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Friday, September 07, 2018, 8:12PM |  78°
'The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations': Sen. John McCain's farewell to America
Matt Rourke/Associated Press
'The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations': Sen. John McCain's farewell to America

Sen. John McCain calls “The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations,” his latest book, “accumulated memories.” It is also a credo, a statement of his core beliefs and a coda, a farewell to America as he is dying, at 81, of  brain cancer, more precisely, of glioblastoma, which also took the lives of Sen. Ted Kennedy and former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Beau.

Given Mr. McCain’s importance in American life over the years as he came to prominence, including as an American prisoner of war in Vietnam and as the Republican Party’s candidate for president in 2008, with a total of some 31 years in the U.S. Senate representing Arizona, this book is definitely worth reading as his last will and testament as it were.

By John McCain and Mark Salter.
Simon & Schuster ($30)

It is rich in his beliefs on a number of subjects critical to America. These include controversial subjects such as immigration, the role of money in U.S. politics, torture as U.S. policy and the relative efficacy of American presidents across his career, including President Donald Trump. The book includes some enlightenment on touchy events that he was involved in, but no real blockbuster revelations. He has a particular gift for illustrating his points with stories of a wide variety of people whom he has encountered, at home and abroad.


Mr. McCain describes himself as “a Reagan Republican, a proponent of lower taxes, less government, free markets, free trade, defense readiness and democratic internationalism.” His activities in pursuit of that last expressed belief, as a democratic internationalist, occupy a hefty portion of the book. Mr. McCain clearly loved to travel, no doubt as a restless wave. He also loved to take fellow senators with him on these excursions, broadening their educations considerably in the process. He tried to make it a point to spend every Fourth of July in either Iraq or Afghanistan with our soldiers.

His practice in pursuit of his belief in democracy and perceptiveness toward America’s international involvement prompts in the book fascinating overviews of certain countries and analyses of their leaders. He feels, for example, that the George W. Bush administration led the country of Georgia down the garden path and then left it to hang out to dry in the face of Russia’s less than tender ministrations. He defends Burmese leader An San Suu Kyi’s leadership but does not hesitate to criticize her for her country’s brutal treatment of the Muslim Rohingya people. He portrays accurately the complexity of the situation in Libya, through history and through individuals he has known.

As an Arizonan, right on the Mexican border, Mr. McCain is particularly eloquent on immigration. He calls America “the land of the immigrant’s dream” and recounts his efforts in the Senate to achieve realistic immigration reform, still not yet achieved. Another issue on which he has very strong views brought to the fore once more by Mr. Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel as CIA director, is torture. He considers it to be totally inconsistent with American values. He is certainly the only American legislator and politician to actually have been tortured. He believes torture is also illegal and ineffective as an interrogation technique.

dress Modest Neutral dress japanese Japanese dress dress LeMuse Don’t look in the book for revelations that cast new light on scandals or controversies. It isn’t that kind of book. He stays with his choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate in 2008, although he says he wishes he had chosen Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an Independent, friend and Democrat, instead. He says almost nothing about an early financial scandal he was involved in called the Keating Five. He doesn’t hide whom he likes, and whom he likes less.


Mr. McCain considers President Barack Obama to have been sometime negligent in his conduct of foreign relations. He considers “Make America Great Again” thoughtless as a policy. He has a tendency to see war as an early, desirable policy choice in any international controversy.

Mr. McCain as a politician was positive and irascible, an interesting combination. His well-known disposition toward “straight talk” is evident throughout the book. He is especially clear on what he sees as the intentions of Russian President Vladimir Putin toward us. “He meddled in our election, and he will do it again because it worked, and because he has not been made to stop.”

America will miss this man in our public life. This book makes it very clear why.

Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette associate editor (dsimpson@post-gazette.com). 

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Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., receives the Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia in October 2017.   (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)
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