Death Came to Senator John McCain

John McCainEarlier 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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

11 thoughts on “Death Came to Senator John McCain

  1. I think this essay is spot-on. Yglesias was pretty weak tea, Williams far better. I liked Charlie Pierce’s obit, but my favorite of the paid media was Taibbi’s, back in April:

    Where I disagree with both Pierce & Taibbi is blaming the modern Republican madness on McCain’s choice of Palin. It was, of course, a repugnant and soulless selection by McCain, but it’s not like she started the madness. Her speech at the 2008 convention was pure fascism, yet no worse than Zell Miller’s in 2004 and Pat Buchanan’s in (I forget the year). These virulent wingnuts had been stirring up totalitarian impulses for decades. And Palin was soon gone. She was really just the latest drummer in “Spinal Tap,” a long line going back to McCarthy or further.

    No, McCain’s real contribution to the lunatic GOP of 2018 was always standing for the damage its policies did to Americans. And keep in mind — had he retired earlier this year, Arizona’s governor’s replacement pick would be up for election this fall. By staying on, McCain guaranteed the replacement will serve at least until the end of his term (2020, I believe). As in Vietnam, he was a loyal soldier to a terrible cause.

    • That’s an excellent point about not stepping down! Of course, one thing we know about McCain is that he was always a good soldier for the Republican Party. He may not have liked Trump, but he still believed that Republicans should be in control. McCain was, above all else, interested in what was good for McCain.

      I liked Pierce’s article, but it was still largely an apologia for McCain. Taibbi’s article was much better, but it wasn’t an obituary. There are certain conventions for those. Indeed, I used to follow them. But for decades, conservatives (and to a large extent even the mainstream press — when it comes to a liberal’s death) don’t hold to this. So I don’t see any reason to stand on ceremony. People know what they are getting here. This isn’t The New York Times.

      • It isn’t the Times? Cancel my subscription immediately! I should have known, though. Where are the token right-wing lunatic writers?

        Michelle Wolf’s Netflix show had an absolutely brilliant skit on the Times:

        Of course, Netflix shitcanned the show. Wolf will do fine, but I’m annoyed because it was fast becoming my favorite of those shows (behind Last Week Tonight, which has the best research staff). What did Netflix expect they were getting? Jimmy Kimmel?

        • That was really disturbing. I thought it was funny, but the only thing that made me laugh was the bird flying into the fan at the end. Sometimes, social commentary is too anger-inducing for me to enjoy it as comedy.

          I just listened to a podcast on Venezuela that went after Oliver. But I do agree with you. It is an amazing show generally. Clearly, it and Samatha Bee’s Full Frontal are the inheritors of Jon Stewart’s show. The new The Daily Show is a waste.

          • Yeah, Mrs. James also found it disturbing. Me, I’m always a sucker for a musical number!

            If I remember, you couldn’t make it through “In The Loop” because it was just too horribly believable. That’s exactly why I liked the film, although I think we’re both equally appalled by that war. Different strokes.

            • I like that using “Mrs” with your first name. Then she could use “Mr” with her first name. It’s very egalitarian!

              The musical number was fine, although it was very Gilbert and Sullivan — so many words it was hard to take it all in. I should probably watch it again.

              No, I finished In the Loop. In fact, I’ve wanted to watch it again. But you are right: it is horribly believable. I rather liked Tom Hollander’s character. He was hardly a hero, but he was so believable. I can imagine acting that way if I were in that situation. And, of course, I could watch Peter Capaldi forever. Now I’m definitely going to watch it again. It will probably seem pretty tame compared to Trump — who simply hasn’t gotten around to starting a war. I just read that he wanted to invade Venezuela, but the military brass talked him out of it.

              • Oh, my goodness gracious, were we really that close to war with Venezuela? Jesus H. Christ, Trump is insane. Go fuck yourself, Frodo.

                Tom Hollander is an absolute hoot in that movie. My favorite is probably Mimi Kennedy. Her character has had sex she regrets (been there!), is a competent professional in a position nobody respects (check!), is trying and failing to stop the worst from happening (oh, my dear God, yes) and has inexplicable tooth bleeding (!!!)

                It’s hard to see it played as comedy, because the buildup to that war was so evil, the outcome so awful.

                But what’s possible except satire? The Pythons couldn’t fix the British Empire, all you can do is make a joke or two.

  2. Not soon enough. And he still managed to inflict his idiot, overprivileged daughter on a suffering public. I fear I’ll never grasp why so many admire loyalty to terrible causes and terrible leaders. Particularly when one considers that self interest is often the more plausible motivation.

    • You’re absolutely right about self-interest. Remember that primary candidate George Bush Sr. called Reagan’s tax cut policy “voodoo economics.” He knew better, and signed right up to further his political ambition.

      As to why people admire McCain’s Vietnam service, it’s probably guilt. Not over the murder of Vietnamese, heavens no! Americans still don’t care about that. But over how much trauma and death the war caused on our side. The same goes for our Iraq adventures, I’m sorry to say.

      • Oh, I forgot to mention Meghan McCain. I always hated her. In the past, she tried to play this “hip, young conservative” character. I didn’t buy it for a moment. And my cynicism was rewarded with how she acts now. In fact, I have come to blame conservatives generally for my cynicism. My natural tendency is to believe in the innate goodness of humans. But modern conservatives are so vile, it is nearly impossible to think that humans are generally good.

    • Well, here it is Thursday, and there is still excessive talk about him. But I understand. Had he been a liberal, this would have been a story for a few hours. But because he was conservative, the media have obsessed over him as they did when he was alive. There was no good reason then and there is no good reason now. And, of course, he could have stepped down. But he held on to power to the end. As a result, we get stuck with a Republican true-believer until 2020. Thanks, McCain!

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