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John McCain exemplified public service at its best

Because of my respect for McCain’s personal integrity and his demonstrated commitment to bipartisanship, I was proud to support him in both of his runs for the presidency.

John McCain was a friend of mine. Unlike others, my friendship was less intimate – but no less genuine. I was certainly not in his inner circle – like Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. I was not even as close to McCain as our state’s Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who often traveled with McCain on important overseas trips.

Tim Penny

Tim Penny

My connection with McCain began when he and I were first elected to Congress from our respective states in 1982. McCain was already a nationally known figure given the story of his capture and confinement as a P.O.W. in Vietnam. I think he and I took note of each other due to a shared independent streak, a willingness to work across partisan lines, and a commitment to fiscal responsibility.

Within four years, McCain was off to the Senate. I observed with admiration his partnership with another Vietnam War vet, Sen. John Kerry, as the two of them played a key role in restoring normal diplomatic and trade relationships with Vietnam.

During his early years in the Senate, McCain and I worked together on a bicameral, bipartisan effort to trim federal spending. We co-chaired what was known as the Porkbuster’s Coalition. Our goal was to eliminate local and special interest projects (pork) that had no business being funded with federal dollars – but were often quietly tucked away in massive spending bills by powerful congressional leaders. Our efforts were not always successful, but they helped to keep a focus on unnecessary and wasteful federal spending.

Though a member of the Armed Services Committee, McCain was not afraid to take on pork in the defense budget. His view was that pork-barrel projects were taking money away from more important national defense and military needs. In his final years in the Senate, he became chairman of the Armed Services Committee – and the recently passed 2018 Armed Services bill, which enhances resources for our military service members, is named in his honor.

Because of my respect for McCain’s personal integrity and his demonstrated commitment to bipartisanship, I was proud to support him  in both of his runs for the presidency. In fact, in 2008 I co-chaired a group called Independents and Democrats for McCain. I knew from his willingness to work across the political aisle that he could be the kind of president who could bridge the divide and bring Americans together. At a campaign event in Lakeville that year, I sat no more than 12 feet away when he bravely admonished and corrected a supporter who attempted to describe candidate Barack Obama as a Muslim. I thought at the time: “That is the John McCain I know and admire.”

Later, I co-chaired with former Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe a group called the Dollar Coin Coalition in support of the Coins Act. McCain was the Senate sponsor of this bill, which called for modernizing our nation’s currency – including replacing the paper dollar with a coin (and more controversially also eliminating the penny).

I fondly recall several summers ago when my wife and I were accompanying friends who wanted to take a family trip to the nation’s Capitol. I happily offered to act as a tour guide. Since the patriarch of the family was a Vietnam vet, I thought it would be fun to arrange a visit with McCain. McCain had no reason to meet with these Minnesotans other than his friendship with me. He graciously invited them into this office, visited with them in an unhurried fashion, and took numerous photos, which are now treasured by this family. That is the McCain I know and admire.

Incidentally, on another visit to McCain’s office just last year, I was proud to see how often on McCain’s electronic photo scroll the visage of Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar would crop up. By accompanying McCain on these international trips Klobuchar was helping McCain demonstrate that, in America, Democrats and Republicans can work together in a collegial, bipartisan way when it comes to our foreign policy commitments.

John McCain is now rightfully being honored for his lifetime of service to our nation.

He would be the first to remind us, however, that he was not a perfect man or a perfect public servant. But in my view, he set a high bar.

Reflecting on his years as a captive, he observed in his 2008 convention speech: “I fell in love with my country while a prisoner in someone else’s. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency, for its faith in wisdom, justice, and the goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for.”

John McCain gave us what we most need from our leaders. He was a true patriot believing in our American system and in the goodness of our people. He acted with integrity. He was decent and civil and dignified toward political friend and foe alike. He exemplified public service at its best.

