy… hoping to tackle the great issues of the day… hoping not just to campaign, but to lead. Will there be blowback? You bet. Will your colleagues hesitate, fearing their own political futures? They will. But your party will not abandon you. They, like the rest of us, are waiting for the first person to take a stand. History has shown that every great revolution and evolution begins with a single person standing up to unyielding forces. Who’s more likely to begin this movement in the GOP? Someone out of office, like Jeb Bush, Christine Todd Whitman, or Chris Shays? Someone who’s never served, like Mark McKinnon, or Frank Luntz? Or someone like you – a veteran/hero of Washington, Vietnam, and countless skirmishes within the GOP?

There is another benefit. Your record from 2001 to 2013 – would and could be wiped clean. And, let’s face it, everyone in America knows what’s prompted your movement to the right over that period. We know what happened in South Carolina in 2000. We know about the unfair attacks that all but eliminated you from the primary field for President. We know that you still desired a shot at the White House, and that, in a calculated political move, you shifted your policy views to the right – so as to better position yourself to win the GOP nomination in 2008. And, we know that in the ’08 election, you had to secure widespread support and turnout from the GOP’s conservative base, pushing yourself even further right, and muting any objections you may have had about the coarseness of the political climate – or about Sarah Palin (another sin that can easily be forgiven). And I suspect most people would write off your seemingly automatic opposition to any proposal offered or backed by President Obama as sour grapes from what you believed would be your final national campaign.

The choice is yours. Go down in history as the man who carried the GOP’s banner during its transition to the far right, and then stood by as it ground Washington to dysfunction and paralysis… or as the man who righted a wrong, and made Washington (and by extension, the entire nation) work once again.

Something (or someone) has to give to fix the problems our nation, and our nation’s lawmakers face. We need a maverick. We need a hero. We need some straight talk. We need someone who’s willing to put Country First.

We need John McCain.


Andrew Whitman
(On behalf of the American People)

Twitter: @WhitmanAndrew