John McCain and Moderation

September 13, 2018

I honestly don't fully know how I feel about John McCain. But... I'm not sure how I fully feel about most people. Especially those I don't personally know. As a former "Rating Veterans Service Representative" in the Department of Veterans Affairs, I appreciate his sacrifice. I've seen the documentaries about his POW experience and I've even had the honor of looking through the case files of some of the other Vietnam POWs - a privilege I don't take lightly. Knowing, at least intellectually, what someone went through only leads to feeling more compassion and empathy for their extra-human experience. 



As a politician, he's been firmly conservative. And that's fine. You can certainly be partisan and be moderate. In fact, one of the current leading intellectuals in the field of Moderation Aurelian Craiutu argues that Moderates must not "avoid partisanship... or fear polarization." If moderates are going to be bold in their beliefs, then it will necessarily lead to occasional partisanship and polarization. Contrary to the stigma, it is not a belief for the timid. 


That said, working across party lines is extremely important and is a mode of behavior that is appreciated by the moderate. John McCain registered a "Bipartisan Index Score" of 0.826 for the 2017 which is right in the middle of his Senate colleagues and slightly better than his score of -0.51 in 2015 (which put him in the lower half of the Senate). According to, McCain voted in-line with Donald Trump 83% of the time. I don't feel like the fivethirtyeight "Trump score" is necessarily a reliable indicator of one's partisanship. Yes, there's a correlation but that's not the whole story with such a president as this.


All that said, I believe that McCain definitely had moderate streaks. He seemed honest, he put up boundaries, he was sure-as-hell resilient, and I believe he often acted out of a place of compassion.


He was a human. That's it, right? That's the totality of us all, isn't it? He made plenty of mistakes. I can't deny he used a racial epithet about his POW captors and did not sufficiently care about how those words impacted millions of American Asians (particularly Vietnamese). But I do hold out hope that he developed relationships and feelings that shined more light upon the darker corners of his personality... just like I hope it does for us all


As I heard the various eulogies I think I was most struck by the very moderate and strong words of McCain himself in his final letter












"We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been. We are 325 million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates.


But, we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country, we'll get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do. Ten years ago, I had the privilege to concede defeat in the election for president. I want to end my farewell to you with heartfelt faith in Americans that I felt so powerfully that evening. I feel it powerfully still. Do not despair of our present difficulties, we believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit, we never surrender, we never hide from history, we make history. Farewell fellow Americans. God bless you and god bless America."


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Riley Evan Ross
Speaker and Writer Moderation Blog

I speak and write on the topic of moderation because I believe that a thorough re-examination of moderation can help our societies build change resilience and grow together.

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