In his last book — “The Restless Wave” — which I read just a few weeks ago, he recounted his career in the Senate, his presidential campaign and essentially said a farewell to his beloved state and country. After completing the book, I wrote him a short note concluding: “Your leadership has been an inspiration to me – and to millions of others. Thank you for being who you are.”

We now honor John McCain at his passing. But a question looms: Who among today’s leaders in Congress will step forward to emulate the patriotism, courage and civility that defined John McCain as a statesman in our time?

Tim Penny is president of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and a former member of Congress. 


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Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/31/2018 - 04:05 pm.

    “Men and nations do act wisely when they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” Abba Eben

    McCain many times exemplified that saying–which is better than those who never run out of the other possibilities.

  2. Submitted by Herbert Davis on 09/01/2018 - 07:20 am.

    There’s a real John Sidney McCain III and there’s a fake one, manufactured for the public relations of US empire. Imperial PR needs to justify, even sanctify the ecocidal and genocidal rule of the rich by portraying its servants not as the venal and bloodthirsty thieves they are, but as the brightest, the best, the most noble and deserving among us. The Manufactured McCain whom the corporate media will spend another week on top of the previous one lifting up to the heavens bears only passing resemblance to the real John McCain. The real McCain was no hero. He was a lying, bribe taking, neo-nazi sympathizing politician and war criminal, who served the US empire and himself for all of his long life.

    By 1904 the US had coveted Panama, the northernmost province of Colombia for some time. US global ambitions dictated the need for a canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The French had already tried to build the canal and failed at a cost of billions in today’s money and 22,000 dead – black laborers recruited from around the Caribbean who mostly perished from disease. When the Colombian government refused to simply hand Panama over on US terms, President Teddy Roosevelt sent down a battleship or two and some Colombians in Washington DC were recruited to declare independence. The US immediately recognized the government of the new republic, which granted Washington the power do do pretty much whatever they liked. Like the French before them, the North Americans imported tens of thousands of black labors – not their families, only the laborers – from around the Caribbean to build the canal, and they imposed a vicious southern US-style Jim Crow regime upon what they called the Canal Zone. Another 6,000 black laborers and a few hundred whites died building the Panama Canal, which opened in 1914.

    The real John McCain was born in 1936 in US occupied Panama, which the empire’s law at the time considered an “unincorporated territory of the US .” That’s why McCain never took part in the Republican birther craze, which falsely claims that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and why the Manufactured McCain never talked much about his birthplace.

    The real John McCain spent many childhood summers at Teoc, the 2,000 acre Carroll County Mississippi plantation which belonged to his great great grandfather Dr. William Alexander McCain. The antebellum McCains once owned at least 52 slaves who made their masters quite wealthy raising corn and cotton. There are still black McCains in Carroll County whose ancestors were owned by white McCains with whom they neither claim nor deny any blood kinship. The black McCains hold a family reunion every other year, and though they did invite Senator McCain he never attended. One of William Alexander McCain’s grandsons made brigadier general in the US Army, and another, Henry Pinkney McCain was a US Army major general. A third of Dr. McCain’s grandsons was Senator McCain’s grandfather, a 4 star US Navy Admiral. His son, Senator McCain’s father was also a 4 star US Navy admiral. Their ancestors include officers in the American Revolutions related to the family of George Washington.

    Despite the real McCain’s military-aristocratic lineage and those childhood summers on the plantation, the Manufactured McCain campaigning for president in 2000 ridiculously claimed he didn’t think his family had ever owned any slaves. Reporters had to produce documents with the names and descriptions of 52 McCain plantation slaves before the Manufactured McCain acknowledged his family had been slaveholders. “ It makes sense… I didn’t know that,” he reportedly said.

    The manufactured war hero VS the real accident-prone pilot.

    The Manufactured McCain sometimes called himself a “fighter pilot.” That’s not what the US Navy called the Real McCain. In navy language, fighter pilots are the elite of the elite, the ones who fight other planes in the air. The Real McCain flew ground attack aircraft, which in Vietnam meant bombing mostly undefended civilian ground targets.

