Communication lessons from John McCain, an American ‘maverick’

PR pros can draw insights from the U.S. senator and Vietnam War veteran, who died Saturday. His laconic style made him a formidable political foe, but his words could inspire, too.

Ragan Insider Premium Content
Ragan Insider Content

Mourners might not remember John McCain primarily as a communicator.

He was a loyal public servant, the 2008 Republican nominee for president, a six-term senator for Arizona, a fighter pilot who spent more than five years as a POW in North Vietnam, and a “maverick” of American politics.

He wasn’t a renowned orator like Presidents John Kennedy and Barack Obama, nor friendly and folksy, like Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

His was the laconic speech of warriors, a prickly delivery that could be humorous and biting—and highly effective.


Here are some lessons for communicators from a singular American leader:

1. Show respect for your opponents.

McCain was careful to avoid the more toxic rhetoric surrounding Obama, his Democratic opponent in the 2008 presidential campaign. McCain famously rebuffed a woman at a town hall event when she called the democratic hopeful an “Arab” and described him as untrustworthy.

NPR remembered:

McCain started shaking his head before she even finished her question, taking the microphone and pushing back emphatically on her incorrect statement.

To read the full story, log in.
Become a Ragan Insider member to read this article and all other archived content.
Sign up today

Already a member? Log in here.
Learn more about Ragan Insider.