John McCain’s Act of Defiance

July 30, 2017

John McCain’s Act of Defiance

by Mark Singer

Image result for John McCain’s Health-Care Vote Was an Act of Defiance

Republican Senator John McCain from Arizona–An American Legislator, Patriot and Vietnam War Hero

I had agreeable disagreements with two friends yesterday, several hours before the Senate’s 1:30 A.M. vote on the Republicans’ scaled-down motion to repeal the Affordable Care Act. When the final vote was called, three Republican senators—Susan Collins, of Maine; Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska; and John McCain, of Arizona—drove a long knife through the cold heart of Trumpcare/McConnellcare/Ryancare.

Senators Collins and Murkowski had stuck their necks out much further than any other Republican politicians in the country. For this they had been trolled, slandered, subjected to sexist insults, and bullied—most prominently by the President of the United States, a career scam artist who ages ago lost his marketing mojo. They weren’t buying it. For at least a few hours this week, Ryan Zinke, the never-not-an-Eagle Scout Secretary of the Interior and, until January 20th, a Republican member of Congress, was running strong in the competition for the most despicable thug in Washington, after he reportedly called Murkowski to indicate that her state would suffer as a result of her no vote. (Beautiful, Zinke! Beautiful!) Senators Collins and Murkowski weren’t buying that, either. Nor was Senator McCain.

One of my friends had read my piece about the dilemma McCain confronted, and told me candidly that he wasn’t really buying my argument, either. “An action that merely avoids indecency,” he said, “has only the palest claim to decency.” My friend has worked for many years in many ways on behalf of social and—especially—economic justice. Though he respected Barack Obama, and had voted for him, he took a dim view of many of Obama’s more centrist or conservative policies.

For McCain my friend had no regard (though he forgives him); his sins of commission and omission were many. Sarah Palin, in his view, was the most egregious transgression (hardly a minority viewpoint), but there were others, largely sins by association. In general, my friend loathes what he perceives as the rapacious capitalist cynicism of all the money-grubbing liars who run the banks and grease politicians of both parties and shuffle in and out of corporate boardrooms and Presidential Cabinets and talk out of every side of their mouths as the nation’s and the planet’s wealth and resources and social-justice gaps grow beyond their already criminally negligent dimensions. He detested Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. As for Trump, why bother? For months last year, the Republican nominee, anticipating electoral defeat and extreme humiliation, whined and screamed about a “rigged” election, all the while sliming his way to the White House.

Image result for John McCain in Cambodia


My friend is certainly not alone in seeing that we are in a Hobbesian present. The United States as a nation of laws, as he sees it, is over. Certainly for the time being, and likely forever. The U.S. as a governable nation, also over. The U.S. as a world power bringing (mostly) democracy and goodness to others—over. And so on. My friend is a wholly decent, patriotic citizen of a country he no longer recognizes, even as the view from his window remains a rural New England pasture.

My other friend shared an equally jaundiced view: she had always thought of McCain as a conventional company man. “His sincere fidelity is to the institution,” she said. “It’s not an issue of humanity, or even a lack of humanity.” So, as an Annapolis graduate and a Navy pilot, and, likewise, as a prisoner of war, he behaved as he thought he should. McCain had been equally a creature, especially in recent years, of a Republican Party that moved further and further to the right, and further away from the bipartisan comity that he had for decades claimed to revere. “Let’s agree that a part of his biography is a tale of heroism and selflessness,” she said. “But if we’re talking about motivation, that’s far more banal.”

I agree with some of my friends’ sentiments. But, in my understanding, as the hour of the vote approached, John McCain elected not to be a company man. The institution that he had belonged to and loved for thirty years, the U.S. Senate, had become intolerable. Dishonorable.

For weeks and months, a burgeoning-until-overwhelming majority of Americans told their senators and congressmen that they did not want Obamacare declared null and void, its knotty flaws notwithstanding. Many of the forty-nine Republicans who cast votes in favor of this repeal knew that those votes bore the stench of unforgivable betrayal of the once-American ideal: equal treatment under the law, due process, and the unwritten imperative for a common purpose. Or perhaps they recognized that in their heads but were blind in their hearts—to their everlasting shame.

Image result for John McCain in Cambodia

John McCain, bearing scars ancient and new, acutely aware of his mortality, humble but standing a very tall five feet nine, approached the hour when he had to choose. He chose to vote with his soul—in defiance of the bottomless soullessness that, when the ultimate moment arrived, he rejected.

Mark Singer, a longtime contributor to the magazine, is the author of several books, including Character Studies.

9 thoughts on “John McCain’s Act of Defiance

  1. Republicans have had enough of Donald Trump’s antics.Especially his latest humiliation of Jeff Sessions,attack on special counsel Mueller and letting his new lapdog,nicknamed the “mooch” humiliating Priebus,before firing him.Now,Republicans are starting to show Trump the middle finger,because they know that Trump is weak and actually a coward inside out.

    And why rewards the “mooch” got from ousting Priebus,kissing and smelling the Donald’s ass?Well,fed up of the “mooch” kissing and smelling the Donald’s ass,that he was willing to miss the birth of his second child from his second wife,Mrs Deidre Ball Scaramucci gave him the marching orders.She divorced him.So much for the “mooch’s” bromance with the Donald.

  2. Its actually very worrying to see that only 3 Republican was willing to step up, marginally came through as patriots while the rest of the Republican party and all of Republican Congress abrogated that highest calling.. Truth is despite Washington dysfunctionality, in all branch of govt, there was always a great number of absolute Patriots, many who who stand up to be counted at the end and not rely on others to pick up the baton. To see such a narrow win of patriotism and allow politics to prevails so overwhelming with a White House that does not know it crosses the line, its worrying..

  3. Four star general John Kelly starts first day as WH chief of staff,and profane foul mouth WH communication’s director “mooch”, gets fired after only ten days at the job.Another of Donald’s loyalist thrown under the bus.Priebus got the last laugh,at least lasting six months on the job.
    Le Mooch is out in the flash. That loud mouth should not have been engaged in the first place. How long will John Kelly last?–Din Merican

    • Anthony Scaramucci is out, but the Mooch jokes are forever. Twitter reactions to Scaramucci’s firing quickly became a frequently hilarious pile-on. And now the continued retweets, “Mooch” hashtags, and meme-ing will serve as a way to keep the shock, drama, and humor of the moment going. It’s possible that the internet’s Mooch joke cycle may last longer than Scaramucci’s actual White House tenure – unless, of course, Trump fires someone else.

      During his short time on the job, Scaramucci bragged that he only reports to the President. He made it clear that this close communication with Trump was very important to him, but it may have never been sincere. It looks like he was used by the White House to get rid of Priebus and then immediately dumped, when he refused to report to General Kelly.

      Donald Trump’s mini-me couldn’t last two weeks working in the White House, and his firing is a test for whether one general can undo a West Wing of crazy and turn Trump into a semi-functional president.

  4. One in a position of leadership should always resist the temptation to Nationalize Personal Affairs and Personalize National Affairs. Seven years on the Republican Leadership, Trump or No Trump, should have a national plan to address the healthcare issue.

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