    The real McCain was a slipshod and reckless pilot who totaled 3 aircraft in incidents where navy investigators pinned the cause of the crash upon lapses in pilot’s judgment, in each and every case contradicting the Real McCain’s official reports of those accidents. A 2008 Los Angeles Times article titled “McCain’s Mishaps in the Cockpit by Ralph Vartabedian and Richard A. Serrano examines the Real McCain’s 3 plane crashes in some detail. Aircraft are not cheap, and it’s hard to believe any military on earth allows pilots with three at-fault plane crashes to keep his wings. That is, unless you’re US Navy royalty, the son and the grandson of admirals. Decades later, as a politician writing one or another version of his autobiography the Manufactured McCain was more truthful, describing a 1961 incident in which he flew into power lines in southern Spain causing a local blackout, as “daredevil clowning.” He managed to bring the plane back to the carrier that time, trailing ten feet of power line, so that didn’t count among the Real McCain’s at-fault plane crashes.

    McCain was assigned to Yankee station off the coast of North Vietnam where he took part in Operation Rolling Thunder, the US code name for 31 months of the bombing of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and killed tens of thousands of civilians at the very least. McCain flew 27 ground attack missions before being shot down in October 1967 trying to bomb a Hanoi power plant. Many have argued that bombing undefended civilian targets is a war crime. That’s certainly the way the Vietnamese viewed the matter, and they subjected the already seriously injured McCain and other downed US pilots to close confinement and torture. His own mistreatment during 5 years as a prisoner of war was the reason why Senator John McCain would later publicly disagree with 21st century US policy that publicly embraced the idea of torture.

    When the Vietnamese discovered that McCain was US Navy royalty, they sensibly offered him early release ahead of pilots captured before him. Just as sensibly, he refused the offer, and the manufactured narrative of John McCain as the heroic prisoner of war began to be established, and since has been added to many times by his own writing and speeches and by others connected to actual events and not. Released after five and a half years imprisonment, he was already a kind of celebrity. McCain remained in the Navy several years after his release. His final Navy assignment was US Navy liaison to the Senate. During this time he divorced his first wife and married Cindy Hensley, daughter of one of the biggest beer distributors in the country. Hobnobbing with politicians and military contractors seemed to suit him, so he left the navy in 1981, as Jeff Gates put, cashing in his war hero chits to start a political career.

    The Manufactured McCain: the straight talking war hero as venal bribe taking politician.

    While still in the Navy McCain had campaigned for Ronald Reagan vigorously enough to earn warnings from his superiors, and to be a frequent guest of honor at Reagan dinners. He moved to Arizona to campaign for Congress. According to Jeff Gates’ book Guilt By Association: How Deception and Self Deceit Took America to War, his wife received a gift of $689,000 from her wealthy family just before or at the beginning of his congressional run, which probably enabled him to lend his own campaign $167,000. McCain’s prenuptial agreement allowed him to omit his wife’s multimillion dollar income and holdings from public financial disclosures.

    Fresh from his insider stint as Reagan’s favorite dinner guest Navy liaison to the Senate he campaigned as the straight talking political outsider and war hero, winning election in 1982. and again 1984. As expected, Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, who’d been the 1968 Republican presidential candidate retired in 1986 and McCain won the seat. Among the early investors in McCain’s political career was a Phoenix millionaire Charles Keating who got in on the ground floor. According to Gates in the aforementioned book:

    “Keating family members and employees made 40 donations to his first congressional campaign, at least 32 to his second… no less than 45 when ran for the Senate in 1986…

    “The McCains made 9 vacation trips on a jet owned by Keating’s company including … trips to Keating’s posh resort in the Bahamas. Only after the S&L scandal years later did McCain reimburse Keating…

    “McCain’s wife and father in law invested $359,000 in a Keating shopping mall deal. Their profit remains unknown.”

