I met John McCain several times. In fact, in 2008 I spent January in New Hampshire campaigning for him - hard.
I admired him most for his character - which came though superbly with his "forgiveness" of North Viet Nam. He once said candidly that he learned to love this country when he was a prisoner in another.
I didn’t always agree with him on policy, but often I did - like when he got together with Russ Feingold, on the political left, to promote and pass campaign finance reform - or when he corrected a woman who spoke ill of Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. I’m sure that cost him politically - but it was vintage John McCain.
In the autumn of 1999, during his first campaign for the presidency, Senator McCain called me. He was in New Hampshire on his famous campaign bus, the Straight Talk Express, and he was asking for my support. But we didn't talk at all about policies. Instead our conversation was personal. We talked about life and our children for an easy 10 to 15 minutes, I'd say.
I told him my son Luc had just graduated from the United States Naval Academy, knowing that was also McCain’s alma mater, and that he loved to poke fun at himself for graduating fifth from the bottom of his class. He didn’t lack ability, he said. At the time, he just liked to party.
That was the spark which opened the conversation between us, as was our common appreciation for New England and the American Southwest – and it was like talking to an old friend over a cold beer.
I don’t know what kind of president McCain would have been. It doesn’t matter now and his life was so full of high deeds and love for this country that few could match it. But he did have many of the attributes we look for in a leader: from character, love of country, and courage, to the ability to listen to and gain from other points of view.
When I had to make tough decisions in my own political life I often asked myself what he might have done.
I’ll miss him, very much.