AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Senator John McCain is being treated for stage 4 brain cancer at his home in Arizona. It's more than 2,000 miles away from the U.S. Capitol building and the institution it houses, the U.S. Senate. But McCain is reflecting on his role there and within the Republican Party in a new book out at the end of this month. NPR has been granted permission by the publisher to share some of it with you now. Here's John McCain in his own words reading from "The Restless Wave."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHN MCCAIN: (Reading) I don't know how much longer I'll be here. Maybe I'll have another five years. Maybe with the advances in oncology they'll find new treatments for my cancer that will extend my life. Maybe I'll be gone before you hear this. My predicament is, well, rather unpredictable. But I'm prepared for either contingency, or at least I'm getting prepared. I have some things I'd like to take care of first, some work that needs finishing and some people I need to see. And I want to talk to my fellow Americans a little more, if I may.
(Reading) My fellow Americans, no association ever mattered more to me. We're not always right. We're impetuous and impatient and rush into things without knowing what we're really doing. We argue over little differences endlessly and exaggerate them into lasting breaches. We can be selfish and quick sometimes to shift the blame for our mistakes to others, but our country 'tis of thee.
(Reading) What great good we've done in the world, so much more good than harm. We served ourselves of course, but we helped make others free, safe and prosperous because we weren't threatened by other people's liberty and success. We need each other. We need friends in the world, and they need us. The bell tolls for us, my friends. Humanity counts on us, and we ought to take measured pride in that. We have not been an island. We were involved in mankind.
CORNISH: Senator McCain ends with a plea for civility.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MCCAIN: (Reading) Before I leave, I'd like to see our politics begin to return to the purposes and practices that distinguish our history from the history of other nations. I'd like to see us recover our sense that we are more alike than different. We're citizens of a republic made of shared ideals forged in a new world to replace the tribal enmities that tormented the old one. Even in times of political turmoil such as these, we share that awesome heritage and the responsibility to embrace it.
(Reading) Whether we think each other right or wrong in our views on the issues of the day, we owe each other our respect as so long as our character merits respect and as long as we share, for all of our differences, for all the rancorous debates that enliven and sometimes demean our politics, a mutual devotion to the ideals our nation was conceived to uphold - that all are created equal and liberty and equal justice are the natural rights of all. Those rights inhabit the human heart. And from there, though they may be assailed, they can never be wrenched.
(Reading) 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. (Reading) Then I'd like to go back to our valley and see the creek run after the rain and hear the cottonwoods whisper in the wind. I want to smell the rose-scented breeze and feel the sun on my shoulders. I want to watch the hawks hunt from the sycamore, and then take my leave, bound for a place near my old friend Chuck Larson in the cemetery on the Severn, back where it began.
CORNISH: That's Senator John McCain reading from his new book "The Restless Wave." With me now is NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, welcome back.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Audie.
CORNISH: So you've read this book. Can you tell us a little bit even about the audio we just heard, the reference there to Chuck Larson?
ELVING: Chuck Larson was a classmate of John McCain's at the U.S. Naval Academy. And he is buried now in a cemetery quite close to the academy on the Severn River. And John McCain has asked to be brought back to that same cemetery and buried there as well.
CORNISH: So we haven't heard Senator McCain's voice in some time. What struck you as you listened?
ELVING: This is not the most robust version of Senator McCain's voice that we have heard when we think back on his campaigns and his time on the Senate. But it is enough of him that it will touch people, I think, in their memories. And for many it will bring a note of sadness. I think, though, we have to say that Senator McCain, in what he was saying here in this book, is he is talking about his own idealized version of America. It is a pay-on to that idea. He sees himself as personifying an America of the 20th century that he feels we may be saying goodbye to even as we prepare to say goodbye to him.
CORNISH: In his reflection, we also heard echoes of a July 2017 speech he gave on the Senate floor. And this was shortly after he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MCCAIN: What greater cause could we hope to serve than helping keep America the strong, aspiring, inspirational beacon of liberty and defender of the dignity of all human beings and their right to freedom and equal justice? That is the cause that binds us and is so much more powerful and worthy than the small differences that divide us.
CORNISH: Is that a message that actually resonates on Capitol Hill today?
ELVING: It does in the sense of its absence. It does not resonate in the sense of the experience people have on Capitol Hill today. The partisanship that he decries in his book and that he has railed against on many occasions in his time on Capitol Hill is perhaps worse than it ever has been, at least in anyone's living memory. And the parties have descended in terms of their relations that there are very few personal friendships now across the aisle in the House or in the Senate. John McCain was good friends with many Democrats, among the Democrats actually wanted one of them, Joe Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut, to be his running mate when he was nominated for president in 2008.
CORNISH: Ron, you've described this book as McCain resting his case. What is that case to your mind?
ELVING: To some degree it's a personal case for himself, for the decisions that he's made, for the mistakes that he's made. He is trying to explain why he did some of the things he did and taking responsibility for a number of those things. He's not really settling that many scores. People call it a tell-all. Well, that probably would disappoint those people who are expecting a lot of dirt in the book. But on the other hand, he is also resting his case for his vision of America - what it was, what he still believes it should be - a kind of beacon in the world. A vision he would associate, for example, more with Ronald Reagan than with the current administration.
CORNISH: John McCain of course was at one point the party nominee. He is someone who has taken a lot of criticism from the far right of the party. Does he express any regret in this book? And if so, about what?
ELVING: Not about any of the things that he's been attacked for by the people you just described. He makes no bones about believing that Vladimir Putin was entirely intent on harming Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2016 with cooperation with what he calls the subcontractors at Wikileaks. He refers to Russian trolls. And he speaks again and again about what he sees as the destruction of American political values by such things as conservative talk radio and people on the Internet that he says ought to seek psychiatric help. So, no, he's not apologizing for any of the things that they didn't like.
CORNISH: Does he write as a person who sounds as though he is at home in his political party at this moment?
ELVING: He writes as a person who is at home in his chosen state, Arizona, at home with his family, at home and at peace with himself, but sadly not comfortable with where his party has gone on a range of issues from immigration to human rights to America's role in the world.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Ron Elving. Ron, thank you.
ELVING: Thank you, Audie.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.