Sunday, August 26, 2018

How To Best Honor the Memory of John McCain


John Avalon has a piece in The Daily Beast in which he makes the case that John McCain should've been elected president in 2000. I agree. He should've been. By all accounts, McCain ran an out of the box campaign that year and was very popular with independents, back when the term independent meant moderate, not more extreme. He, along with Democrat Bill Bradley, was someone who wasn't afraid to challenge his party when it was wrong.

I remember that presidential election very well. I often wonder what it would've been like had McCain and Bradley been the nominees, instead of Beavis and Butthead (AKA, George Bush and Al Gore), two people for whom the term "lesser of two evils" was invented. Imagine the prospect of two politicians standing on a debate stage who could talk frankly about the issues of the day without having to worry about offending their respective bases. That all went out the window after the Republican South Carolina primary in one of the most disgraceful episodes in American politics.

But if the courage that McCain displayed that year was a rare commodity, it's all but an endangered species these days. As political pundits and politicians alike deliver their eulogies to the fallen Arizona senator, it might be worth noting that more than just a man has departed this earth. Indeed, when he is laid to rest, the taps that will be played in his honor might as well be for the party he spent the better part of four decades serving. For if there ever was such a thing as a maverick, it is now just as extinct as the dinosaurs who once roamed this planet 65 million years ago.

Ever since the news broke that John McCain had brain cancer we knew this day was coming. Ted Kennedy had the same form of cancer and it took his life, literally nine years ago to the day. It wasn't a matter of if, but when. So now that the when is here, how might we best honor his considerable contributions to the nation?

Chuck Schumer has proposed renaming the Russell Senate building after McCain. That certainly would be a fitting gesture. But changing the name of a building from a someone who was a segregationist to someone who thought working across the aisle wasn't a necessary evil but a prerequisite for holding the job is only a start. It seems to me that the best way to honor the memory of the man would be to follow in his footsteps.

The sad truth is that the Republican Party that John McCain loved so much looks nothing like it did when he won his first election to the House of Representatives in 1982. We can rehash the decline of the GOP till the cows come home. Those who insist that Donald Trump is to blame simply haven't been paying attention. The fact is the malignancy that has taken over the Party of Lincoln took a long time to metastasize. And it isn't likely to be removed anytime soon. But it can be shrunken in size if enough Republicans have the will.

Unfortunately, the few Republicans who have managed to muster the strength needed to call out Trump and his apologists have decided not to seek reelection. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker can deliver all the high-minded speeches they want. Neither will be in the Senate next year. The real challenge for this party will be to find enough people with the courage to fill the void left by McCain.

And that will be a tall task indeed. Not only has Trump managed to drive his opponents from the party, the ones who are likely to be elected this fall - especially in the House - will be even more beholden to him. McCain's brand of independence - to the extent that he was capable of it - is anathema to party leadership who seem more concerned with protecting their electoral prospects this fall than with defending their oath of office.

Even his closest friend in the Senate - Lindsey Graham - has indicated he would be okay if Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Only a few months ago, Graham was adamant that such a move would be "the beginning of the end of his presidency." If someone who knew and supposedly loved McCain as much as Graham did can fold like a cheap tent at a yard sale, then the prospects of finding others with the testicular fortitude to resist this president will be virtually impossible.

It will likely take losing their majority in one or both houses of Congress to bring about something of a catharsis for Republicans. And even then, it will be a grudging acceptance, much like a child holding his or her breath and counting to a zillion before finally turning blue and exhaling. It's amazing how amenable and practical a person can get when deprived of something so basic as oxygen.

But while the optimist in me does hold out hope in a rebirth of sorts for the GOP, the cynic in me has his doubts. Frankly, as things stand now, I don't think these people have either the inclination or the willingness to take back their party from the extremists that have taken it over.  Maybe if Jeff Flake, Bob Corker and others like them had decided to run for reelection, even if it meant running as independents, rather than flee like rats on a sinking ship, things wouldn't have gotten so out of hand.

One thing is for certain: John McCain stood his ground and put his country before his party. He went toe to toe with Trump and came out better for the wear. If the members of his party are truly interested in honoring his legacy, they can start by taking up his mantle and going after the man who represents the single gravest threat to the Republic McCain himself was willing to give his life to defend.

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