Thursday, July 20, 2017

When John McCain Was A Maverick

The political tactics of division and slander are not our values. They are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party, and our country.  -- John McCain, 2000 (after the South Carolina primary)
Before George W. Bush, aided and abetted by the U.S. Supreme Court, stole the 2000 Election, he stole the Republican nomination from John McCain with a despicable smear campaign.  McCain had won the New Hampshire primary and was looking formidable until Karl Rove aka Bush's Brain, launched a whispering campaign in South Carolina, amplified by a telephone poll that asked potential voters: "would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain…if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?"  (McCain adopted daughter was from Bangladesh.)  You know the rest.  Bush won South Carolina and became, until recently, arguably the worst and most destructive president in U.S. history.  McCain's speech after losing South Carolina, a snippet of which is quoted above, proved prescient.

But McCain, despite his reputation, was always a pretty traditional Republican, voting with the Republican Party virtually all of the time, including on key issues such as abortion rights and gun rights.  (87% according to FiveThirtyEight)  In the 1980s, he voted against a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.  And his less-than-maverick hawkishness was on full display when he unequivocally supported, indeed agitated for, Bush's invasion of Iraq -- perhaps the most disastrous U.S. foreign policy decision of all time.  It was really only because his fellow Republicans were so extreme and monolithic that his occasional breaks from the orthodoxy stood out, such as when early in the Bush administration he voted against Bush's tax cuts and voted in favor of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in opposition to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  And, later, he championed immigration reform, until he didn't.

But there were two instances of McCain at his most maverick.  When he used his credibility as a former POW to speak out against the Bush regime's use of torture against enemy combatants in the so-called war on terror, when so many political figures were afraid of saying anything that could be construed as unpatriotic.  And when he teamed with his progressive colleague Russ Feingold in crafting a campaign finance reform bill.  The fact that we again have a president who won't hesitate to use torture and that much of McCain-Feingold lies in tatters after Citizens United should not diminish these acts of political courage.

McCain became far less mavericky when he ran for president again in 2008.  It was infuriating to watch the press fawn all over him and praise his authenticity merely because they were given access to him on his bus, "The Straight Talk Express."  Meanwhile, McCain pandered to the same malevolent right wing forces that that thwarted his earlier efforts, hewing to the far right on virtually every issue.  And his pathetic selection of the utterly unserious and unprepared Sarah Palin to be his running mate, thereby giving her a national platform, greatly contributed to the dumbing down of our political discourse that has led to further buffoonery in the person of Donald J. Trump.  And speaking of Trump, McCain is as much to blame as the rest of his Republican cohorts who have enabled the clear and present danger that occasionally sits in the oval office.  And no, he doesn't get credit for occasionally expressing "concern" about Trump's Russian ties while he continued to vote along party lines.

But as we hope for Senator McCain's recovery, let's remember that there was a time when he broke with his party for the good of the country.  Let's also hope that some of his colleagues will be willing to do the same.


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