Since John McCain’s passing on Saturday the tributes have been nearly constant from the right and the center. On the true left, the message has been mixed. McCain’s terrible foreign policy decisions (the war in Iraq) to name one have been criticized. Both groups are missing the point.
When he refused an early release from a torture chamber in Vietnam because his fellow prisoners weren’t being released, McCain displayed unnatural courage.
McCain’s famous thumbs-down rejection of efforts to eliminate the Affordable Care Act meant millions of Americans have health insurance they wouldn’t otherwise have.
His taking a microphone from a woman attacking the citizenship, patriotism, and character of Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign was a moment I can’t imagine any Republican repeating soon.
McCain sold the lies that led to the awful war in Iraq. No matter how many people died, no matter how much money was wasted, no matter how useless the fiasco had become–McCain couldn’t admit he was wrong.
McCain supported a terrible tax bill that gave the wealthy, including him a huge tax cut–even though the bill followed no legislative process.
In 2008, McCain did take a microphone from a racist, but he chose Sarah Palin as his vice presidential nominee. In hindsight, it’s easy to see that the choice of Palin, someone with no serious qualifications, began the Republican Party’s journey from mildly encouraging bigots to embracing them as a key constituent.
John McCain, on a few notable occasions, went against the GOP. More often than not, though, he was a reliable conservative vote. When history considers the legacy of McCain it will conclude he was wrong more often than he was right. History will note McCain’s support of foreign policy and economic policies that left America far worse off then it should have been.
On the other hand, history will record that John McCain demonstrated courage the likes of which many of us can’t imagine. History will say McCain, more than almost all of the cowards in politics, tried to follow his convictions.
There in lies the true story of John McCain. He was a man with deeply-held convictions and unnatural courage. He was also a man who would sacrifice his convictions and courage for potential political gain and wealth.
While there are things I admire about John McCain, I won’t call him a hero. That’s not meant as disrespect. It’s my belief words like hero are thrown around to often. For someone to be a true hero–that someone should be true to their convictions and courageous in the face of all adversity.
You may think that’s an unfair, unattainable standard. In response, I would argue we need to have high standards so we can wind up on higher ground when we fall short.
Call John McCain a hero. But recognize the areas where he was anything but heroic. No one is perfect. Still, it shouldn’t be asking too much to expect politicians to do what’s right for the country–even if it’s not right for them. In the end, that’s my standard for a political hero. When the culture is one where regularly being wrong, taking obvious self-serving votes, and being unable to admit fault is heroic–the culture is one that allows for lesser standards. When a culture has lesser standards, it’s easy for some to support known liars and peddlers of hate.
John McCain sometimes opposed Donald Trump. Clearly, McCain is not responsible for Trump. But a culture that refuses to consider someone’s entire record opens the door for someone like Trump to crash inside.