Saying farewell to Sen. John McCain
Tributes to Sen. John McCain poured in from around the world this week after the former Republican presidential candidate died from brain cancer at age 81, at his ranch near Sedona, Ariz. Lawmakers from both parties came together to hail McCain, a six-term senator who famously endured five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. President Trump triggered a White House public relations crisis by initially refusing to honor the senator, one of his fiercest Republican critics, and by insisting on flying the White House flag at full-staff while the rest of the federal government’s were lowered. Finally relenting to pressure from top aides, Trump ordered the flag to half-staff. “Despite our differences on policy and politics,” Trump said, “I respect Sen. John McCain’s service to our country.”
McCain will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda this week, making him one of only 13 senators to receive the honor. Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush will deliver the eulogies at the memorial in the National Cathedral, which Trump has not been invited to attend. Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said that he plans to name someone to fill McCain’s vacant Senate seat only after he is buried at the U.S. Naval Academy. In a final statement obliquely aimed at President Trump, McCain called on Americans to rise above nativism, “tribal rivalries,” and hatred. “Do not despair of our present difficulties,” McCain said. “We believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here.”
What the editorials said
John McCain was “an embodiment of many of the ideals that make America great,” said USA Today. In Vietnam, he chose to face imprisonment and torture rather than use his privilege as an admiral’s son to be released before his fellow prisoners. In the Senate, he was a pragmatist who could “form alliances across party lines and forgive old enemies” to address difficult problems. “His death serves as an almost perfect metaphor for the death of the old Republican Party,” once led by principled statesmen such as Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan.
Liberals loved McCain only when the maverick was infuriating conservatives, said the National Review. But in 2008 they “abandoned him for an even more alluring darling, Barack Obama.” A tireless advocate of human rights and U.S. military strength, McCain unfortunately succumbed to a “progressive Republicanism” that often made him undermine his own party. It’s telling that his last vote was to preserve Obamacare, a policy he opposed, to spite Trump, “out of sheer cussedness and pique.”
What the columnists said
I’ve always identified as a “John McCain Republican,” said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. Sadly, that party is no more. The time-honored virtues that McCain embodied—courage, loyalty, patriotism, honor—have been replaced with featly to Trump and his xenophobic brand of American nationalism. Trump’s inability to honor McCain, a bona fide American war hero, only proves how far the party has fallen.
Sorry, but McCain paved the way for Trump, said Laura McGann in Vox.com. In the worst decision of his career, he elevated the woefully unqualified Sarah Palin to the national stage as his vice presidential nominee as a sop to his party’s right-wing base. She then proceeded to run a populist campaign based on white cultural resentment, “unleashing a political style and a values system that animated the Tea Party movement and laid the groundwork for a Trump presidency.” Despite the maverick myth he carefully cultivated, McCain could be as “self-serving” as any politician, said Will Bunch in The Philadelphia Inquirer. But compared with Trump and Republicans who bow down to him, “he comes off like the blessed love child of Abraham Lincoln and Joan of Arc.”
Whatever his faults, McCain was a giant, said Albert Hunt in Bloomberg.com. Besides his friend, Democrat Edward Kennedy, “he was one of the two most important American politicians over the past 70 years who never made it to the Oval Office.” He was a principled opponent of torture, a highly influential voice in foreign policy, and a relentless opponent of authoritarian regimes like Vladimir Putin’s Russia. He “was the senator no one could ignore.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from Getty, Media Bakery, Getty