McCain was not a perfect man--none of us are. Because none of us can be perfect, perfection is not a requirement for someone to be a great public servant. But the next best thing, I think, is for a person to be honest with themselves about their imperfections, and about the flaws they find in the systems they are trying to administer. In my experience, Senator McCain was an incredibly honest man, even when he had to stand alone to speak his truth.
During my fellowship, one of my assignments was to staff a resolution honoring those killed in action fighting for our country. It was a simple task. No politician wanted to be caught NOT supporting that kind of resolution. So I reached out to the other military fellows, and the proposal rapidly gathered a critical mass of signatures. Then I got a call from the Navy Fellow in Senator McCain's office. He explained to me Senator McCain was not going to sign. It wasn't because he disagreed with the content or the purpose of what we were trying to accomplish, but rather because the vehicle we were using was not the right way to achieve our end. I had the choice of redoing the work in the manner he preferred, in which case he would have supported it, or continuing with the initiative as it was (which had ample support to get passed). I took the easy way, and moved on to the next task in the endless list of assignments. But I never forgot that, of all the Senators, Senator McCain was the one who was willing to stand alone against something that had widespread support, not to be obstructionist, but to teach his Fellow, and me by extension, a point about congressional procedure.
Over the weekend, one of my West Point classmates shared some stories about McCain. Turns out, they had flown regularly on the same commuter flights between Phoenix and Washington back in the mid-90's, and had a passing acquaintance. My classmate's observations were of a man who worked hard on the flights, who would recognize him with a wave just because they knew each other in passing, and who always flew coach.
Senator McCain's efforts to fight waste in public spending and inefficiency in government are well-publicized. The attached article from the WSJ shares many other great things about this great man. But I will always remember him a a great servant of our country: a leader who was honest with himself and with others even when he had to stand alone, and a man who walked his talk. Rest in peace, sir.