Earlier today, as it must to all men, death came to Senator John McCain. I don’t have a horrible opinion of the man. But I also don’t have a good opinion of him. And I don’t think death should make me forget that McCain had an almost completely bad effect on this country.
Obviously, if I thought his loved ones would read this, I wouldn’t say bad things about him. I’m not a monster. But that also means that I wouldn’t say anything at all. Because there is very little good to say about him that I don’t think is tainted.
But given that I have the luxury of obscurity, I will say my piece.
McCain Wasn’t Principled
This article really grows out Matt Yglesias’ obituary at Vox, John McCain, Who Died at 81, Explained. It’s actually better than the countless obituaries we are going to see that will portray McCain like he had been Patroclus climbing the walls of Troy in The Illiad. Yglesias at least notes that McCain’s past is spotty.
But I feel certain that Yglesias is just being a good whore of a writer and creating the general obituary for McCain that won’t offend anyone too much. I suspect that Yglesias feels rather like me. But his obituary will be read. So it ends up giving McCain too much credit.
Maybe this is how it should be. When a man dies, you give him the benefit of the doubt. But I question that. Did McCain vote against the Bush tax cuts because he was actually against them? It’s possible. But the overwhelming evidence is that he did it because he was (understandably) angry at Bush’s campaign tactics in the 2000 primary. Remember, McCain had a notoriously volatile temper. He wasn’t the cuddly guy he made out in the 2008 campaign.
If you look at McCain’s career, it seems that everything good he did was simply a way to save face for something he did wrong before. If not that, it was like with Bush, settling a score. None of these were indicative of a strong moral sense. They were indicative of a strong sense of reputation. And I’m not going to let that be something to applaud just because Trump has set the bar so low.
McCain and Torture
The one thing I did like McCain for in a big way was his stand on torture. But that was just his Gay Son.
You may remember that Rob Portman was quite the anti-gay politician. He thought that employers should be able to fire people just because they found out the employee was gay. But then Portman’s son came out to him as gay. Suddenly, Rob Portman was in favor of same-sex marriage!
But this is the conservative way. If you don’t have direct experience with an issue, you can’t understand it. This is why conservatives will always give huge tax breaks to the rich. None of them will ever have a son who comes out to them as poor.
McCain’s Gay Son
In McCain’s case, he had suffered from torture. Thus, as a conservative, he could understand it. Bush and Cheney had never suffered it so they couldn’t understand it.
I’m glad that McCain was fairly reasonable on torture. But I don’t see that he gets a big red star for it given that it was his Gay Son. He didn’t show any empathy for anything that he didn’t have direct experience with.
He was an extremist on abortion, birth control, and sex education — probably because it never affected his life. He was against same-sex marriage because he literally didn’t have a gay son. And he was for eternal war because his experience fighting it was from high above it.
McCain’s So-So Torture Record
But even on torture, McCain was far from perfect. Jennifer Williams explains this in Vox, Senator John McCain’s Complicated Moral Legacy on Torture. It’s worth reading all of it, but the main thing in it is that McCain, while he was getting lots of positive news about stopping the army from torture provided a carve-out for the CIA — the only ones who were actually doing it.
When Dianne Feinstein proposed a bill to end torture, McCain worked and finally voted against it. When it passed anyway, McCain pushed Bush to veto it. And perhaps most important of all, McCain was the one who allowed all the CIA torturers to get off scot-free — and in the case of Gina Haspel, becoming Director of the CIA.
It’s bad that McCain died because his replacement will be even worse. But that doesn’t mean we need to pretend that McCain made America better. He didn’t.
I began to feel bad that I wrote anything about McCain at all. But then I watched a little of the television news coverage of his death and I knew why I wrote this in the first place. The coverage is all myth-making. It doesn’t present a man; it presents a Greek hero. And it is all wrong. Most annoying of all is the way that McCain gets credit for his face-saving political theater of telling a voter that Obama wasn’t a Muslim — after he knew he would lose the election.