The Essential John McCain

Senator John McCain arriving for a committee hearing on October 12, 2017.

Over the years, I have relied on a few journalists to help me navigate my way through the forces and events that resemble a fog in everyday life. David Brooks is one of them. His mind reminds me of a Swiss Army knife. I also admire his non-negotiable values and convictions in unique combination with highly developed integrative thinking skills. Here is a brief excerpt from a recent column for The New York Times in which he addresses several issues of special interest to me. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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It turns out that John McCain’s most important service to American democracy was not rendered in a P.O.W. camp in Vietnam. It’s being rendered right now in the U.S. Senate.

In the first place, McCain seems to be the only member of Congress who insists on holding hearings and working toward compromise before passing major legislation. This would seem to be the very elemental prerequisite of good government — like a doctor seeking a diagnosis before performing surgery — but McCain appears to be the only member, or at least the only Republican, willing to risk unpopularity to insist upon a basic respect for our sacred institutions.

Second, McCain is one of very few Republicans willing to stand up for the American story. Human beings can be rallied around one of three things: religion, tribe or ideals.

Donald Trump and the campus multiculturalists want to organize people by ethnic tribe, which has always been the menacing temptation throughout our history. But McCain seeks to preserve our traditional rallying point — our ideals. My colleague Bret Stephens has already quoted from McCain’s speech on Monday at the National Constitution Center. I’d encourage you to read the whole thing because this should be the rallying cry around which the nation rediscovers its soul.

Third and most important, McCain still believes that paideia is essential for democracy. Paideia is the process by which we educate one another for citizenship. Paideia is based on the idea that a healthy democracy requires a certain sort of honorable citizen — that if we’re not willing to tell one another the truth, devote our lives to common purposes or defer to a shared moral order, then we’ll succumb to the shallowness of a purely commercial civilization, we’ll be torn asunder by the centrifugal forces of extreme individualism, we’ll rip one another to shreds in the naked struggle for power.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

David Brooks became an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times in September 2003. His column appears every Tuesday and Friday. He is currently a commentator on “PBS NewsHour,” NPR’s “All Things Considered” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He is the author of Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There and On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense. In March 2011 he came out with his third book, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, which was a No. 1 New York Times best seller. Brooks also teaches at Yale University, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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