Senator John Mc Cain is an enigma. Certainly he is many things to many people, a hero to some, a hack to others, and then to some he is a combination of the two. Today he had an opportunity to take control of a political system teetering on the brink of breakdown. Today he had the opportunity to begin a process of restoring confidence in a system of governance that is woefully dysfunctional. Today he had a chance to leave his mark on a career dedicated to public service more profound than he could have ever envisioned during those five and a half years in a prison cell in North Vietnam. And today he encased in cement his status as an enigma. Losing the luxury of time due to a recent diagnosis of an extremely aggressive brain tumor he may never get another chance like the one he had today to make an historically positive impact that will benefit millions of American citizens. But today he missed that opportunity and the consequences of that missed opportunity may haunt millions of Americans for years to come.
It is sad and disappointing but to many students, observers, and participants of the political process it is not surprising. With his vote today the floodgates to potentially catastrophic legislative chicanery were opened. Yes it was only a procedural vote, but process holds the key to legislative change. Often times weak politicians can hide behind it or strong ones can use it to effect great change. Today there are no options on the horizon with respect to health care that do not do great harm to the goal of universal coverage. The zombie legislative efforts being forwarded by Senator Mitch McConnell and the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress span the spectrum between disastrous and catastrophic. Real people will suffer and the United States will stand alone as the leading superpower that refuses to care for the health of its citizens. The Bystander-in-Chief has made it clear that he stands ready to sign anything that comes onto his desk with no respect for its content, intent, or practical application. Politics trumps all other considerations and that is the extent to which this White House approaches public policy. Clear, simple, and stupid.
Confused yet? Well you are not alone. I still maintain that McCain is a bona fide war hero and has given much for the country and I would suppose its government that he professes to love. I have watched him since he arrived in the Senate in 1987. He started out as very conservative. But then as I worked for the Gore campaign in New Hampshire in 2000 I saw what I believed to be a chastened John McCain and began to worry that he would both prevail in his party’s nomination and be a formidable candidate against us in the general election.
I remember fondly campaigning in the snowy streets of Exeter in January, 2000 and seeing him everywhere. This, of course, is only natural in a state that every four years redefines the notion of retail politics. Every time we would go from one event to the other we seemed to run into the Straight Talk Express, the McCain campaign bus. He seemed genuine, a real maverick, and actually was a very appealing candidate. But his campaign faltered after New Hampshire and ultimately he settled back into his Senate seat.
In 2008 he ran a very tough campaign against my candidate, Barack Obama, and it appeared as though it was going to be a real barn burner. Then he selected Sarah Palin as his running mate. At first none of us really knew how to interpret this move, it was either shrewd or stupid and in the heat of a campaign you must never assume. As the campaign ground on it turned out to be the latter. But the event that stood out most clearly that year was the time when McCain sternly reprimanded one of his supporters, an elderly woman, who accused Obama of being an Arab. He forcefully dismissed her accusations by insisting that Obama was a good person and they only disagreed on policies.
McCain seemed after the election to be a man defeated, literally and figuratively. And once again he seemed to revert to the rather ultra conservatism that found comfort in the state that had once been represented by Barry Goldwater. Lately he has seemed somewhat confused in public appearances and unsure of his presentations and thought processes. However, just last week he surprised many institutionalists by weighing in on the health care debacle that has wreaked havoc on the Congressional process during the first six months of the Trump campaign by calling for a return to regular order in consideration of complex public policy legislation.
It may seem common sensical to many, novel to some, and quaint to others but what he was really doing was saying that bipartisanship and deliberation were in order when considering policy of such import that it would affect nearly 20 percent of the U.S. economy and many millions of Americans.
In a time of maximum dysfunction such admonitions coming from a conservative Republican corner seemed to offer a glimmer of hope that the props that support this democratic governing experiment demand nothing less than compromise.
My general optimism that in a time of crisis Americans usually rally together for the common good led me to postulate that the Honorable Senator from Arizona would rise to the occasion and play the role of hero by placing his imprint on process over party, and country over politics. The stage was set, it was all his, a made for Hollywood moment waiting. But his actions betrayed his words. Oh his speech was inspiring, could have written it myself, but talk is still cheap and actions speak louder than words. While admonishing his colleagues to act like the greatest deliberative body they are privileged to serve in he cast the deciding vote to basically allow for a process that is neither a process nor deliberative.
John McCain has lived by the Marine military code “leave no man behind,” which is strangely ironic given that in this battle over life and death he literally left millions of men, women, and children behind. He made a heroic effort to travel across the country under obvious physical duress to fulfill what he saw as his Senatorial responsibility. But he made the wrong decision and has now subjected himself to being remembered by many to be more of a hack than a hero.
He failed the basic test of leadership so desperately needed in the toxic environment that is Trumpworld. The fate of American healthcare is now in the hands of a determined Republican Party that has shown tremendous resolve to dismantling a program that has the support of the American people and that has provided health benefits to millions of citizens who previously could not avail themselves of such.
The Affordable Care Act is perfect by no means but the basic components combined to extend opportunity for health coverage to many. Every conceivable option being considered by the Republican Party will result in taking coverage away from many. The notion that health care is a right was delivered a death blow today and John McCain’s valiant efforts to be there guaranteed that fatal blow.
There is a possibility that in the end nothing will pass and the Republican leadership will have to do the unthinkable: namely, sit down with a coalition of Democrats to fine tune and fix what has come to be known as Obamacare. This is what should have occurred in the first instance. But the fact that we are now in the midst of a huge swap meet where deals will be cut to benefit certain constituencies at the expense of the whole society is wholly attributable to the vote taken to proceed with the repeal of Obamacare, and John McCain will forever be identified as the individual who made that possible. What a sham. What a shame!
General Douglas MacAurthur once said that “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Maybe it is better that way.