Legendary Arizona senator and 2008 presidential nominee John McCain passed away last week, just more than one year after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma — a highly malignant brain tumor.
As scores of conservatives have already addressed, the Left and the mainstream media are hypocritically lionizing Senator McCain after his death, calling him their favorite Republican, one of the best men in modern politics, and above all a respectable man — all to the contrary of what they said about him in 2008, when he was apparently a racist, a warmonger, and an old loon. But like I said, it’s been covered, so that’s not why I’m here.
Nor am I concerned (for purposes of this article) with the despicable, perverse treatment of McCain from President Trump, including his initial refusal to release a White House statement that praised the senator, and his handling of the White House flag debacle. Many Trump supporters have mocked McCain’s military career (just as President Trump has done), called him a traitor, and vilified him for his failure to adequately support the president. This behavior is gross and immoral, but it too has had its day in the press.
What bothers me is the reaction among conservatives and libertarians who, like myself, often disagreed with Senator McCain politically.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with opposing his policies. John McCain was not a conservative. At the time of his death, his Liberty Score with Conservative Review was a meager 31% — an F rating just six points above Democratic Senator Kamala Harris. McCain was instrumental in opposing the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare, a big spender, and a member of both the bipartisan/moderate Gang of 8 and Gang of 14. Again, McCain was not a conservative, and there is no reason to pretend otherwise.
But inevitably, with the passing of a political figure as indisputably influential as John McCain after decades of public service, what we say now will craft his legacy, and John McCain was far more than his voting record. In fact, to reduce his life to a docket of up and down votes is not only to miss the mark dramatically, but it’s exactly what this country has done with Ted Kennedy.
McCain and Kennedy were, of course, friends in the Senate, and the two died exactly nine years apart of the exact same condition. It’s poetic, then, that the Left should lionize them both, even calling Kennedy the Lion of the Senate. When Kennedy died, politicians across the aisle paid tribute with reverence and distinction. Media outlets remembered with fondness the inimitable political career that spanned almost half a century, culminating with Kennedy’s fervent endorsement of then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008. In short, Kennedy’s legacy became his political service, devotion to liberalism, and rock-solid leadership, and it still is.
There’s only one problem: Ted Kennedy left a woman to suffocate in the air bubble of a drowning car in 1969.
Whenever liberals hold up Ted Kennedy as the paragon of political virtue, conservatives are quick to point out this horrifying scandal, but it usually falls on deaf ears. After fifty years of the GOP failing to sufficiently frame Kennedy’s public image around the Chappaquiddick incident, it’s hardly surprising that the Lion of the Senate endures. Instead of emphasizing the character of the man, his legacy reflects his politics.
To do the same for John McCain would be a disgrace, though for the exact opposite reason. John McCain was an American hero, serving honorably in Vietnam, where he was shot down, captured, and held as a prisoner of war for over five years, two of which were spent in solitary confinement. He was frequently tortured and beaten, but he remained loyal to the United States of America and a patriot to his dying breath. His honor, decency, and courage were incomparable and unyielding. As a man, John McCain was everything that Ted Kennedy could never be.
Thankfully, most conservatives have acknowledged this heroism and have in no way disparaged McCain’s character — they just praise him and move on to a reminder of McCain’s poor voting record. Obviously, this is leagues better than calling McCain a traitor or mocking his capture, but to focus on career above character still misses the mark.
When the Left immortalizes Ted Kennedy for his political prowess, the Right correctly insists that we never forget his repugnant past. Now many on the Right are doing the same thing to John McCain that the Left did with Ted Kennedy, reducing his legacy to his voting record. This is a mistake. It is inappropriate to apply a different standard for McCain than for Kennedy. One left a woman to drown. The other served his country valiantly in the most unimaginably bleak circumstances.
To frame Kennedy around his political service is too good for him. To do the same for McCain doesn’t begin to do him justice. In each case, character matters more.
John McCain was a moderate Republican with whom I often disagreed, but I admire him more than I can express. He was a faithful husband and father, a distinguished hero, and the true model of an American man. That’s how he ought to be remembered.