John McCain used to be a big deal. There was the idea that he would help guide the legislature on his side of the aisle – now he’s dying of cancer, and it doesn’t seem like he’s getting very much pull in his own party.
There’s been a lot of breaking news on John McCain – from his earlier standout votes on important issues of the past six months, to the more recent flurry of news suggesting that Trump is not welcome at his funeral. That’s a large symbolic gesture – to actually publicly uninvite a sitting president to an event that you really shouldn’t have to plan yourself – but there’s an even bigger indicator this week as news venues report that John McCain does not want Gina Haspel for CIA director.
The Haspel thing has been going back-and-forth for a while – the confirmation hearing was Wednesday, and it went about as you’d expect it to go. A lot of questions, but nothing to indicate that Haspel wouldn’t ultimately received in confirmation.
Of course, you have all of the usual suspects plus a few more arguing that confirmation for Haspel is implicit condoning of the terrible, despicable torture acts that happened during the Iraq war era, with the collaboration of shady lawyers.
Haspel says she wouldn’t do it again – but that’s pretty weak tea for an issue that really involves very explicit and macabre human suffering. A litmus test for the base and their individual values is how each person feels when he or she reads the narrative of these humans being tortured beyond anything we can imagine happening to ourselves.
But the litmus test in the legislature is whether or not Republican leaders and moderates can take a cue from someone who is considered in some ways the lion of today’s legislature – a man who used to be honored for his status as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Sadly, the referendum on John McCain happened early on in this administration when Republicans and their ilk were forced to choose between a man widely considered a war hero and a draft dodging gasbag of a politician who was mostly known for shady business dealing and really anything other than civic leadership.
The base largely chose Trump over McCain and the fallout has been happening ever since. But this isn’t just a question of whether to let the maverick guide his party. This is a question of either rejecting or tacitly accepting by dog whistle some of the worst acts that can be done to a human being by another. In trying to imagine these black site operators like medieval inquisitors racking their victims day to day, the mind just fails to really build a realistic picture. How do these individuals perform these sadistic acts time after time and how are they not brought to heel by the general values of a democracy that claims to have some measure of empathy for human life? It’s disgusting and degrading to our senses and John McCain is putting an olive branch out to his own party that there is another way- there is a choice.
Unfortunately, none of the media reports suggest that other than Rand Paul, who has cast his lot in the right direction, any other moderates or fence sitters are considering following McCain’s lead.
What this likely means is that we’ll have yet another ‘close result’ that’s a victory for the hard right base and those forces that seek to overcome moderate consensus – those forces that failed to hold to the line of giving John McCain, and basic human empathy, their due.
For center-left voters and others who have traditionally viewed John McCain with suspicion, there’s a different change going on. In an environment where so much of one’s political support is eroding, it’s only natural to take refuge in the kinds of options that John McCain represents. It’s a move toward the center in an effort to build some kind of consensus and some kind of bulwark against the far right …
But then we see that even this move is met with a corresponding evacuation of some of the moderate right’s traditional moral standing. It’s like “ok liberals like John McCain? We don’t like him anymore, then.” Nevermind his military service. They’re throwing him under the bus. Just look at this!!
It’s insidious – and yet it’s right out in the open. Politics has become so nasty, we can’t even manage to uphold our reverence for people like McCain who were supposed to be part of the glue holding the unholy mess in Washington together.
So lots of prior McCain fans aren’t really listening to him anymore. But humanity and the Geneva convention really need a win here. We need to send the right message to the world. So maybe it’s time to listen to John McCain. If you have a moral compass, listen to him because he’s right. Otherwise, listen to him because he was a war hero. John McCain is throwing the moderate right a life line. He’s saying, there is an option, There is a choice.