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Goodbye, John McCain; you served us well

It was a typically busy Friday lunch at Murphy’s Restaurant, in Prescott, Arizona, at the time the favorite hangout of local poiticians, cattlemen and businessmen. I was there with my boss, Jim Garner, dean of Arizona daily newspaper editors, who also was Mr. Republican as far as Northern Arizona was concerned.

We were seated in a booth. Jim was drinking a martini and I was drinking coffee, and as usual, Jim’s friends were stopping at our booth to say hello.

Then, one of the friends sat down at the booth, without permission, and said, “Howya doin’, Jim.” That friend was John S. McCain, who had just won his second term in the U.S. Senate by a landslide, partly due to a series of editorials written by Garner praising McCain as a congressman, a senator, a war hero and a man of great character.

McCain wasn’t in Prescott, a resort town, to see Garner, however. He was there because he and his wife, Cindy, had mountain property near there, in Sedona, a city of art galleries, hotels and restaurants. Sedona is hardly a Republican hangout — more a place for those who want to contemplate their navels at what some say is the spiritual center of the earth (it isn’t).

McCain was a Republican and a conservative, but he also was a quality thinker who led an inward life as well as a life of conservative attitudes formed with the help of his mentor, Barry Goldwater. McCain and Goldwater had a lot in common. Both had been combat pilots, both were rich, both were authors of books and both were men of action when it came to politics.

Of course, another thing in common was that both ran for president and both were defeated — Goldwater in 1964 by Democrat Lyndon Johnson and McCain in 2008 by Democrat Barack Obama. McCain was dressed in a suit and tie the day I first met him, which made him stand out in the Prescott crowd. But another thing that made him stand out was the non-stop adoration he received from passersby at our table. He and Garner talked a lot of GOP politics, but McCain also knew a lot about Prescott-area issues, and as it turned out was an avid follower of Garner’s column.

The two men also talked a lot about Goldwater, who was very busy as a speaker throughout Arizona and around the country. Goldwater’s book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” was still the best-selling book in “the movement,” as it still was being called then.

Goldwater didn’t actually write the book. It was ghost-written by one L. Brent Bozell, Jr., who was the brother-in-law of another conservative icon, William F. Buckley, Jr. Bozell had been Goldwater’s speech writer in the 1950s, and thus was familiar with his ideas.

McCain was never the conservative Goldwater was, primarily because he tended to be a negotiator in the Senate rather than an absolutist. But McCain always respected Goldwater, and defended him in Goldwater’s later years, when Goldwater was taking flak for changing his stands on abortion and human sexuality.

McCain was loyal to the conservative movement, to the Republican Party and especially to the United States of America, which he served with honor and distinction. Very few in the Senate ever will meet the example he set.

When Goldwater died at the age of 89 in 1998, this is what McCain said of his stalwart mentor:

The best thing that can ever be said of anyone is that they served a cause greater than their self-interest. All the well-earned testimonials and accolades to Barry Goldwater that have filled the nation’s newspapers and air waves since his death can be summed up in that one tribute: He served a cause greater than his self-interest.

The same could be said of McCain.

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