Glenn Reynolds points out this story from Slate that I somehow missed the first time. It's about McCain and Morris Udall, an Arizona Democrat that helped McCain settle in at the beginning of his political career in Washington DC. The following is from 1996 (Morris Udall died in 1998):
For the past few years, Udall has lain ill with Parkinson's disease in a veterans hospital in Northeast Washington, which is where we were heading. Every few weeks, McCain drives over to pay his respects. These days the trip is a ceremony, like going to church, only less pleasant. Udall is seldom conscious, and even then he shows no sign of recognition. McCain brings with him a stack of newspaper clips on Udall's favorite subjects: local politics in Arizona, environmental legislation, Native American land disputes, subjects in which McCain initially had no particular interest himself. Now, when the Republican senator from Arizona takes the floor on behalf of Native Americans, or when he writes an op-ed piece arguing that the Republican Party embrace environmentalism, or when the polls show once again that he is Arizona's most popular politician, he remains aware of his debt to Arizona's most influential Democrat.
A nurse entered and seemed surprised to find anyone there, and it wasn't long before I found out why: Almost no one visits anymore. In his time, which was not very long ago, Mo Udall was one of the most-sought-after men in the Democratic Party. Yet as he dies in a veterans hospital a few miles from the Capitol, he is visited regularly only by a single old political friend, John McCain. "He's not going to wake up this time," McCain said.
On the way out of the parking lot, McCain recalled what it was like to be a nobody called upon by a somebody. As he did, his voice acquired the same warmth that colored Russell Feingold's speech when he described the first call from John McCain. "When you called Feingold … " I started to ask him. But before I could, he interrupted. "Yeah," he says, "I thought of Mo." And then, for maybe the third time that morning, McCain spoke of how it affected him when Udall took him in hand. It was a simple act of affection and admiration, and for that reason it meant all the more to McCain. It was one man saying to another, We disagree in politics but not in life. It was one man saying to another, party political differences cut only so deep. Having made that step, they found much to agree upon and many useful ways to work together. This is the reason McCain keeps coming to see Udall even after Udall has lost his last shred of political influence. The politics were never all that important. This, of course, speaks well of the man - and it also might explain McCain's quiet friendship with Senator Clinton (one that I think will survive this election cycle):
So The Ticket called a bunch of people who know both McCain and Clinton. It's true, they confirmed, there is a special friendship between them. And it apparently started in January of 2001, when Clinton became the first former first lady elected to public office and walked into the U.S. Senate.
It has always been a gentlemen's club, if not always populated by gentlemen. And the warmth toward Clinton was missing. Until McCain walked up and heartily welcomed the newcomer and showed her around. "They really hit it off," said one friend.
They shared many things, including a candid tongue. Both also have at times been at odds with their own parties. They found they could work together across the aisle as committee members and enjoyed each other's company on fact-finding trips around the world. In Estonia, according to one famous tale, Clinton challenged McCain to a vodka shot-drinking contest, which he readily accepted.
You know, politically speaking John McCain has done some things that infuriate me - but it's actions like this that redeems him in my eyes for that. Particularly since he does them even when he thinks that nobody's really looking. I respect that, and I will not regret my vote tomorrow.