So John McCain, Walnuts, is he dead then? Gone at 81, days after announcing that he was discontinuing treatment for brain cancer. Now, the old bastard — I say that not unkindly – is being equally hagiographied and damned, or the hagiographising is being damned.
McCain was apparently “a greatest American”, “a true hero”, “a man whose like we will not see again”, etc, etc. Hard not to believe that the focus on one Senator who made a failed tilt at the Republican nomination in 2000, and a failed run for the Presidency in 2008, is related to that office’s current incumbent, and the agon now gripping the country.
The rollcall of patriot, champion, maverick, compassionate conservative, etc now coming out of all media, is more than a little awry. He was the son of an admiral, from a naval family, who all but flunked out of war college, but got into navy pilot training anyway. He crashed several planes before the last one came down in Vietnam, as he was trying to bomb it. Struggling from his plane, he was lucky not to have been beaten to death by surrounding Vietnamese, who’d been killed in their tens and tens of thousands.
His refusal to be repatriated home by his captors is legendary, though the details of it are complicated. When he came home after five years as a POW, he became a naval attache to Congress, used that to build a base, took a beer heiress as his second wife — and then almost lost his footing when he got caught up in the “S&L” banking scandals of the late 1980s.
He became the image of evangelical American exceptionalism as he moved towards the nomination zone through the ’90s. There wasn’t a war he didn’t want the US to be in, from Somalia through Iraq, to goddam Georgia in 2008. “We are all Georgians now,” he said, as the country’s sophomoric leaders tried to draw NATO into a war against Russia’s brief holiday there. “Bomb, bomb bomb, — bomb, bomb Iran,” he sang to the Beach Boys tune “Barbara-Ann”, into an open mic.
In parallel with that, he was genuinely liberal against his party; opposed to sanctions on Vietnam, pro sanctions on apartheid, created the McCain-Feingold laws limiting “soft money”, which lasted until “Citizens United”, and cast the vote that stopped Trump’s Obamacare gutting. He was always going to lose to Barack Obama, but “suspending his campaign” to return to Washington to tackle the GFC — where he was said to be useless — and agreeing to run with Sarah Palin made it certain.
Though he had the most literal-minded notion of American virtues and loved bombing people as part of it, I find the seething hatred of him from parts of the left as tiresome – as if we’ve never backed killers — as the automatic hallowing of him from the mainstream.
He clearly had personal virtues, not least a willingness to talk back to racists in his crowds, and a genuine sense of humour, best seen in a Saturday Night Live sketch the week before his cash-strapped campaign lost in ’08, purporting to be a presenter for a political Home Shopping Channel; it was the sort of thing that caused people to forget he was a multi-millionaire keen on exporting violent chaos.
History will judge him a minor figure, if it remembers him much at all, and the global tributes have a mawkish and perfunctory quality, history serving the microsecond news cycle. Those from Americans are evidence not only of their great need to be the last best hope of man, but of how the urgency of such put the very antithesis of it into the White House.