Alan Zendell, July 28, 2017
“He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” That was Donald Trump the candidate talking about John McCain in June of 2015.
McCain must have taken that to heart. While other Republican Senators were caving in to Trump’s bullying, McCain made it clear that he wouldn’t be taken prisoner this time. He said from the beginning of the health care debate that he disagreed with the way his party’s leadership was handling it. He believed that an issue as vital and far-reaching as health care should be a bi-partisan effort from the beginning, and last night, true to his word, he cast the deciding vote that sent the final Republican attempt to force their will on the nation down to defeat.
I’ve always believed John McCain was a principled man with deep convictions. I believe that’s why he cast that vote. I’m sure he wouldn’t have done it for any other reason.
But sometimes we can act out of principle and derive other satisfactions at the same time. We watched on cable news as McCain quietly met with the other two Republican senators who joined with him to defeat the bill, clearly letting them know what he intended. We also saw him cross the aisle and hug several of his Democratic colleagues, letting them too know that the game would soon be over. After his speech the other day when he returned to Washington after being diagnosed with brain cancer, I can’t imagine why anyone was surprised.
McCain knew when he decided to come back to the Senate that he held the winning hand. There was no doubt that Susan Collins was going to vote No, and if there was any doubt about Lisa Murkowski’s vote, Trump’s crude, ham-handed attempt to blackmail her by threatening to have the Interior Department withhold grants from Alaska iced it. Clearly, McCain was angered by those strong-arm tactics, giving him yet another reason to vote No.
McCain’s phone call to the president shortly before casting his vote must have been priceless. I can only imagine Trump’s rage on being informed that McCain was about to destroy his final attempt at forcing a bad health care bill through. But even better must have been John McCain’s quiet satisfaction at putting the bully in his place and performing another great service for his country. And he may be forgiven if he savored the taste of revenge served cold.
Did he have another great moment seeing the look on Mitch McConnell’s face as he stood just a few feet away and flashed a thumbs down? I hope so. After being labeled a maverick for decades, because he put principle ahead of party when it mattered most, that last bit may have been the most satisfying of all.
It’s too bad there weren’t more Republican senators willing to stand up for the simple principle of bi-partisan legislation, despite the fact that the great majority of Americans clearly demanded that from their Congress. So while we regret that it all came down to one vote in the end, I’m glad it was McCain who got to cast it. He deserves to be remembered for that single act even more than all the other heroic things he’s done.
When he was the Republican nominee for president in 2008, I was in a real quandary. I loved the idea that a man like Barrack Obama could be the one who led us into the next generation, but I feared his complete lack of experience. History had shown time and again that charismatic leaders of populist movements couldn’t be trusted to govern well when they won, and that gave me great pause.
When McCain was selected as the nominee I had to think long and hard about how to vote. I’d always liked and respected him. Though I didn’t always agree with his views, I trusted him the way I rarely trusted politicians, and I might well have voted for him, but as it was for many other Americans, the advent of Sarah Palin swayed me to vote for Obama. It’s a strange irony that today, John McCain stands as a hero for standing up to his party and the president, since it was probably allowing his party to force Palin on him as his running mate that cost him the presidency.
John McCain is not a superhero. He’s made some costly mistakes in his life. But when we needed him most, he once again stood up and did the right thing for his country.