Classy to the end: John McCain’s farewell letter

This video shows John McCain’s former campaign manager Rick Davis reading McCain’s farewell letter—a letter he wanted to be read to the public after his death. Davis is clearly choked up, as you probably will be as well.

The full transcript of the letter is below.

My fellow Americans, whom I have gratefully served for 60 years, and especially my fellow Arizonians, thank you for the privilege of serving you, and for the rewarding life that service in uniform and in public office has allowed me to lead.

I’ve tried to serve our country honorably. I’ve made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them. I’ve often observed that I am the luckiest person on Earth. I feel that way even now, as I prepare for the end of my life. I’ve loved my life, all of it. I’ve had experiences, adventures, friendships, enough for 10 satisfying lives, and I am so thankful. Like most people, I have regrets. But I would not trade a day of my life in good or bad times for the best day of anybody else’s.

I owe this satisfaction to the love of my family. One man has never had a more loving wife or children he was prouder of than I am of mine. And I owe it to America to be connected to America’s causes: Liberty, equal justice, and respect for the dignity of all people brings happiness more sublime than life’s fleeting pleasures. Our identities and sense of worth were not circumscribed, but are enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.

Fellow Americans, that association has meant more to me than any other. I lived and died a proud American. We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history, and we have acquired great wealth and power in the progress.

We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down; when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.

We are 325 million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country, we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before, we always do.

Ten years ago I had the privilege to concede defeat in the election for president. I want to end my farewell to you with heartfelt faith in Americans that I felt so powerfully that evening. I feel it powerfully still.

Do not despair of our present difficulties. We believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit, we never surrender, we never hide from history. We make history. Farewell fellow Americans, God bless you, and God bless America.

The bit I’ve put in bold is a clear slap at the Trump presidency. Trump, of course, is being a complete jerk, refusing to say anything to reporters at the White House when they asked him about McCain. Trump folded his arms and scowled silently.

A class act to the end. At this moment I don’t care that I nearly always disagreed with McCain’s politics, or that I was horribly embarrassed when he chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate. The guy lived and died with a sense of honor and dignity, and even if he was sometimes misguided, he served his country with his full energy.




  1. Ken Pidcock
    Posted August 27, 2018 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil.

    Good on him.

    • Frank Bath
      Posted August 27, 2018 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      That touched me too and was intending to say so. An ideal all nations should aspire to, including my own.

    • Posted August 28, 2018 at 4:46 am | Permalink

      Except that, from the perspective of an outsider, the USA does not look at all like the world’s greatest republic and ideals seem to be in short supply there at the moment.

      • Posted October 13, 2018 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        It may not be the world’s greatest republic, but people still flock to it.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 13, 2018 at 10:14 am | Permalink

          They have low taxes, a nice selection of low priced goods, nice climate and some pretty good jobs. 🙂

  2. yazikus
    Posted August 27, 2018 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    I like this bit in particular:

    We believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here.

    I think it could be applied to the planet and humans if I were feeling optimistic.

  3. prinzler
    Posted August 27, 2018 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Jerry’s comments at the end of that post wshow that not only did McCain treat political opponents with respect, but he engendered that same respect towards himself in doing so.

    • prinzler
      Posted August 27, 2018 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      post, not “wshow”

  4. Posted August 27, 2018 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Fair winds and following seas.

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 27, 2018 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I like “a nation of ideals, not blood and soil” – that’s a real statesman!

    • Brujo Feo
      Posted August 27, 2018 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      I don’t want to romanticize McCain’s life. After all, this was a man who at one point was comfortable enough with raining death on men, women and children from 40,000 feet. One can respect his resistance to torture without begrudging the Vietnamese wanting to extract vengeance.

