Like many progressives, I have repeatedly had my share of disappointments with Arizona Senator John McCain. It’s hard not to like him because he’s self-deprecating, witty, rebellious, and about as “common” as anyone with over half-dozen houses can be.
Then there’s the elephant in the room. It’s the “hero” thing. That word may be the most overused one in the English language. In an era when we know how difficult it is to psychologically analyze anyone’s motives for anything, a word like hero is truly hard to define.
But to quote Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart on pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Despite the false analysis of Donald Trump, if anyone is a hero, it’s John McCain who survived six years in a North Vietnamese prison camp and refused early release ahead of other prisoners who had been held longer than him.
So, put simply, he’s the guy you want on your side. And when it comes to politics, he’s the guy who we would like to be a Democrat. Here are a few reasons why:
- He has sponsored and supported progressive legislation. In 2002, he paired up with Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold to pass the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, providing some initial regulation to political financing. It was the law that was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Citizens United.When running for president in 2008, he was described as a “liberal in disguise” by the Gun Owners of America.
- The friends he keeps. When he entered Congress, the closest friend and mentor that McCain had was fellow-Arizonan Mo Udall, one of the nation’s champion environmentalists. Udall, like McCain, could also be on the “irony channel,” seeing the absurdity of much human behavior, particularly in institutions like the U.S. Congress.McCain had also been close to Massachusetts Democratic Speaker of the House who built a series of bi-partisan bridges from Capitol Hill to the Oval Office. And as we speak about Massachusetts Democrats, Senator Ted Kennedy of and McCain were close traveling friends who might do battle during the day, but would enjoy recounting the day’s happenings later in the evening.
So here are two questions about McCain and Axelrod:
- Why is McCain not a Democrat, and
- Why did Axelrod, who had the luxury of an informal in-depth interview with McCain, not ask him about it?
We have decades of information as to why McCain is not a Democrat. He was raised in family steeped in military service and experience. He always been a strong proponent of military strength and has risen to the position of Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee to reflect that commitment.
His views on foreign policy have generally favored military intervention when diplomacy fails, although he is very protective of the well-being of combatants and civilians alike.
He also a fiscal conservative. But think about what he could do with these values if he was a member of the Democratic Party:
- He could be a voice for military strength among Democrats, but also a hedge on boondoggle Pentagon spending, something he has successfully done since entering Congress.
- He could be a supportive watchdog over expenses for entitlements and other progressive legislation. He would recognize that when the federal government is called upon to provide solutions to national problems, it should do so in a responsible and effective fashion.
- He could support compassionate legislation which reflects the type of person that he is towards friends in and out of Congress.
- He could be welcoming to people unlike himself, as he has done personally and in legislation he has supported for immigrants in Arizona and across the nation.
It just seems that it is a question worth asking, particularly now that McCain is an octogenarian and has acknowledged that he does not want to serve so long that he literally must be carried in and out of the Senate.
There were times in the interview where there just seemed to be a disconnect with McCain; where he sided with Republicans for no particular reason. Consider his mixed messages about Hillary Clinton:
David Axelrod: You got to know Hillary pretty well on that committee.
John McCain: Yes, very well. Very well. We traveled together. We went to Svalbard together. We did a lot of stuff together. I really enjoy her company. I really do.
David Axelrod: And you have a high regard for her?
John McCain: Oh, sure. Absolutely I have a high regard for her.
David Axelrod: Do you think she was treated fairly in the election?
John McCain: I don’t know. I think that the WikiLeaks thing was the most unusual thing I’ve observed, as you know. But I also, David, whenever you lose, I know this very, very well, you find out all the mistakes you made. When you win, you didn’t make any mistakes.
This last answer by McCain ignores all the Trump shenanigans including “Crooked Hillary” and “Lock her up.” It’s clear from above that he respects Clinton. But just couldn’t criticize Trump for his low blows, either towards Clinton or actually towards himself.
It would have been a perfect time for David Axelrod to ask McCain if he wouldn’t be more comfortable as a Democrat. But like so many who have interviewed McCain in the past, Axelrod chose to pass on that question.
I’m well-aware of the adage that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I plead guilty to engaging in this perhaps misguided thinking for decades. Fortunately, I’m not alone with this. Jesse Jackson reminded us to “keep hope alive.” It may be getting a little late for that with John McCain, but as far as I’m concerned, it was a good run. I would have liked a little help in 2017 from David Axelrod.
You can listen to the interview by clicking here.