    In 1984 Keating bought a California savings and loan with 26 branches. Under Presidents Carter and Reagan restrictions on how and what savings and loan institutions could invest had been repeatedly loosened. Keating was one who pushed even these limits and purchased legislators by the pocketful to sometimes meet directly with federal regulators to argue his case. The so-called Keating Five were a handful of senators receiving $1.3 million in contributions, of which McCain got $112,000. They met with federal regulators on a number of occasions, and according to one regulator, argued Keating’s case like defense lawyers. Republican John McCain was one of these, along with Democrats John Glenn and Alan Cranston and two others.

    A few years later, 1,038 Savings and Loan institutions went belly-up, causing the savings of hundreds of thousand to vanish overnight, and the fund which supposedly insured them unable to cover the losses. The $150 billion savings and loan scandal was the biggest financial crisis in recent history till the crash of 2007-2008 and bribes paid to the real McCain were directly instrumental to making it happen. McCain was to spend 32 years in the Senate, and became the go-to guy for a galaxy of military contractors, telecoms, Big Ag, Big Real Estate, Big Pharma, Big Energy and more, and the Manufactured McCain ran for president in 2000 and 2008.

    From 1992 till weeks before his death John McCain served as chairman of the International Republican Institute, a US government funded organization that interferes in the political processes of scores of other countries, training rebel groups to overthrow inconvenient elected governments, like that of John Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and many others. McCain and the IRI were prominent backers of neo-nazi politicians and armed militia groups in Ukraine who are now part of that country’s army and civilian government. To be fair, the Obama administration and Democrat Hillary Clinton were big backers and enablers of the same forces. After all this is the US, where we do have two government parties to choose from, not just one as in some backward and benighted places. Democrats and many in the so-called resistance are throwing flowers at the grave of John McCain. It’s a bipartisan thing.

    During his 32 years in the US Senate, the real John McCain was a consistent warmonger , advocating US military intervention in Africa, South America, Korea, and almost everywhere. He sang “bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” before a veterans group, and called demonstrators against Henry Kissinger “despicable scum.” The record of his public calls for coups, invasions, blockades, bombings and assassinations to advance US military and economic domination of the planet is far too long to list.

    All this explains why corporate media are lifting up their whitewashed and manufactured version of John McCain. He’s one of their own, a genuine war criminal and loyal servant of capital. Lifting him up, creating and embellishing his heroic story lifts up and legitimizes the rule of the rich. Now they’ll be looking for parks, schools and airports to name after him. Just as the elementary school in Aaron Magruder’s Boondocks was named after J. Edgar Hoover, we’ll soon see John McCain’s name staring back at us from what little public property is left. Get ready for it.

    Don’t forget that since Black Agenda Report was accused 3 years ago of being under Russian influence, Google and other corporate social media have suppressed the appearance of our content in search results. So the only way you can be certain you’re getting fresh news commentary and analysis from the black left, as we’ve offered the last 13 years is dark social media – email. Go to and hit the subscribe button to receive our content each week by direct email, which Facebook and Google cannot block and be sure to share it with friends and others by email. Give Black Agenda Radio and Black Agenda Radio commentaries a good review and rating on iTunes while you’re at it, please. For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Bruce Dixon.

    Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)

    • Submitted by Herbert Davis on 09/01/2018 - 07:21 am.

      I believe in telling both sides of the history and the man. I do not believe in censorship.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/01/2018 - 04:38 pm.

      Given the large number of news pieces about McCain this last week, I obviously haven’t read them all. But I have been waiting for some mention of the Keating Five.

      I’ve also been waiting for mention of his pick of Sara Palin. His campaign slogan was “Country First”. Ah, not after picking Palin. That was a Hail Mary pass by a desperate campaign. is there any question that McCain really thought she was the best he could do? Hey I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night. Country First, unless I’m too far behind in the polls.

