McCain: Heroism and Fallibility

Recently, Senator Amy Klobuchar made a dubious claim regarding the late Senator John McCain.  She claimed that, as she sat next to him during President Trump's inauguration, McCain began reciting the names of dictators.  In case her sledgehammer subtlety left the hayseeds confused, she explained that McCain was alluding that Trump himself was a dictator. 

It is reasonable to take her tale with a boulder of salt.  Klobuchar is one of two dozen wayfarers of that conflagrant clown car of aspiring Democratic presidential nominees.  She currently clings for dear life to the chicken wire securing its rickety rear bumper, hoping against hope she not be among the first to be jettisoned into its dusty wake of irrelevancy.  To paraphrase the then-floundering Jeb, this could be her desperate "please clap" gambit.  Cheesy headlines are headlines nonetheless.

However, it is also reasonable to believe that McCain actually behaved that way.  And I don't write that with admiration and fluttering sighs.  Klobuchar didn’t say which dictators' names McCain rattled off, but I suspect he went heavy on the Hitlers and light on the Marcus Aureliuses.  For an American senator to equate a democratically elected president with history's most genocidal tyrants, simply because he can't get over having been personally insulted by him, betrays a petulant character.  Donald Trump is not a dictator (and neither was Barack Obama, nor any of their predecessors).  And if Trump was a dictator, methinks a patriot of tenacious moral fortitude wouldn't attend his inauguration to begin with. 

It is McCain's last decade in office that has garnered the most criticism from conservatives.  This was the decade his supposed "maverick" streak went into overdrive.  Oddly, his maverick-ness always went dormant during election seasons.  In 2006, with his next election a comfortable four years off, McCain pushed hard alongside Ted Kennedy to secure large-scale amnesty for illegal immigrants.  In 2010, facing a primary challenge from Tea Party candidate J.D. Hayworth, McCain did a shameless about face, suddenly getting "tough" on illegal immigration and hurriedly supporting more stringent border enforcement measures.  Soon after his reelection, he reverted to his amnesty push with the Gang of Eight.   This isn't the path of a man whose stance on an issue evolves slowly over time and stoic contemplation.  This is the path of rank opportunism.

During this same decade, McCain began to lash out at both his colleagues and the citizenry if they voted in ways that displeased him.  In 2013, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Justin Amash (R-MI) staged a filibuster to oppose the drone policy of incoming CIA director John Brennan.  Our policy of using drone strikes to kill American citizens engaged in terrorist activities overseas was, and continues to be, a contentious issue, involving serious questions about how to balance the due process rights of traitorous American citizens against the responsibility of the federal government to protect Americans from terrorism.  McCain opposed their filibuster.  Fair enough.  But instead of offering convincing counterarguments, he dismissed them as "wacko birds."  Then in 2015, responding to then-candidate Donald Trump's stance on illegal immigration and its popularity among conservatives, McCain quipped that this platform had "fired up the crazies."  Is this the behavior of the judicious, deliberating sophist who treats his fellow citizens with respect regardless of their disagreements?  Or is it a pattern of sophomoric incivility and name-calling? 

McCain’s criticisms of President Trump are fair game, as are criticisms of every president.  But McCain took his personal rivalry with Trump to a level at which he repeatedly forsook his supporters in the process.  What’s worse, he never seemed to regret this, or even to bother with explanations to his stunned base.  His infamous tie-breaking vote in 2017 against the “lite repeal” of Obamacare was almost universally acknowledged as an affront to President Trump and nothing more.  Considering McCain had campaigned for nearly a decade against ObamaCare, his last-minute flip-flop against the pseudo-repeal cannot be explained in any other context.  And it was regarded by conservative voters, correctly, as an outright betrayal. 

A year earlier, he had gotten possession of the then-unknown Steele dossier and passed it on to FBI Director James Comey.  The Steele dossier is an obscene concoction of fantastical smut, which would be rejected by most fiction publishing houses as too unbelievable for print.  McCain sent it to Comey not in the blind pursuit of justice, but in an insidious attempt to damage Trump’s reputation.  His pettiness set off the chain reaction which led to the current predicament we find ourselves wallowing in today.  The nation is nearly pulling itself apart at the seams, and with irreparable damage being done to the FBI, the CIA, the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the impeachment process, the office of the presidency, and the ability of any substantial legislation or compromise being achieved until at least after the 2020 election.  One wonders how much leverage against North Korea, China, or Iran we lost as a result of a distracted, embattled administration, and how many American lives it may ultimately cost.  One also wonders how these consequences didn’t budge McCain an inch, at least not publicly, in his obsession with getting digs on his political adversary.