      But maybe he did learn from his mistakes. And his reference to “blood and soil”–one must thank him for one last, brilliant condemnation of His Orange Shitheadedness and everything ghastly that he stands for. As Wiki puts it (

      “North American white supremacists, white nationalists, Neo-Nazis and members of the alt-right have adopted the slogan. It gained widespread public prominence as a result of the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when participants carrying torches marched on the University of Virginia campus on the night of 11 August 2017 and were recorded chanting the slogan, among others.[62] The rally was organized to protest the town’s planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.[63] The chant was also heard in October 2017 at a white nationalist “White Lives Matter” rally in Shelbyville, Tennessee.[64]”

      If for nothing else, his last “refusal to assent” puts him on the right side of history.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 27, 2018 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        It also recalls the Cold War as this is the time that people divided on ideology. Not that the Cold War was wonderful, but it makes one think about Russia and where we are now.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted August 27, 2018 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        I don’t want to romanticize McCain’s life. After all, this was a man who at one point was comfortable enough with raining death on men, women and children from 40,000 feet. One can respect his resistance to torture without begrudging the Vietnamese wanting to extract vengeance.

        Don’t worry Brujo – you haven’t romanticised him that’s for sure. LOL

        I suppose you mention 40,000′ to give an impression of remoteness from their targets? Are you under the impression he flew those huge, high altitude carpet bombing B52s for SAC/USAF?

        He was a naval aviator [that’s USN] flying a single seat Douglas A-4 Skyhawk light attack aircraft off carriers. A typical attack mission for McCain would be targeting a bridge, port installation or power plant at 4,000′. Due to the stupidity of the civilian chaps back in Washington, who also probably didn’t know an A-4 from a B52, they were sent back to the same target many times & paid a heavy price.

        The year he joined VA-163 [that’s Attack Squadron 163] not one of the sqn’s Skyhawks was an original – on that cruise VA-163 lost twelve ‘planes & half a dozen men.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 27, 2018 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

        In 2000, after the primaries were over, McCain held a press conference to confess to his own moral cowardice earlier in the year when he said that the issue of flying the Confederate flag over the state capitol should be left up to the states, when, in his heart, he believed that that goddamn flag should come down:

        I can’t think of another politician today with stones to do the same.

        • Posted August 28, 2018 at 4:50 am | Permalink

          Shame he waited until after the primaries were over when he had already lost.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted August 28, 2018 at 7:30 am | Permalink

            Sure, but can anyone name another politician today who had an active enough conscience that he or she would be so bothered by having been untrue to their own principles that they would appear in public to confess to such a thing?

            Every other US politician would have chalked it up to having said what had to be said for expediency’s sake and would’ve thought only for positioning himself or herself for the next race.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted August 28, 2018 at 8:37 am | Permalink

              “… who has …”

            • Posted August 29, 2018 at 4:48 am | Permalink

              “Look at me, I’m an honest politician. I am prepared to admit to moral cowardice [when it doesn’t matter anymore] unlike all those other dishonest politicians.”

              Perhaps I’m being too cynical but it looks exactly like the sort of thing a politician might do as a bit of virtue signalling.

              My impression of John McCain (from the other side of the Atlantic) is that he was quite principled (although sometimes wrong in my opinion) and that is a rare thing for a GOP representative. Your story actually diminished my opinion of the man.

      • Taz
        Posted August 27, 2018 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

        One can respect his resistance to torture without begrudging the Vietnamese wanting to extract vengeance.

        What does that mean? You don’t “begrudge” them wanting to torture POWs? Well isn’t that magnanimous of you.

        • Brujo Feo
          Posted August 27, 2018 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

          You heard me right. If we actually want the niceties of the Geneva Convention to be observed (and yes, “Vietnam” was a signatory, but since it was ratified in ’56, it’s hard to say where the DRV, in existence from ’54-’75 stood on this), then maybe that’s something that we should think about before invading other countries with overwhelming firepower.

          The Vietnamese seemed to think that torturing McCain was a good idea. As distasteful as I might find that, I’m hardly in a position to criticize them for it.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted August 27, 2018 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

            There’s no justification for representatives of the NVA or the North Vietnamese government having tortured prisoners of war, though I can certainly understand why the citizens of Hanoi who fished McCain out of the lake, and upon whom McCain and his fellow pilots had been raining down holy hell, would seek to take immediate vengeance upon him.

            • Brujo Feo
              Posted August 27, 2018 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

              I didn’t say that there was “justification.” I’m just not surprised at the atavistic rage, and don’t see a whole lot of difference between it and the pencil-pushers at the Pentagon making their cool, calm plans. We didn’t just kill their people; we destroyed their infrastructure and defoliated their land.

