By Janet Williams
John McCain is perhaps the most confounding politician of our day. Hero, crook, maverick, sycophant, straight-shooter, hypocrite — all apt descriptions of the Republican senator from Arizona who battles an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Janet Williams, editor, TheStatehouseFile.com
What will the final legacy be? Will he go down as the maverick who called out President Trump for the bully that he is? Or as the hypocrite who, in spite of grand rhetoric assailing the breaches of decency and protocol in the Senate and in public life, voted to take the first steps to deny access to health care for millions of Americans?
And this while he personally has access to some of the finest medical care money can buy because of his wealth and position.
I wish McCain well. I hope he is among the tiny percentage of patients who beat the cancer that has invaded his brain. I am happy that he has access to outstanding medical care and the latest technology to wage his battle.
But I’d also like the guy who makes minimum wage to know he or she and their family will be able to get the kind of care that would enable them to live long and healthy lives. That won’t happen if any GOP version of healthcare is passed.
Sadly, McCain’s own actions give lie to his words. This is what he said about the process that led to the Senate’s bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act:
“We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition. I don’t think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn’t.”
Yet, McCain did his best to make it work both with his vote to allow debate to go forward and then later with a vote in favor of one of the Senate’s repeal and replace bills.
This should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed McCain’s career in Congress since he was first elected more than three decades ago during the heyday of the Reagan Administration.
He was the war hero who endured five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam where he was tortured. McCain could have gone home early from his hellish prison because of his father’s position as an admiral but he refused and endured even greater punishment.
Flash forward a few years to the Senate where McCain gained renown as one of the Keating Five. It’s hard to remember that scandal all these decades later so let me remind you:
Charles Keating was a savings and loan mogul who got into financial trouble. McCain was one of five senators who received $1.3 million in campaign contributions from Keating and who subsequently encouraged regulators to ease up on Keating’s failing institutions. When Keating’s savings and loan business finally collapsed it cost taxpayers nearly $3 billion to clean up the mess. If you want more details, check out The New York Times for a good summary of the case.
McCain was reprimanded by the Senate for his conduct. But before he could become pigeonholed as just another crooked politician, he transformed himself into a champion of campaign finance reform. He acknowledged his mistakes and used his experience to try and fix the system that has members of Congress groveling for money around the clock.
One of his best moments came in 2008 when refused to let a woman at a campaign stop denigrate then-candidate Obama as a Muslim and outsider. It was a heroic moment that has been played and replayed since we learned of his illness.
But then we remember that during the same election McCain plucked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin from obscurity to be his running mate in a case of pandering to a conservative and so-called Christian base that didn’t trust him. He bartered his political soul for a shot at the White House.
And now we have McCain’s lofty rhetoric this week betrayed by his actions, a soaring speech about values, freedom and the great institution of the Senate tarnished by a vote that runs counter to everything he claimed to stand for.
Maybe he is a hero with an asterisk after his name, reminding us that in the end our actions matter more than mere words.
Janet Williams is editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.