McCain's coup de grace to his own reputation took place after he died, when his former running mate Sarah Palin was publicly disinvited from his funeral, allegedly on his instructions.  However one feels about Palin, it is undeniable that she has been nothing if not unequivocally loyal to McCain.  To be clear, McCain ran for president the way a drunk moose figure skates, letting Obama nonchalantly toe loop over his inebriated bulk.  Nonetheless, for the decade thereafter, Palin never once failed to defend him against accusations of lackluster campaigning or political ambiguity.  Even after McCain used his book to express regret for having chosen her, Palin refused to criticize him.  Her funeral disinvite was the one of the most repugnant, distasteful acts of juvenile classlessness in modern politics. 

For our friends on the left, would a representative’s combat experience prevent you from criticizing them in domestic political matters?  Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) served in Iraq, operating with a medical unit in a combat zone.  If Joe Biden wins the Democratic nomination for which Gabbard is currently competing, would her military service justify her underhandedly publicizing a piece of Republican opposition research alleging that a duplicitous foreign government had compromising information on Biden, knowing full well the "research" was utter poppycock written with the sole intention of grinding his fledgling presidency to a halt?  Would it be plausible to suspect she did so not out of selfless duty, but out of envious spite?  If she cast the tie-breaking vote to destroy ObamaCare, despite having campaigned to save it, would it be permissible to criticize her?

Criticizing John McCain is not something that I relish.  But ultimately, it is not immoral to recognize that McCain the War Hero and McCain the Politician were two diametric essences of the same man.  There is no contradiction in honoring his military service while denouncing his subsequent political conduct.  We don't elect gods, we elect fallible human beings.  The danger to a republic is not criticism of its popular representatives, but rather the idea that such criticism is beyond the pale.  Like all of us, John McCain was a complexity, a jumbled symmetry of values, faults, and contradictions.  A true maverick would be comfortable with his supporters recognizing this.

Recently, Senator Amy Klobuchar made a dubious claim regarding the late Senator John McCain.  She claimed that, as she sat next to him during President Trump's inauguration, McCain began reciting the names of dictators.  In case her sledgehammer subtlety left the hayseeds confused, she explained that McCain was alluding that Trump himself was a dictator. 

It is reasonable to take her tale with a boulder of salt.  Klobuchar is one of two dozen wayfarers of that conflagrant clown car of aspiring Democratic presidential nominees.  She currently clings for dear life to the chicken wire securing its rickety rear bumper, hoping against hope she not be among the first to be jettisoned into its dusty wake of irrelevancy.  To paraphrase the then-floundering Jeb, this could be her desperate "please clap" gambit.  Cheesy headlines are headlines nonetheless.

However, it is also reasonable to believe that McCain actually behaved that way.  And I don't write that with admiration and fluttering sighs.  Klobuchar didn’t say which dictators' names McCain rattled off, but I suspect he went heavy on the Hitlers and light on the Marcus Aureliuses.  For an American senator to equate a democratically elected president with history's most genocidal tyrants, simply because he can't get over having been personally insulted by him, betrays a petulant character.  Donald Trump is not a dictator (and neither was Barack Obama, nor any of their predecessors).  And if Trump was a dictator, methinks a patriot of tenacious moral fortitude wouldn't attend his inauguration to begin with. 

It is McCain's last decade in office that has garnered the most criticism from conservatives.  This was the decade his supposed "maverick" streak went into overdrive.  Oddly, his maverick-ness always went dormant during election seasons.  In 2006, with his next election a comfortable four years off, McCain pushed hard alongside Ted Kennedy to secure large-scale amnesty for illegal immigrants.  In 2010, facing a primary challenge from Tea Party candidate J.D. Hayworth, McCain did a shameless about face, suddenly getting "tough" on illegal immigration and hurriedly supporting more stringent border enforcement measures.  Soon after his reelection, he reverted to his amnesty push with the Gang of Eight.   This isn't the path of a man whose stance on an issue evolves slowly over time and stoic contemplation.  This is the path of rank opportunism.

