A GOOD SUMMATION OF THE MAN—— THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY - Keith Hunt
From “The Economist” Sept. 1st - 2018
LEGACY OF JOHN MCCAIN
Means of resistance
John McCain, navy pilot, senator and presidential candidate, died on August 25th, aged 81
EVERY inch of John McCain's body shouted endurance. The brisk, slightly swinging walk, the stiffly held arms, the tight shoulders and clenched smile, all carried the mark of Vietnam like one scar. His arms were stiff because they had been broken when he fell out of the sky in his bomber, then yanked up by ropes in prison day after day. Released from the "Hanoi Hilton", after five and a half years of sporadic torture and solitary confinement, he could no longer reach up to comb his hair. His hair itself had turned white, though he was only in his 30s. He walked with something like a strut because his damaged knees had hardly any cartilage left. Not that this stopped him hiking for miles through the Grand Canyon and the desert hills of Arizona, the stunningly beautiful piece of America that he represented in Congress for more than 30 years. The swell of his chest was pride in what he felt he had achieved there.
At times, though, his shoulders hunched and he would clasp his arms round his chest, as if against a jailer's blows. It happened when he found himself embroiled, and caught out, in something distasteful: doing too much for lobbyists from the gambling industry (he loved to toss $100 chips round a craps table, lucky feather and penny stowed in his pocket); accepting favours and funds from Charles Keating of the savings-and-loan scandal; trading low blows with rivals in his runs for the Republican nomination in 2000 and for the presidency in 2008—and then failing at both. Withstanding prison beatings was hard, but for a greater cause. The unaccustomed pain of political failure had no obvious upside, therefore hurt more.
He did not want Vietnam to define his career, but inevitably it did. (Neither did he want to be called a hero, but inevitably he was.) Vietnam brought the best moment of his life, when he refused early release from prison and gained, for the first time in his self-indulgent life up till then, a serious sense of a shared purpose larger than himself. And Vietnam brought the worst moment, when he signed a forced confession admitting that he was a "black criminal". He never quite got over the disgrace of that.
Also looming over him were the straight-backed shadows of his grandfather and father, both admirals, both steeped in duty, honour, country. When he felt proud of himself, it was also on their behalf. When he was ashamed it was because he had also let them down. By 1981, when he knew he would never make full admiral and had wrecked his first marriage with affairs, old political ambitions resurfaced: another sort of national service into which he could plunge himself.
Discipline was the hard part. He had always struggled with it, whether at Annapolis, where his cheeky behaviour led to graduation fifth from the bottom of his class, or in flight training, where he drank, chased tail and had a good time generally. But his worst failing was his temper, his sheer rapid-fire, finger-jabbing rage against the jerks who frustrated him. He excused it as impatience, especially at the crawling way Congress worked and the failure of parties to work across the aisle. (Democrats made great partners: he teamed up with Russ Feingold for his greatest legislative achievement, campaign-finance reform, with Joe Lieberman on cap-and-trade bills, with Ted Kennedy on immigration reform.) Or he called his temper passion, especially for curbing pork-barrel spending-and if that passion ever ebbed, he was ready for the old soldiers' home.
Truth and principles. Those were his watchwords, though political life made them tricky. On his national campaign bus, the Straight Talk Express, he chatted candidly to the press, but in the vain hope that they would lay off him. In Congress he took dogged stands against Big Tobacco, global warming and over-regulation, but swerved on health-care reform and balanced budgets, as well as immigration in the end. This, and his openness to Democrats, earned him a maverick reputation. He preferred to thinkhe was an honest free agent, still conservative most of the time, but not in thrall to the hard-right Republican base. That principle was dented whenever he ran for higher office-most famously when, in 2008, he made a naked appeal to the base by picking the ludicrously unqualified Sarah Palin as his running-mate.
The need for war
His greatest consistency lay in urging wars abroad, wherever winnable, and for him both Afghanistan and Iraq fell under that head. America had a duty to spread freedom and democracy, by force of arms if necessary. He longed to go into Syria to support the rebels, to send heavy weapons to Ukraine and to "bomb, bomb, bomb" Iran, as he sang once. When it came to wars, he suspended his usual backing for tax cuts and balanced budgets. Even Vietnam, he thought, should have been winnable, if those idiot civilian commanders had bombed enough.
That said, the gung-ho approach of Donald Trump left him cold. They might share a party, but he had nothing to do with him and the half-baked nationalism he promoted. The brain-cancer diagnosis in July 2017 freed his tongue, and tested his mettle, in all the ways he relished. The talk was never straighter, the stance never more upright, than when he called on his fellow-Republicans not just to endure, but to resist. ■
SPEAKING FROM A SECULAR VIEWPOINT: I VERY MUCH DISAGREED WITH THE USA AND BRITAIN GOING TO WAR IN AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ. I SAID AT THE TIME IT WAS A HUGE ERROR; MUCH HEART-ACHE AND SORROW WOULD COME UPON THE WESTERN COALITION, AND THEY REALLY COULD NOT WIN WARS WITH PEOPLE WHO AMBUSH AND RUN. 17 YEARS YEARS LATER WE ARE STILL THERE IN TWO BARREN, DRY, AND DESERT NATIONS….TRYING TO WIN.
I AGREED WITH MCCAIN THAT THE USA AND BRITAIN SHOULD HAVE GONE INTO SYRIA….BUT WE HAD NO WINSTON CHURCHILL.
I AGREED WITH HIM CONCERNING DONALD TRUMP—— HE IS A BAFOON, NASTY, VAIN, AND AN ANGRY MAN WITH NO POLITICAL BACKGROUND. HE HAS MADE A SHAM OF THE OFFICE OF PRESIDENT OF THE USA. NOT TO SAY HE IS ALWAYS INCORRECT, I AGREE WITH TRUMP THAT SPORTSPERSONS TAKING A KNEE WHEN THE NATIONAL ANTHEM IS SUNG OR PLAYED, SHOULD BE THROWN OUT OF PRO SPORTS AND MOVE TO ANOTHER COUNTRY.