      Life is complicated, but we are ill served by hero worship.

    • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 09/02/2018 - 05:02 am.

      Thank you for this submission. Just one correction. Goldwater ran against LBJ in 1964, not 1968.

    • Submitted by Misty Martin on 09/04/2018 - 01:20 pm.

      Mr. Davis:

      Was this really necessary? There’s good and bad in the best of us. Senator John McCain was a great man, a Patriot and an American Hero, beloved by friends, colleagues and family members alike. He did a lot of great things for this great nation that we are all fortunate enough to live in.

      Let’s leave it at that, shall we?

  3. Submitted by Paul Yochim on 09/01/2018 - 08:45 am.

    John McCain was a career politician and a good case for term limits.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/03/2018 - 09:46 am.

    Not to speak ill of the dead, but I think McCain single handily did more to push the Republican Party into right wing extremism than any other individual. His bid to bring Sarah Palin into the White House may well have done more to legitimize and extreme and ignorant form of politics than any other single action. It’s bizarre that the man who ushered in such extremism is being hailed today as such a pragmatists.

    • Submitted by Paul Yochim on 09/03/2018 - 03:30 pm.

      John McCain was hardly a right wing extremist. He may have been a war monger but a right wing extremist? No. He did vote against the repeal of Obamacare, the gateway drug to single payer.

      • Submitted by Pat Berg on 09/04/2018 - 07:20 am.

        It’s not that McCain himself was a right wing extremist. Rather, it’s that he put Sarah Palin and her rhetoric on the national stage, thereby giving right wing extremism a veneer of respectability and granting others – often even more extreme than Palin – the “permission” to amplify viewpoints that had previously been viewed as far outside the public perception of acceptability.

        Without McCain’s elevation of Sarah Palin, it’s entirely possible that there would still be a far more respectable level of political discourse today.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/03/2018 - 09:16 pm.

    One does not have to be an extremist to promote or legitimize extremism. Sure, McCain voted down the repeal of Obamacare, but when he did so he was battling a monster of his own creation. His attempt to bring Palin into the White House was neither an attempt at any kind of reconciliation, or moderation, or bipartisanship- it was a cynical attempt to ring up votes he thought he needed to beat Obama. That legitimization of right wing extremism set the stage for Trump.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/04/2018 - 08:22 am.

    Stepping back from McCain himself for a moment, and looking at Penny’s eulogy, I think what we’re witnessing here is a centrist attempt to rehabilitate itself by portraying McCain as a vanguard “bipartisanship” that points the way towards the reconciliation of the current “divide”.

    This celebration of McCain as a bi-partisan champion is largely a centrist phenomena, you don’t see a lot of progressives stepping up. Of course the problem is that the centrist impulse to accommodate extremism (as in McCain’s attempt to win the presidency with Palin at his side) has been the primary catalyst of the current crises. Centrism’s inability to govern effectively produced the 2016 election fiasco and you can’t celebrate McCain’s centrism without acknowledging his role in that fiasco.

  7. Submitted by Tim Smith on 09/04/2018 - 08:53 am.

    Thank you Sen. MCain for youir service and scrifice.

    I must admit, it is quite entertaining to read the comments by extremists on an extreme website call someone else an extremist. Hello pot this is the kettle.

    • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 09/04/2018 - 10:21 am.

      Agreed, Tim. I can’t imagine myself criticizing a person who has just died.

      Let us honor Sen McCain for the positive things he accomplished and the sacrifices he endured.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 09/04/2018 - 04:03 pm.

      If you think Minnpost is an extremist website populated by extremists, you really need surf the net more. See Breitbart for an example.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/06/2018 - 11:56 am.

    And I hate to say but there was more than subtle racial under tone to Palin’s selection. McCain was NOT naive, he knew EXACTLY who Palin appealed to, and he knew he was running against a black man.

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