McCain the Maverick: Myth, or reality?
“If Republicans had forgotten that Sen. John McCain used to be America’s most famous political maverick,” said Steven T. Dennis in Bloomberg.com, “they just got a reminder.” The war hero staged a stinging rebuke of his own party last week when, with an “emphatic thumbs down,” he cast the deciding vote against his party’s Obamacare repeal bill—dooming the GOP’s tortured effort to repeal Obamacare for the foreseeable future. McCain “has defied his party before,” said Lauren Fox in CNN.com. But McCain’s theatrical repeal rebellion “may be one of his most memorable moments.” With a prominent surgical scar over his left eyebrow, the 80-year-old left a hospital bed in Arizona to deliver “an epic 15-minute speech that rattled the conscience of the body”—rebuking Senate colleagues for turning their back on problem-solving and bipartisan compromise. “We’re getting nothing done, my friends,” said McCain, who is being treated for a brain tumor.
“No one wants to dunk on an octogenarian just diagnosed with cancer,” said Adam H. Johnson in the Los Angeles Times. But the fawning over McCain’s political courage is ridiculous. The Arizona senator has carefully cultivated his pose as John McCain™, “the straight-talking, principled maverick war hero.” But his record shows him to be “a reliable partisan conservative who loves war and occasionally says things mildly critical of his own party”—particularly when it serves the McCain brand. His showboating “no’’ vote didn’t take much courage, given that less than 20 percent of Americans supported the GOP bill. McCain poses as a conservative when it suits him, said Cheryl Chumley in WashingtonTimes.com. During last year’s re-election campaign, he promised Arizona voters he’d be “leading the fight” against Obamacare. But whenever he sees a chance to win plaudits from liberals and the media, he becomes “a traitor to the cause.”
“Maybe McCain was just grandstanding,” said Tim Morris in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. And maybe he voted no “to gain some measure of revenge against President Trump,” who in 2015 famously belittled McCain’s years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Even so, the senator’s speech rang true. Congress truly has become a snake pit of bitter partisanship, closed-door scheming, and obstructionism. Nothing will get done in Washington without “regular order’’ and bipartisan compromise. Whatever his motives, McCain did the country a service by shaming his colleagues. ■