|MATT ROURKE / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
John McCain may have tried to do good through 34 years in Washington, but too often did bad. In contrast to, say, Joe Biden, his longtime Senate colleague and good friend, who also tried to do good through his own 34 years in Washington and usually succeeded.
The difference, I believe, can be found in the enigma of who John Sidney McCain III really was -- a neoconservative Republican with an untamed reckless streak and fondness for wisecracking and vodka who during his five terms in the Senate voted the party line nearly 90 percent of the time but was on rare occasions a maverick who went against the GOP grain.
The maverick in McCain, as rare as our glimpses of that over-hyped aspect of him was, begins to explain why the carpetbagging Arizonan and two-time presidential contender was disparaged by Donald Trump repeatedly for his failure to kiss his ring and widely loathed in Trumpworld.
So much so that when a White House aide in early May dissed McCain (he "doesn’t matter, he's dying anyway"), it triggered a firestorm beyond the West Wing but a practiced yawn from an administration that keeps coming up with new ways to mirror the shamelessness and crudity of the man in the Oval Office in their collective race to the bottom of the Washington swamp that McCain had much to do with keeping filled.
As political leaders across the aisle and foreign dignitaries publicly mourned McCain's death on Saturday evening at age 81, Trump conspicuously avoided a national moment of tribute. The president spent much of Sunday golfing and attacking his usual enemies on Twitter.
We -- or we liberals anyway -- best remember McCain for casting no fewer than 17 votes with Democrats to keep Obamacare alive, his support for Dreamers, his welcome and Evangelical defying intolerance of the right-wing Christianist scolds who helped elect Trump, and full-throated criticism of Trump's reprehensible fawning over Vladimir Putin at the Surrender Summit in Helsinki.
He voted for all but two of Trump's 15 cabinet selections and eight other administration posts requiring Senate confirmation, but did oppose Gina "Bloody Gina" Haspel to head the CIA because of her embrace of government-sanctioned torture, something that he was against before he was for it but ended up being against in one of his more legendary flip flops.
McCain was quick to alert then-FBI Director James Comey when he received a copy of the Steele dossier, a wake-up call on the extent of Russian interference on Trump's behalf in the 2016 election, but in mourning him we will tend to forget that he did a lot of bad stuff.
He supported the cancellation of the assault weapon ban and opposed bills that would have made it easier to sue gun manufacturers. He opposed federal hate crime legislation and legislation to strengthen labor unions. He was a homophobe and anti-choice whose positions on women's issues reflected his misogyny. He supported privatization of Social Security, led the cheers for the Iraq War debacle to the bitter end despite having preached the sobering lessons of the Vietnam War, and was way too cosy with lobbyists and mega-donors like Charles Keating, which earned him a place of dishonor among the Keating Five.
Oh, and he was a lousy singer. Unless you think his singing "Bomb bomb bomb Iran" was cool.
Yet McCain is being remembered across party lines and in the mainstream media he so assiduously courted -- the favor returned in countless articles in which he was praised by reporters for his "straight talk" -- as an exemplar of everything politics no longer is.
"John McCain is the single greatest political leader of our time," wrote The Washington Post's Dana Milbank before he left this mortal coil. "He is, in a way, not of our time, for his creed — country before self — is unfamiliar to many who serve in office and utterly foreign to the man in charge."
|THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
Then there was Sarah Palin, whose selection by McCain as his 2008 running mate certainly was of our time, but not in the way Milbank meant it.
Considering that Palin would be a heartbeat away from the presidency if McCain had defeated Barack Obama, the decision to choose a virtual unknown whose popularity already had tanked in Alaska because of a reputation for being a power abusing kook and liar has to rank as perhaps the most irresponsible in the modern history of presidential campaigns until the Republican Party got behind the man with the small hands and peculiar hair in 2016.
Despite the lack of anything vaguely resembling a vetting process, McCain invited Palin to join the ticket after spending less than two hours with the half-term Alaska governor on the very redwood deck of his Sedona home where he said his long goodbyes after he stopped chemotherapy treatments and succumbed to the ravages of brain cancer.
Country before self, my ass.
Truth be known, McCain put his own advancement above all else and was willing to do anything to achieve his ultimate if unrequited ambition: To become commander in chief, the one position that would finally enable him to outrank his four-star Navy admiral father and grandfather.
McCain was capable of self-recrimination. But his recklessness -- the same gross irresponsibility he showed as a Navy fighter pilot with multiple pilot-caused crashes before his A-4 Skyhawk was shot down over North Vietnam and he was imprisoned and tortured at the Hanoi Hilton for five and a half years, two of them while being held in solitary confinement because of his refusal of an offer of repatriation if he signed a confession -- inexorably led to the ascendancy of Trump.
McCain did not just plan is own funeral, he lived it, and for that he gets fulsome credit.
How many of us get the chance to put things in order? To lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda and receive a full dress funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral where Obama and George W. Bush will deliver eulogies, but Trump will not be welcome. To tell family and friends how much we love them, and in turn receive the thanks from an endless procession of colleagues and acquaintances on our own redwood decks.
"I wanted to let him know how much I love him," Biden said after his visitation, and you know the former vice president meant it.
McCain died of an aggressive form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma as did Biden's beloved son, Beau. A convincing if circumstantial case can be made that the cause of young Biden's death was exposure to toxic smoke from immense open-air burn pits in Iraq where he was bivouacked, while as a Navy aviator, McCain was exposed to a smorgasbord of brain cancer-causing chemicals during his Vietnam tour.
McCain read to his final visitors a beautifully poignant excerpt from his last book, The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights and Other Appreciations, which predictably includes bete noir apologia for the Palin calamity and Trump bashing along with the usual self-mythologizing.
This excerpt is how I choose to remember him while not forgetting all the bad stuff:
Then I'd like to go back to our valley and see the creek run after the rain and hear the cottonwoods whisper in the wind. I want to smell the rose scented breeze and feel the sun on my shoulders. I want to watch the hawks hunt from the sycamore, and then take my leave bound for a place . . . in the cemetery on the Severn back where it began.Rest in peace, John McCain.