Opinion » Letter From The Editor

Life is Long. Life is Short.

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As I write this, the news is full of stories about Donald Trump googling himself at 5:30 a.m., not liking the results, and subsequently tweeting that Google was biased because most of the news about himself was "bad." That darn Google. So unfair.

I don't even know where to begin in order to process that level of narcissistic ignorance.

The news is also full of stories about Senator John McCain, who died of brain cancer this week and was honored by friend and foe alike for his service to the country. Except for one foe, of course — President Trump — who had to have his arm twisted before lowering the flag over the White House and issuing a brief statement noting McCain's service. Trump likes heroes who weren't captured.

Senator John McCain - CHRISTOPHER HALLORAN | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • Christopher Halloran | Dreamstime.com
  • Senator John McCain

Meanwhile, the MAGA supporters and 'bots were busy spreading scurrilous posts on social media about McCain being a traitorous "songbird" who "broke" while captured by the North Vietnamese and gave information that caused the deaths of American servicemen. These claims, which were initially created by political operatives during McCain's presidential primary run against George W. Bush, have been thoroughly debunked. But that didn't stop the lies from being spread by people who wouldn't last two minutes under interrogation by my high school gym teacher.

I met McCain once, in the spring of 1986. I was flying to Phoenix, where I was going to spend three days hanging out with a young baseball player named Barry Bonds for a Pittsburgh magazine cover story. Sitting behind me were two men who spent the entire time we were airborne talking about politics. They were animated, and seemed to be in the know. As we prepared to deplane, one of the men stood up and began shaking hands with his fellow passengers. "Good to meet you, Congressman," the passengers said. "Good luck, Congressman."

It was McCain, then an Arizona representative, who was running for the Senate seat he would win and hold until his death, 32 years later. He reached out to shake my hand and I wished him luck, though I had no idea who he was at the time, and didn't much care.

I had more interesting things to do, like spending the next few days hanging with the young man who would go on to post the greatest hitting stats of any modern baseball player. At that time, he was an eager kid, living in an apartment in Tempe with a kitten, thrilled to have been drafted by the Pirates, and excited to be the subject of a magazine story.

My main take-aways were Bonds' love for the obscure movie, Enemy Mine, and his hours-long daily training regimen, which included the astounding practice of swinging at baseballs with a sledgehammer. Like I say, nice kid. We posed him with a sledgehammer on the cover.

After the story came out, I got a sweet note from Bonds' mother. After that, her son proceeded to hit 762 home runs in 21 years, more than any man in history, before retiring in disgrace in 2007, tainted by the steroids scandal. His head got really big, in more ways than one.

So, is there a point here? I'm not sure, except that life is long and life is short and nobody's perfect. And the way you feel about someone can change over time. I grew to dislike Bonds after subsequent encounters with him, though I always respected his talent — until it became obvious that he himself didn't respect it enough to play by the rules.

I respected McCain, though I didn't often agree with his politics. He reminded me of my father's Republican party — conservative, cranky, and principled, for the most part — a necessary balance in a two-party system. I respected the fact that McCain saw through Trump's blather, even if he didn't always stand up against it as I wished he would.

But he's gone now. The two men who defeated McCain in his attempts to win the presidency will speak at his funeral. And the president who didn't think McCain was a hero will sit and fume — and google himself — as a good man's body lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

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