As the Left politicizes the death of John McCain, perhaps they should take a deeper look at what he consistently stood for.
Mr. McCain was active in politics for forty years and stood for many things, most notably American exceptionalism. This is not a belief that America is flawless or even better than other countries. It is a belief that the US has an important role in the world, perhaps embodied in Lincoln’s Gettysburg address that America has an ideal to live up to and make sure “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
John McCain’s death has prompted an outpouring of emotion and we understand that as regard for an American patriot and war hero. But we find the adulation of Senator McCain which largely came from liberals as out-of-kilter with his life, a life that had many parts:
John McCain’s dropped lots of bombs on Vietnam and remained a staunch supporter of that war. “John has always been a very bellicose hawk,” reported John H. Johns, a retired brigadier general who studied with Mr. McCain at the War College and who added: “When he came back from Vietnam, he accused the liberal media of undermining national will, that we could have won in Vietnam if we had the national will.”
Despite other changes that occurred in his political life – such as his up-and-down relationship with the religious right – Mr. McCain’s belief in the appropriateness of US military intervention stayed consistent throughout his political life.
In the Clinton years, Mr. McCain supported air strikes in Bosnia and Kosovo.
After 9/11, Mr. McCain said: “There’s other organizations besides Mr. bin Laden who are bent on the destruction of the United States. It isn’t just Afghanistan. We’re talking about Syria, Iraq, Iran, perhaps North Korea, Libya and others.”
At about the same time he went on the “Tonight Show” and told Jay Leno that “some other countries” — possibly Iraq, Iran and Syria — had aided bin Laden. He later said that those who said that President Bush had lied about Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction were liars themselves. He was a supporter of the “surge” in 2007 which was opposed by Hillary Clinton.
General Johns again: “His hawkish views now are very dangerous. He puts military at the top of foreign policy rather than diplomacy, just like George Bush does. He and other neoconservatives are dedicated to converting the world to democracy and free markets, and they want to do it through the barrel of a gun.”
When Mr. McCain ran for president in 2008 he lost the support of Republican generals like Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft. Richard Clarke, who was a counterterrorism official in the Bush administration observed of Mr. McCain: “The fact of the matter is his judgment about what to do in Iraq was wrong.”
During the Obama years Senator McCain urged US military intervention in the Ukraine and Libya. As to Syria, he said: “The only realistic [solution]… is with foreign air power.”
Mr. McCain has attracted critics across the political spectrum.
According to H Ross Perot – who worked with him on POW issues – John McCain was “the classic opportunist. He’s always reaching for attention and glory.”Jimmy Carter called Mr. McCain a “warmonger.”
Congressman John Lewis has compared him to George Wallace. Senator Rand Paul has said he was “unhinged.” John McCain was also attacked as an out-of-touch rich man by Senator Chuck Schumer who, during the 2008 campaign said: “It’s John McCain who wears $500 shoes, has six houses, and comes from one of the richest families in his state . . . he doesn’t particularly empathize with the plight of the average person.”
John McCain’s liberal supporters often point to his work on the reform of campaign finance. That’s a fair compliment only if one remembers Mr. McCain’s involvement with other senators pressuring regulators on behalf of savings and loan businessman Charles Keating. Thousands of people lost their savings in the savings and loan scandal.
Liberals also credit his work against the cigarette industry which is fine as long as we acknowledge that through his second marriage the liquor industry made him a wealthy man.
The public perceived John McCain as a moderate but that too is odd. He had a lifetime 81% conservative voting score with the conservative Club for Growth. Maine Senator Susan Collins, a real Republican GOP moderate, scored 35%. The conservative Heritage Foundation gave McCain a 60% lifetime rating, as compared to 24% for Ms. Collins. In both ratings another Republican moderate Lisa Murkowski was rated somewhere between Senators McCain and Collins.
At the end of his life, much of this was forgotten.
One reason is that people honor him for his sacrifices as a prisoner of war – although a 2008 “Rolling Stone” article offered a dissent. The magazine maintained that Mr. McCain got better treatment as a POW because he told his captors that his father was a high-ranking Naval officer and that his famous refusal to take an early out from captivity was not a principled stand as had been claimed but, rather, one that many other POWs took because it had to be earned by statements that would have resulted in court martial:
• One former POW: “Many of us were given this offer. It meant speaking out against your country and lying about your treatment to the press. You had to ‘admit’ that the U.S. was criminal and that our treatment was ‘lenient and humane.’ So I, like numerous others, refused the offer.”
• Another: “He (Mr. McCain) makes it sound like it was a great thing to have accomplished. A great act of discipline or strength. That simply was not the case.”
But a more important if less edifying reason liberals now honor John McCain has to do with their hatred for Donald Trump who famously feuded with the senator.
The most extreme expression of this came from Kathy Griffin who once posed with a bloody replica of Mr. Trump’s head and who also has indicated her intent to go after Mr. Trump’s eleven-year-old son. Ms. Griffin objected to President Trump’s official condolence with this scurrility: “You maligned his military service while you did everything to avoid serving. You attacked him repeatedly while you knew he was dying. And you cozied up to Putin while he did everything he could to oppose him. F–k You.”
The central tenet of the “Resistance” is that we in America are in a constitutional crisis and that Donald Trump must be driven from office. John McCain, like the Bushes, Romney and other GOP leaders resent Trump for taking over the party and for his own disdain of the GOP establishment but they have elected to oppose President Trump or support him depending on the issues. They support his judicial nominations and his defense of the Ukraine. Among their least favorite are his bumptious style, his crudity and his trade and immigration policies. Most of these one-time Republican leaders can’t bring themselves to support Democrats. People in this circle hope to wait him out and regain party control but fear that he has changed the Republican Party irreversibly.
The Trump-McCain conflict began in 2015 when the Senator referred to Mr. Trump’s supporters as “crazies.” Mr. McCain added: “He gave more money to Democrats than Republicans, he had Hillary Clinton at his wedding.”
Trump being Trump, escalated by disparaging McCain’s POW ideal ordeal.
Donald Trump went on to win and the relationship continued to sour.
At John McCain’s funeral his daughter Meghan McCain took a swipe at Mr. Trump that included this: “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again, because America was always great.”
This was of course an unmistakable reference to President Trump’s signature slogan, one used in earlier years by Bill Clinton and Andrew Cuomo.
We give a grieving daughter wide latitude in a eulogy. But, more important, Ms. McCain underscored an important truth: that John McCain did believe in American greatness and that principle animated his life.
If liberals mourn John McCain, they don’t need to accept his views of the Vietnam war or the Iraq war or his advocacy of military intervention and they don’t need to rebuke Jimmy Carter or John Lewis or H Ross Perot or Chuck Schumer or “Rolling Stone,” or Colin Powell or some of his POW fellow-heroes and they don’t need to let up on President Trump.
But, to honor John McCain, they should perhaps acknowledge that what he most consistently stood for was: American exceptionalism.