              If McCain wanted better treatment, perhaps he should have bombed D.C.

          • Taz
            Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

            You find their torture “distasteful”? Wow, better rein in that outrage.

            They tortured someone who was helpless – completely under their control. Whatever other wrongs may have occurred (and there were plenty), this is one that needs to be condemned in no uncertain terms whenever it occurs.

            • Posted August 29, 2018 at 4:56 am | Permalink

              Well he was helpless when they captured him, but minutes before he had been dropping high explosives on their heads. Whilst the torture must be condemned, it is understandable that it occurred.

              It’s not a new thing either. In the second world war in Europe, bomber crews from both sides who bailed out safely frequently failed to survive the wrath of the people they bombed.

  6. Posted August 27, 2018 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Strangely, perhaps the McCain decision that saved the most lives was when he gave thumbs down to the attempt to repeal Obamacare. And, of course, it was the vote that sticks in Trump’s craw. Thanks, Senator McCain!

  7. Marilyn
    Posted August 27, 2018 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    What sticks out in my mind is when he was running for President and he was at a rally taking questions. A woman in the audience prefaced her question with the comment that Obama was an Arab. McCain immediately shook his head, walked over to her, took the microphone away from her and said “that is not true”. She kept insisting and he kept repeating “it’s not true…none of that is true.” He was a class act.

  8. Posted August 27, 2018 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    If any of us had been statesmen or presidents and our lives had been monitored as closely as theirs, do you think we would not have made mistakes (some of them terrible)while trying to live always with a sense of duty, honor, patriotism and love of country? John McCain was a human being who tried his best to make a difference, even when many of us didn’t agree with him. He acknowledged his lack of perfection. Would that we had more politicians who worked across the aisle like him rather than those who sign documents stating that they will never give in on some particular issue.

    • Posted August 27, 2018 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

      Good point but I still like to think I wouldn’t have made the mistake of choosing Sarah Palin. I have always imagined that McCain was talked into it by GOP leaders who thought she would appeal to the deplorables, those same ones that more recently voted for Trump.

      • Mark R.
        Posted August 27, 2018 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        I like what Rowena has to say and agree with it. I also agree with you that the Palin choice had dire consequences (which McCain couldn’t have foreseen). The rabid hatred for our first black President was underestimated, even by Obama himself (a frustrating fact to be sure). Palin used this animus to inflame hatred against Muslims, LGBTQ citizens and other minorities; she also used the VP platform to push the white nationalist narrative and the Republican obsession with guns, gays and god. Still surprised she didn’t make it into Trump’s cabinet.

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted August 27, 2018 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think he was talked into it by GOP leaders. I think he and GOP leaders were talked into it by conservative pundits that she had taken care to flatter. Say what you will about Palin, in this instance she showed ace political instinct.

      • Posted August 28, 2018 at 4:54 am | Permalink

        I remember watching the BBC coverage of the general election. The presenter asked a Republican pundit directly if it had been a mistake to pick Palin and the pundit’s response was along the lines of “no, he needed her to ensure the support of the Republican base”.

        At that moment I knew he was going to lose: a candidate that needs to bring somebody else in to make sure the people who are supposed to automatically vote for him is already in deep trouble.

  9. Historian
    Posted August 27, 2018 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    John McCain was a dinosaur in the Republican Party. His final words, noble as they were, will not steer Republicans in Congress away from supporting Trump. Winning elections and retaining power is all they are concerned with, no matter what may be the damage to the country. Only a collapse in Trump’s support by his base will influence these people. There may be cracks under the surface of Trump’s support, but they are not apparent at this time. It is sad that 42% of the people continue to support him, a number that has barely budged in months. Their loyalty to the cult leader is on a par with religious zealots.

    The FiveThirtyEight site gives Democrats a 5 in 7 chance of taking back the House. This is encouraging, but Hillary had similar odds. If Democrats don’t win back the House, Trump will be unleashed and the damage that he will do is incalculable, far beyond what he has already done.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted August 27, 2018 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      It is time to stop worrying about that 42% or whatever it is and get down to defeating the bastards. As McCain says quit correctly. Their way will get you nowhere. We have to accept that a sizable portion of our own population is a lost cause. I think I heard that somewhere before.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 27, 2018 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      There’s really not much question but that many more Americans will (despite GOP voter-suppression efforts) cast votes for Democrats over Republicans in this Fall’s midterm elections. The only real question is whether all those additional Democratic votes will be enough to overcome the Republicans’ advantage in the inherently undemocratic US Senate and in the ruthlessly gerrymandered House of Representatives.

