John McCain, from POW to “straight talking senator,” was a hero to millions of people around the world. But what was he like when the camera lights were off and business had to get done? “The Luckiest Man: Life with John McCain” – a deeply personal and candid memoir of working for Sen. McCain by his longtime advisor, coauthor and friend Mark Salter – seeks to answer that question.
The result is a moving portrait of one of America’s most impactful public servants and the latest installment in the McCain Institute’s successful Authors & Insights virtual book talk series. On October 20, Salter discussed his latest work with McCain Institute Trustee and former U.S. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, another longtime McCain friend.
Watch or listen to the entire event below. You can also tune into the audio-only podcast version of the event via iTunes or Soundcloud.
“I know when we talked… in prison about when he refused amnesty, he refused because one, he knew that his father’s position, the Vietnamese would use his father’s position as a way to demoralize the other POWs, you know, you’re stuck here… but the Admiral’s kid, we let him go of course. And America is a class conscious society and all that stuff but also he said that, ‘I didn’t take it because I thought my father would be disappointed in me.’ And when they beat him for three days after that and forced him to make a propaganda statement, he told me that the thing that worried him the most, you know, they recorded it, and he knew his father would hear it. And that’s was a shame.”
“The normalization was probably one of the memories I revered the most of working with him. Because it was such an honest, honorable, decent thing for him to do. He felt really sincerely that he had gotten over Vietnam as soon as he left the country, and he couldn’t understand and didn’t want his country to fail to get over it. And he thought this was necessary to that. And the Vietnamese had agreed to cooperate with us on finding, resolving all these MIA cases and had gotten out of Cambodia, as we had requested. And then had, per McCain-specific request, had released South Vietnamese military and political people they were still holding in re-education camps. He said, ‘They kept their end of the bargain; we must keep ours. Let’s start normalization.’”
“Experiencing the best and worst of humanity in the same experience as he did, when I write abou – he had these dualities and the most interesting was that he was like a romantic and a cynic, you know, which usually, they don’t fit comfortably together, but they did with him. He was a cynic about the world but a romantic about his causes, and he never gave up hope – never. He wrote in our last book together, not this one….but you mentioned Belarus, but the Belarusians who are, for year after year after year, I see the same guys, they won’t let me in, you know, so they have to come to Riga or one of the Baltics to meet with me, and so you think they’d be discouraged, they’d lose hope, you know, but the thing he admired most about them was that they just persisted and he felt that the privilege or the pride of being an American elected official was that you were part of a project to prove that self-government was the only moral government and that everyone is entitled to it. That was his great cause.”
“It was really in the statement that he wanted released after his death; that was the message there: that we have so much more in common, we have shared responsibilities than we do disagreements. We’ve been entrusted with this sacred thing, this project to prove, that self-government is the only moral government, he was very concerned by it. And it’s gotten worse, obviously, since he passed away, we could really use his example and his words right now. I think almost every day, I can feel his absence in our politics, and it’s a real shame.”
“I think, you know, it takes guts to be like him. But there are people on both sides of the aisle, I think, who would aspire to that reputation. But you gotta go out and earn it, and it takes guts, and it’s not without risk. He wouldn’t have begrudged people taking necessary precautions to hold on to their jobs – you can’t affect the public good if you can’t stay in office, but to see an obvious wrong and not object to it, to let your party get driven to something that becomes unrecognizable to you and not speak up against that, he wouldn’t appreciate that.”