My 16-year-old self could probably teach my 26-year-old self a lot about politics.
Or at least, remind me of the important things, that I learned when I got to tag along.
I often got to “tag along” growing up. I saw things through younger eyes, and naturally, didn’t appreciate them quite as much as I should have at the time.
But I absorbed what was around me and picked up on certain things – values, really – that as an adult, I now cling to.
It feels like America noticed these same things too, as we come together now to remember and mourn a war hero, a senator, a presidential candidate, an honorable American.
I remember tagging along for the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. I wasn’t old enough yet to be a delegate, but for parts of it, I stood on the delegate floor with my parents and my sister amidst the red, white and blue balloons; Country First signs and state markers. I remember the crowd laughing at Sarah Palin’s pitbull-with-lipstick line, admiring the grace and eloquence of Laura Bush and Cindy McCain, and how the arena boomed, lit up when our presidential nominee took the stage.
We wore my mother’s hand-made “Buckeyes for McCain” buttons, mine of which is still pinned to a bulletin board in my childhood room. That was the last convention I tagged along for, although it doesn’t seem so long ago.
I learned some things, tagging along, and later observing Senator John McCain from afar with the rest of the world over the next decade.
I think the senator and presidential nominee exemplified the important things:
To do what’s right (an early lesson that remains steadfast). To straight talk (just be honest). To put country above party (even if it means losing a few votes). To be courageous (this is hard). And — To be real (this is refreshing, and necessary).
Growing up, I came up with an argument. It was this: “Politicians” are human — real people — just like you and me.
I still believe in that message.
But I’d amend it now to say it applies to a select few.
John McCain was one of them. Sincere, funny, kind — he was real.
And I think many Americans from all sides of the political spectrum saw that, too.
I think the senator would be happy, that even for a moment, he brought America together, collectively as Buckeyes for McCain.
And I think at 16, I learned about leadership, not politics.
Anna Bolton is a reporter and columnist. Responses may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.