      The two-per-state representation in the Senate, like the infamous three-fifths rule, was a constitutional sop, at the time of this nation’s founding, to the slave-holding states to allow them to preserve their “peculiar institution.” Did a pretty good job of it, too, permitting slavery itself to perseverate for four-score and seven, and Jim Crow for another century thereafter. The lingering after taste from this abomination is that 24% of the US population, most of it rural, now controls 60% of the seats in the US Senate.

      I ask you: Is this any way to operate the world’s greatest representative democracy? Our Republic, I fear, cannot endure indefinitely under such anti-majoritarian circumstances.

      • Historian
        Posted August 27, 2018 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

        There is a certain irony about the 3/5 rule. With the abolition of slavery, the 3/5 rule was done away with in the Constitution. This meant that each African-Americans now counted for one vote. But, after the failure of Reconstruction, they were not allowed to vote. This resulted in the white South having more representation than they did before the Civil War.

      • Diane G
        Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:31 am | Permalink

        It’s hard to believe how much the deck is stacked against Dems/Libs/Progressives by our much touted Constitution itself! And it’s impossible to imagine how this can ever change, given that amending said document requires the approval of 35 states.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 28, 2018 at 8:27 am | Permalink

          It’s even worse than that. Article V of the US Constitution provides that “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”

          Those slavers knew how to drive a hard bargain.

          • Historian
            Posted August 28, 2018 at 8:48 am | Permalink

            The constitutional provision of two senators per state, regardless of its population, was not directly related to the slave question except that the number of slaves in a state did nothing to increase its senatorial representation. It was a victory for states with small populations, a situation with dire consequences today. Indeed, large states at the time, particularly slaveholding Virginia, opposed this plan. James Madison of Virginia had his own that in regard to senatorial representation was rejected. As the Senate Historical Office points out:

            “In the weeks before the Constitution’s framers agreed to the compromise, the delegates from the states with large populations argued that each state’s representation in the Senate should correspond to the size of the state. Large-state delegates promoted James Madison’s Virginia Plan, the document that was the basis for several of the clauses in the Constitution. Under this plan, the Senate and the House would base their membership on the same proportional “right of suffrage.” That is, the number of senators in each state would be determined by its population of free citizens and slaves. Large states, then, stood to gain the most seats in the Senate. As justification for this advantage, delegates noted that their states contributed more of the nation’s financial and defensive resources than small states, and therefore, required a greater say in government.”


            • Diane G
              Posted August 29, 2018 at 2:57 am | Permalink

              Ken & Historian–aarrrrrghhh!

              I mean, thanks for the further elucidation.

              I’ve already seen schemes proposed that involve sufficient numbers of liberals taking up residence in the small red states to change election outcomes. That seems like a), the only possible way to overcome the unequal representation problem, and b), more or less impossible. Hard to think of another solution, though.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 27, 2018 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

      Yes. I watched this on YouTube and was shocked to see that the number of people who gave this the thumbs down was well over double the number who gave it a thumbs up.

    • Harrison
      Posted August 27, 2018 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

      “Hillary had similar odds”

      We’re talking about a single race with a huge margin of error due to an unprecedented number of undecideds. People still for some reason have it in their heads that because polling indicated a Trump win was unlikely and then it happened that this means polling is no longer trustworthy. That’s rubbish. Unlikely things happen. HOWEVER! In analyzing dozens of Congressional races, it requires the unlikely outcome to occur many times in a row in order for there to be an upset.

      • Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:45 am | Permalink

        The poll questions are essentially, “If you actually voted, who would you vote for?” They still have a hard time estimating which voters are going to be excited enough to actually turn out and vote.

  10. YF
    Posted August 27, 2018 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    McCain may be seen as one of the ‘better’ republicans. But, color me unimpressed. He was complicit in their corruption and dismantling of our democracy dating back decades. Same for Steve Schmidt, except the latter at least had the spine to leave the GOP once he came to realize how rotten to the core they are.