During this same decade, McCain began to lash out at both his colleagues and the citizenry if they voted in ways that displeased him.  In 2013, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Justin Amash (R-MI) staged a filibuster to oppose the drone policy of incoming CIA director John Brennan.  Our policy of using drone strikes to kill American citizens engaged in terrorist activities overseas was, and continues to be, a contentious issue, involving serious questions about how to balance the due process rights of traitorous American citizens against the responsibility of the federal government to protect Americans from terrorism.  McCain opposed their filibuster.  Fair enough.  But instead of offering convincing counterarguments, he dismissed them as "wacko birds."  Then in 2015, responding to then-candidate Donald Trump's stance on illegal immigration and its popularity among conservatives, McCain quipped that this platform had "fired up the crazies."  Is this the behavior of the judicious, deliberating sophist who treats his fellow citizens with respect regardless of their disagreements?  Or is it a pattern of sophomoric incivility and name-calling? 

McCain’s criticisms of President Trump are fair game, as are criticisms of every president.  But McCain took his personal rivalry with Trump to a level at which he repeatedly forsook his supporters in the process.  What’s worse, he never seemed to regret this, or even to bother with explanations to his stunned base.  His infamous tie-breaking vote in 2017 against the “lite repeal” of Obamacare was almost universally acknowledged as an affront to President Trump and nothing more.  Considering McCain had campaigned for nearly a decade against ObamaCare, his last-minute flip-flop against the pseudo-repeal cannot be explained in any other context.  And it was regarded by conservative voters, correctly, as an outright betrayal. 

A year earlier, he had gotten possession of the then-unknown Steele dossier and passed it on to FBI Director James Comey.  The Steele dossier is an obscene concoction of fantastical smut, which would be rejected by most fiction publishing houses as too unbelievable for print.  McCain sent it to Comey not in the blind pursuit of justice, but in an insidious attempt to damage Trump’s reputation.  His pettiness set off the chain reaction which led to the current predicament we find ourselves wallowing in today.  The nation is nearly pulling itself apart at the seams, and with irreparable damage being done to the FBI, the CIA, the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the impeachment process, the office of the presidency, and the ability of any substantial legislation or compromise being achieved until at least after the 2020 election.  One wonders how much leverage against North Korea, China, or Iran we lost as a result of a distracted, embattled administration, and how many American lives it may ultimately cost.  One also wonders how these consequences didn’t budge McCain an inch, at least not publicly, in his obsession with getting digs on his political adversary.

McCain's coup de grace to his own reputation took place after he died, when his former running mate Sarah Palin was publicly disinvited from his funeral, allegedly on his instructions.  However one feels about Palin, it is undeniable that she has been nothing if not unequivocally loyal to McCain.  To be clear, McCain ran for president the way a drunk moose figure skates, letting Obama nonchalantly toe loop over his inebriated bulk.  Nonetheless, for the decade thereafter, Palin never once failed to defend him against accusations of lackluster campaigning or political ambiguity.  Even after McCain used his book to express regret for having chosen her, Palin refused to criticize him.  Her funeral disinvite was the one of the most repugnant, distasteful acts of juvenile classlessness in modern politics. 

For our friends on the left, would a representative’s combat experience prevent you from criticizing them in domestic political matters?  Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) served in Iraq, operating with a medical unit in a combat zone.  If Joe Biden wins the Democratic nomination for which Gabbard is currently competing, would her military service justify her underhandedly publicizing a piece of Republican opposition research alleging that a duplicitous foreign government had compromising information on Biden, knowing full well the "research" was utter poppycock written with the sole intention of grinding his fledgling presidency to a halt?  Would it be plausible to suspect she did so not out of selfless duty, but out of envious spite?  If she cast the tie-breaking vote to destroy ObamaCare, despite having campaigned to save it, would it be permissible to criticize her?

Criticizing John McCain is not something that I relish.  But ultimately, it is not immoral to recognize that McCain the War Hero and McCain the Politician were two diametric essences of the same man.  There is no contradiction in honoring his military service while denouncing his subsequent political conduct.  We don't elect gods, we elect fallible human beings.  The danger to a republic is not criticism of its popular representatives, but rather the idea that such criticism is beyond the pale.  Like all of us, John McCain was a complexity, a jumbled symmetry of values, faults, and contradictions.  A true maverick would be comfortable with his supporters recognizing this.