Some people have been recirculating a video of McCain on the campaign trail in 2008, in which he defended his Democratic opponent Barack Obama to a woman referencing a racist birther conspiracy.
“I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him, and he’s not, um...he’s an Arab,” the woman said, approaching McCain at a town hall in Lakeville, Minnesota, in October 2008.
McCain then cut the woman off and took back the microphone. “No, ma’am,” he said. “He’s a decent family man [and a] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what the campaign’s all about. He's not [an Arab]. Thank you.”
McCain, in fact, defended Obama twice that night. First, when another supporter said he was "scared" of an Obama presidency, McCain replied: "I have to tell you, Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States."
The responses were met with heckles, boos, and a smattering of light applause, according to news reports published at the time.
Former Obama aides and supporters expressed their gratitude for McCain's courage in standing up to bigotry and racism directed at his political opponent.
Some people contrasted McCain's words with the more aggressive style of President Donald Trump, who, incidentally, was a vocal proponent of conspiracy theories regarding Obama's citizenship during the Democrat's presidency.
Others said that the moment embodied McCain's commitment to his principles, even when doing so cost him politically.
And some people pointed out that the graciousness McCain displayed toward his opponent is largely absent in today's hyperpartisan climate.
"He was a dignified and respectful man," one user wrote, "we need more not less."
"Once a hero, always a hero," tweeted author Ali Rizvi.
Not everyone, however, was as impressed by the clip, with some interpreting his remarks to be insulting to Arabs.
In a statement reacting to McCain's death Saturday, Obama said that despite differences in their politics and backgrounds, the 2008 presidential opponents had "a fidelity to something higher — the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched and sacrificed.”
"We saw this country as a place where anything is possible — and citizenship as our patriotic obligation to ensure it forever remains that way," Obama wrote.
McCain has asked both Obama and former president George W. Bush — whom the Arizona Republican unsuccessfully challenged for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination — to deliver eulogies at his funeral, according to several news reports Saturday.