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Will Senator John McCain’s Final Acts Be Those Of Leadership For The Ages?

July 27, 2017

UPDATEWhen push came to shove and it came time for 16 million Americans to lose their health care, Senator McCain took a stand to protect them and voted no against repeal. I know McCain has done things we have disagreed with in the past. But in this act of courage in protecting Americans. I think we can all agree on just saying this simple thing. “Thank you for your service Senator McCain. You helped to protect those who can’t protect themselves with this vote.”

There is a great deal of goodwill that goes from this nation to the needs of Senator John McCain as he fights the most aggressive and unforgiving brain cancer that one can have.  The end is not in doubt, the only thing that is not known is how the last acts of a long-time politician will play out.  With the health care votes that will impact tens of millions of Americans being worked on in the Senate, and the fact that McCain has the best medical care that can be obtained in the land, and who will have a vote on everyone else of less means, translates into a test of moral and political leadership.

With that in mind comes this excellent read from The New Yorker.

Walking home from that appointment, I checked my phone and saw on Twitter that Senator John McCain was returning to Washington from Arizona, where he has been recovering from surgery. McCain made the journey to participate in the Senate vote on whether to proceed with debate on legislation that, if passed by the Republican majority and signed into law, would repeal the Affordable Care Act and leave twenty-three million Americans—or sixteen million, or thirty-two million, depending upon who’s doing the forecasting—with no insurance, no safety net, and the prospect of pure terror. McCain’s surgery revealed a glioblastoma, an aggressively malignant brain tumor. On three previous occasions, he has had non-life-threatening malignant melanomas surgically removed. Senator McCain has lived a life as extraordinary as any American, a well-known tale of survival, heroism, and accomplishment—and, at times, of dubious decisions inconsistent with acts of valor. (Vice-President who?) Foremost, his has been a life of public service. Whatever the course of his illness—even with treatment, the average survival for glioblastoma is fourteen months—I’m confident he has medical-care providers at least as superb as my own. Though he is a very wealthy man, as a member of Congress his bills have been paid by taxpayers.

Contrary to logic and morality, the gaslighting of America by President Trump, his coterie of handlers and enablers, and the cynical leadership of the Republican Party is, in many respects, succeeding. Each new day brings fresh reporting about the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election, as well as the determination by Trump to derail that investigation. Simultaneously, the work of tenacious and courageous journalists digging rigorously for facts is daily slandered as “fake news.”

The accumulation of endless, self-serving but also often self-subverting, easily refuted mendacity by the erstwhile leader of the free world—the gaslighting—has caused me to question my own sanity. Can this really be happening—to this country, in this century, this repudiation of our cherished beliefs in what “America” stands for and is capable (and incapable) of? Do we actually have a President who, as members of his own party plot legislation that could deprive twenty-three million citizens of health-care coverage, has immersed himself in the legislative process approximately as much as any other citizen who follows the story on Fox News, or who phones the office occasionally while waiting for the foursome in front to putt out on the sixteenth green of a beautiful you-will-not-believe-how-beautiful-really-really-wonderful-for-the-American-people golf course?

One wonders how and why voting against McConnell’s process and proposal is a difficult call for McCain. It should be the simplest of choices, a capstone to the life of a good but at times contradictory man who, presented with an ultimate dilemma, simply draws upon his enormous reserves of courage.

When the news broke of McCain’s return to Washington, one week after brain surgery, James Fallows wrote in The Atlantic about another senator who, in eerily parallel circumstances, cast a fateful vote that contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Fallows was asking, in effect, “Might Senator McCain’s devastating medical prognosis become doubly tragic?” Then he gently offered advice on how to avert such a legacy.

In June, 1964, Senator Clair Engle, a Democrat from California, occupying a seat that previously had been held by Republicans for more than sixty years, died in office—of a brain tumor. Only weeks earlier, he had appeared in the Senate, partially paralyzed, too ill to stand or speak, and waved his hand—indicating a vote in favor of a cloture motion that ended a filibuster by Southern senators, led by Strom Thurmond, who were irresolutely determined that there would be no Civil Rights Act, now or ever.

Fallows wrote, “Clair Engle, although he could not stand, wanted to take a stand, and did. And if he is remembered, this will be the reason why. . . . [His] most bravely memorable moment as a legislator was his last, when he voted: Yes.”

Fallows acknowledged McCain’s foibles and inconsistencies, most notoriously his choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate, in 2008, thereby “steering American politics down the path that led to Donald Trump.” In an ironic echo of Trump’s disgraceful appeals to African-American voters during the election, Fallows wrote, “What does John McCain have to lose, by doing what he knows is the right thing?” And then, a more severe warning, if McCain votes for a final repeal bill, “he will deserve all the opprobrium that follows.”

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