San Diego congressman can’t hold a candle to McCain

SAN DIEGO — Current events being what they are, the death of John McCain is especially poignant for those of us in this coastal city.

That’s because, just days before the 81-year-old went to his rest, San Diegans witnessed a spectacle that was the antithesis of everything McCain stood for. And it drives home what Americans have lost.

The Arizona senator was defined by courage and character. The former POW showed both when he told his North Vietnamese captors to shove it rather than accept early release so the son of a four-star admiral could be turned into a propaganda tool. As a result, his stay at the Hanoi Hilton was extended.

Meanwhile, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif., appears to have never made the acquaintance of either courage or character. It’s a deficit for which the 41-year-old has long been given a free pass because he’s an ex-Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is assumed that when you volunteer to serve your country in uniform and go into battle on its behalf that you must automatically have courage and character.

But those of us with a few more miles on our tires know that it’s not that simple. Some who serve have those things; some don’t.

It turns out, Hunter doesn’t. Last week, the congressman — who represents a district just northeast of San Diego — found himself on the wrong end of a 47-page indictment on federal corruption charges for allegedly misusing campaign funds. Hunter and his wife, Margaret, are accused of dipping into the campaign till to pay for various personal expenses, ranging from dental bills to football tickets to a family trip to Italy.

Hunter got his job the old-fashioned way. He inherited it from his father, an ex-congressman with the same name, who no doubt used his own political influence to clear a path for his son.

I see junior as an underachiever who needed a leg up from Dad. In fact, if he had been named “Smith,” he might have found his true calling as a rodeo clown.

It’s OK that Hunter might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. For instance, he says the most baffling things. He once said at a constituent meeting that it might be a good idea to deport the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.

Also known as U.S. citizens. Hint: We don’t deport U.S. citizens.

It’s not the end of the world that, after an FBI investigation, Hunter now finds himself in a scrape with federal prosecutors. Maybe he’ll beat the rap.

What is unforgivable, however, is how Hunter performed under pressure. He cracked. With his back up against the wall, and in danger of tarnishing the family name by doing at least a nickel in a federal penitentiary, the congressman did the unthinkable: He sacrificed his spouse on the altar of self-preservation.

Responding to the charges in television interviews, Hunter blamed his wife, Margaret, who had his power of attorney and ran the family finances.

So, congressman, you mean to tell us that you’re totally in the dark and that the guy standing next to your wife in those vacation photos from Italy, that’s not you?

What a punk. This ex-Marine may have been an officer, but obviously he’s no gentleman.

Let’s see. McCain wouldn’t break as a prisoner of war while subjected to beatings and torture and isolation. And Hunter falls apart under the bright lights of a television camera?

McCain’s greatness stemmed from the fact that he grasped — perhaps because of those hellish 5 1/2 years in North Vietnam — his proper relationship to God, country and family. Next to each, it was clear, he felt small and insignificant.

We all should feel that way. If you get that, you will be remembered. If you don’t, you will be forgotten.

God. Country. Family. Those were the things on McCain’s mind at the end. They were there in his final words — presented in a statement read this week by longtime aide and friend Rick Davis.

God: “Farewell, fellow Americans. God bless you, and God bless America.” Country: “Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America.” Family: “I am the luckiest person on earth. … I owe that satisfaction to the love of my family. No man ever had a more loving wife or children he was prouder of than I am of mine.”

To borrow a line: Congressman Hunter, I knew John McCain. I admired John McCain. You’re no John McCain.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group