Of the dead, speak nothing but truth… or, I refuse to whitewash this sepulcher
Lots of people repeat the very bad translation of an ancient proverb, thinking that it is rude or crass to say anything in the slightest bit negative about someone who has died. But that isn’t what the proverb actually meant in the original language. It didn’t say never say bad things about the dead, what it actually said was, “Of the dead, speak nothing but truth.” Don’t tell lies about the dead, but there is nothing wrong with saying truthful things that are less than flattering.
So, I am not here to say false things about John McCain, I am here to speak truth, a truth that absolutely contradicts most of the stuff people are trying to say about him.
First of all, he was not a maverick. He was not a loose cannon who stood up to President Trump. He said some things that condemned some of Trump’s worst lies and distortions and most hateful statements, and then he turned around and in every case except two, voted in favor of the evil, hateful laws that Trump wanted and the corrupt unqualified people Trump nominated.
And this is something that McCain did for his entire political career. At certain strategic moments he would verbally disagree with some of the most extreme statements of his fellow Republicans, but then nine times out of ten he voted in favor of the very policies that people think he opposed.
As an example of this theme, let’s look at the Affordable Care Act, often called “ObamaCare” (though a more accurate name would be RomenyCare, because it was virtually identical to the health care system that Mitt Romney signed into law when he was governor of Massachusetts). Many people like to focus on McCain’s dramatic vote against the attempted repeal after Trump took office. First, this ignores the more than 50 times that McCain voted to repeal the law during the six years prior to Cadet Bonespur occupying the White House. McCain opposed it when it was initially proposed. He voted to repeal it more than 50 times. He bragged about voting to repeal it. He mentioned his opposition to it in numerous re-election campaign ads. He fundraised for both his re-election campaign and multiple Political Action Committees on his pledge to repeal it. For a bit more than six years McCain was opposed to Obamacare.
There are people who try to spin his decision to switch sides and stop the repeal of Obamacare are the result of newfound compassion due to his own health care crisis. First, is statement when he cast the vote doesn’t support that interpretation. He said he was opposed to repealing it without going through proper hearings about the impact of the repeal.
And think about what was going on. His own constituents (and thousands of other people outside Arizona) were calling his office and begging him to spare their lives. Voters were begging for the health care coverage of their loves ones. They were begging. And they had been for some time. Every time the Republicans had brought up repeal before, the devastating cost, including the tens of thousands of people who would die needlessly because of the repeal in the first few years was explained. They had the facts and figures. They knew what it meant.
And John drew it out dramatically until the last moment, swooping in with maximum press attention to save the day.
It was the moral equivalent of holding a gun to head head of someone’s sick grandmother or child saying, “It would be a shame if something happened to them,” then pulling the gun away at the last moment and saying, “All right, I won’t kill you today.”
And he expected to be treated like a hero for doing not pulling the trigger.
The primary way that a senator influences policy is with their vote. And if you look at John McCain’s voting record, it does not paint a picture of a hero. He opposed gay rights at every opportunity. He voted against adding sexual orientation to the list of protected classes for anti-discrimination laws and hate crimes. He voted against the federal government recognizing civil unions or marriage of queer people if states enacted it. He voted against allowing queer people to service opening in the military. None of those votes makes him a maverick among Republicans. And it shows a clear bias against my rights under the law.
Another way a senator can influence the policy is decided which party to caucus with. No matter what party the senator belongs to or was elected under, they can choose to caucus with either party. Doing so changes who makes decisions about what is voted on and when. If John McCain had truly been opposed to Trump’s policies, he could had caucused with the democrats. It would only have taken three Republican senators doing that to stop most of Trump’s agenda in its tracks. That would have been the actions of an independent-minded senator putting loyalty to the country ahead of party.
He didn’t do that. Despite the fact that many constituents were writing and calling his office and begging him to do so.
John McCain served his country for most of his adult life. He served in the Navy as a pilot during the Vietnam War until he was shot down and capture. He spent a long time in a prisoner of war camp and was tortured. I don’t dispute his service or his patriotism displayed at that time. I’m not one of the crackpots who try to claim he was a war criminal or traitor because of some of his actions to being tortured.
While he had been a prisoner of war, his wife had been in a horrific car accident. She was required 26 surgeries over a six month period to recover. Once she was able to leave the hospital, she needed assistance to walk, but she resumed caring for their three children. Six years after returning from Vietnam, McCain started an affair with a much younger (and wealthy) woman. He divorced his wife, moved to Arizona, married the younger woman, and then started campaigning for Congress. It has always amazed me how the party that embraced the Moral Majority and calls itself the Family Values party embraces men who cheat on their wives, leave those wives for the younger women, and insist that the men are honorable and upstanding men.
Yeah, life is complicated and people are imperfect. I’m not saying that he was a monster. But he wasn’t a hero in his political life. He voted for and enabled racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic policies. He enabled a corrupt and probably treasonous administration to push this country a long way toward being a fascist autocracy. And he wasn’t a hero in his personal life. He was a man. Not a great man, merely a man.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like unto whitewashed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”