With the passing of Senator John McCain, our nation lost not only a leader of extraordinary courage and patriotism, but also one of our greatest advocates for human rights and justice. Senator McCain shared a powerful bond with my late father Tom Lantos. Each of them endured searing hardship early in their lives, Tom Lantos during the Holocaust, and John McCain as a POW in Vietnam for five and a half years. They both emerged from their crucibles with an unshakable conviction that we are our brother’s keepers and that America’s greatness lies in her commitment to the fundamental dignity and rights of all human beings. Each of these remarkable men had the great privilege of serving the country they loved in the United States Congress and our nation is poorer for the absence of these two statesmen.
The Lantos Foundation was honored when Senator McCain agreed to bestow our very first Lantos Human Rights Prize upon His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the fall of 2009. We treasure the memory of that inaugural Lantos Prize celebration and are uplifted by the words of Senator McCain on that occasion. Speaking of his friend and colleague, Tom Lantos, the Senator said,
“He was born outside the United States and knew personally what human beings can do when they are ungoverned by the respect for the inherent dignity of every human being and unmoved by a moral duty to defend them against oppression. His voice, Tom Lantos’ voice was among the clearest and most persuasive in our country urging Americans to experience assaults on anyone’s dignity as an assault on our own conscience…We can’t replace Tom’s voice, but we can help to ensure it is not forgotten wherever, whenever, the rights of man are beset by the ambitions of despots.”
In his final letter to his fellow Americans, John McCain invoked the words he spoke to the nation on election night 2008 when he offered his congratulations to his opponent, Barack Obama, in that hard fought presidential contest.
I remember that night vividly because I shed tears twice. First I cried at the joy and amazement of having lived to witness the election of our nation’s first African American President. Secondly, I wept at the gracious and heartfelt eloquence of John McCain in extending his support to President Obama and calling on each of us to shoulder the burden that history has placed on our shoulders.
He said, “I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president. And I call on all Americans…to not despair of our present difficulties but to 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.”
We at the Lantos Foundation are proud to have known John McCain and to have had his support and leadership for the causes to which we daily dedicate our own lives and efforts. We will take continuing inspiration from his example and will live by the following words from his final memoir:
“I want to urge Americans for as long as I can to remember that this shared devotion to human rights is our truest heritage and our most important loyalty.”
Senator McCain's remarks begin at timestamp 09:30.