The public service legacy of Sen. John McCain

Monday, August 27, 2018


Directions: Read the summary below first, then watch the video and answer the discussion questions.  To help students follow along, turn on the closed captions function marked “CC” or use the transcript. You may also wish to read the NewsHour article here.


Sen. John McCain, Republican leader and two-time presidential candidate, died at his home in Arizona on Saturday. He was 81. McCain’s legacy of public service and commitment to values made him one of the most influential lawmakers of this generation. His heroic military service, foreign policy knowledge and occasional aversion to party politics also gave him his “maverick” reputation. His determination to do what he saw as right made him a contentious figure at times, even among members of his own party, including his vote to not repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. McCain, the son and grandson of two navy admirals, served in the Vietnam where he was imprisoned for five and half years, refusing an early release by the Vietnamese given his family’s military status.


Discuss questions as a class or with a partner or craft a written response.

1. Essential question: What makes a leader a public servant?

2. What aspects of Sen. McCain’s life struck you the most? What do you think he will most be remembered for? Explain your responses.

3. What do you think prompted McCain to give such a powerful speech on the Senate floor (July 25, 2017) regarding the repeal of the Affordable Care Act?

4. Media literacy: What have some of the reactions been from members of the public of McCain’s death? Republican and Democratic leaders?

5. Media literacy: Throughout his career, McCain ended up in the national spotlight for controversial decisions or beliefs he held, including his decision to support large military spending bills and military intervention; his role in the Keating Five Savings and Loan scandal; his choice of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, despite her inexperience; and voting in favor of President Donald Trump's tax cuts, which resulted in ending Obamacare's individual mandate.

•As students of history, how important is it to learn about various aspects of a prominent figure's life, some of which may be considered positive and others negative?

•How important is it for the media to include both these elements in their news coverage?

For a longer video outlining the life of John McCain, use this NewsHour segment (12m:31s):

Visit PBS NewsHour Extra for more education resources designed to help teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories@NewsHourExtra