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 27, 2018 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    I popped on the tube today to watch McCain’s good friend, and former campaign aid, Rick Davis read the letter. When Davis started choking up, I almost got a little misty myself. (Ok, I actually did get a little misty, if you must know.)

  12. Posted August 27, 2018 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    McCain was the last old Republican. From now on I am going to call all contemporary Republicans “Russians”, because they act like them. (They don’t believe in the creed of Americans–democracy, jus soil citizenship, equality, liberty, free speech, constitutionalism, checks and balances, civil discourse, separation of church and state.

  13. Steve Gerrard
    Posted August 27, 2018 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    McCain was never one for BS, and he called it out when he smelled a skunk. Some of his policy ideas were bad ones, but he was not disingenuous about them. He always struck me as an honest person, which is the most important characteristic of an honorable person.

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 27, 2018 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    How dare John McCain up and die right when Donald Trump was already having such a miserable week (Manafort and Cohen convictions; Pecker and Weisselberg granted immunity), placing his long career of public service and heroism in stark contrast with Trump’s. Who can blame Cadet Bone Spurs for being so pissy about issuing a tribute or lowering the flag?

    Trump, no doubt, will need to work off some steam by shit-tweeting about black and brown people or transgender troops. Or maybe he’ll strip security clearances from more longtime public servants, or grant pardons to undeserving reprobates. Those things always makes him happy again.

    • Posted August 27, 2018 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      Trump prefers senators who don’t die.

  15. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted August 27, 2018 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    The text in bold is not the only smack across the kisser of our current prez. He must be steaming; realizing that he dare not spew some vile retort at this moment.

  16. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 27, 2018 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    The bug up Trump’s ass about McCain stems in part, I think, from when the Brits freaked out over the Steele dossier and sent a diplomat to deliver it to McCain, who (like the patriot he was) took it to the FBI, instead of running to Trump like a common Devin Nunes.

    I can’t imagine there’s a Republican left in congress whom the Brits, or anyone else in the international community, would trust with such sensitive information now.

  17. BJ
    Posted August 27, 2018 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    I didn;t think I would be this impacted by McCain’s death, but I have felt a deep sorrow since the news. He was a good man, despite my many disagreements with him. He was the rare politician on either side who believed that what he did was for the good of the country he loved so much. We need more people like him in government, but it seems the number of people like him only continues to dwindle with every election.

    McCain will be missed, by me and by our country. Integrity and truly good intentions are exceedingly rare in politics.

    RIP, John McCain.

    • Dale Franzwa
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:02 am | Permalink


  18. Posted August 28, 2018 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    Yeah, a “class act”. The most vicious warmonger in Congress.

    McCain was the son and grand-son of high military officers. His roots were deep in the American Elite. The “maverick” brand was always a lie. He supported the oligarch empire, the corporations, the plutocrats and the constant killing that fills their wallets.

    The Left seemed to see him for what he was, back when he was up against Obama but now the tears are flowing because, why? Because he hated Trump, apparently. I guess that’s all it takes.

    Meanwhile, the starvation and destruction of Yemen by the Saudis continues,to a large degree thanks to McCain. The Saudi regime never had a better friend than McCain. Neither did Lockheed Martin.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted August 28, 2018 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      I heard he used to torture kittens and laugh contemptuously at the sight of old women falling over and struggling to get up. Often he would kick away blind people’s crutches.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 28, 2018 at 8:53 am | Permalink


  19. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    It’s true – all politicians everywhere are the same. I’m glad John McCain chose the approach of a leader.

    That was my attempt to hit you in the breadbasket.

  20. Posted August 28, 2018 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Jerry – I give McCain a pass for much of his presidential campaign. He was persuaded to turn over his small “Maverick Express” operation to “the pros,” GOP operatives. Not only did they provide him with Sarah Palin, they eviscerated all of McCain’s populist notions for right-wing tropes. As soon as his presidential campaign ended, he was back to his older, better ideals (and was not even speaking with Palin by the end).

  21. Posted August 28, 2018 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    And with the passing of McCain, so goes the spine of the Republican party.

  22. Joseph Stans
    Posted September 12, 2018 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    When you are available, send phone number.


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