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To Honor John McCain, His Wife Says, Americans Could Be Nicer To One Another

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Cindy McCain, widow of late Sen. John McCain, at home in Phoenix. She says she thinks Republicans and Democrats can get back to being more civil. "I think it's going to take some time. There's a lot of healing to be done. But I think we can do it," she says.

To some, Republican Sen. John McCain embodied principles of a bygone Washington: He sought common ground; he reached across the political divide; he had close friendships with Democrats.

His wife, Cindy McCain, would like to try to get back to those days. So to mark a year since her husband died of brain cancer, she is encouraging Americans to be more civil.

"We're missing John's voice of reason right now in so many ways," McCain tells NPR's David Greene.

In politics and in life, the climate has grown especially nasty since John McCain died. And so, his wife says, to honor his legacy, "it felt to me that the right thing to do was to encourage people to perform acts of civility" during the last week of August and then post about them on social media. "Agree to disagree, but just be civil about it," she says.

John McCain was born on Aug. 29, 1936, and died on Aug. 25, 2018.

Wrapped in that legacy is also his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate in the 2008 presidential election, which he lost to Barack Obama and Joe Biden. The choice to pick Palin was criticized as a turning point for the Republican Party, one that set it on the path of, as New York Times columnist David Brooks put it, "anti-intellectualism and disrespect for facts." Cindy McCain disagrees.

"I know the party. Our party, like the Democratic Party, is a good party. We just disagree," she says. "There's problems on both sides."

John McCain's legacy has itself become an example of the tenor change in Washington.

The celebrated Vietnam War veteran and former prisoner of war came under attack in 2015 when Donald Trump — then a candidate campaigning for the presidency — said that McCain was "a war hero because he was captured" and that Trump liked "people that weren't captured."

Trump's criticisms intensified after McCain voted against a Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017. Seven months after McCain died, Trump said he "was never a fan of John McCain, and I never will be."

Cindy McCain says that her husband taught her a lot about how to respond to such attacks.

"It's much easier to be calm and work through this than it is to get angry. Anger doesn't help anything," she says. "It also doesn't help my husband's legacy either, because that's not what he stood for."

McCain tells NPR she thinks the parties can get back their more civil days.

"I think it's going to take some time. There's a lot of healing to be done. But I think we can do it," she says.

The broadcast version of this story was produced and edited by Taylor Haney and Gail Austin. Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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