Accurately, the Washington Post summed up the climax of the extravaganza that the ruling class staged on the occasion of Senator John McCain’s death: “the generals, senators, former presidents and other world leaders who filled the pews burst into applause.” Daughter Meghan, sleek, privileged, plus-sized alumna of ABC’s celebrity talk show “The View,” had just delivered the exordium: “We mourn the passing of American greatness. The real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who lived lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.”
For an audience headlined by Barack Obama and George W. Bush, for the countless who had felt the sting of the American people’s rejection in the previous decade’s elections, this was no subtle dog-whistle. They rose to a trumpet sounding “Charge!” against the class enemy, and Donald Trump only incidentally. Essentially, the enemy is whoever might think our rulers are anything other than the very definition of greatness and goodness.
In short, the McCain funeral had nothing to do with the deceased. If it had, the organizers would not have made a point of excluding Sarah Palin, who had given the inept McCain his only chance of winning the presidency in 2008, and had remained personally loyal to him despite political differences. But the whole point of the exercise was to stand together, throwing dirt on those such as Palin, extra ecclesia, nulla salus. Those who respectability must stand with us against them. By the same token, the weeklong commentary praised McCain chiefly by imputing all manner of evil to Donald Trump and inferring that McCain represented the opposite.
This had the added convenience of sidestepping John McCain’s seamy reality.
The real John McCain returned from captivity in 1973 to find that the wife of his youth, who had waited for him, raising his children, had been crippled in an auto accident. He was unfaithful to her, and divorced her for a woman 18 years his junior whose wealthy father was primed to fund his political ambitions.
Nor was this his first infidelity. On June 2, 1969, Hanoi radio had broadcast a message by prisoner McCain in which he confessed “crimes against the Vietnamese country and people,” and praised his captors: “I came here as an aggressor and the people who I injured have much difficulty in their living standards. I wish to express my deep gratitude for my kind treatment and I will never forget this kindness extended to me.” He and friends excused this by claiming that torture had “broken” him and that everybody has a breaking point. That may be. But many POWs were tortured without making such statements.
At any rate, McCain was never well regarded in the POW/MIA community. In the 2000 South Carolina primary, George W. Bush’s campaign manager, Karl Rove, used the military community’s diffidence toward McCain, to destroy his candidacy. Yet by 2018, he had become Bush’s standard for American greatness.
Before that, John McCain had never been anybody’s paragon. In 1989, when one-third of America’s savings-and-loan banks failed, sticking taxpayers with $160 billion in costs, it turned out that five senators had intervened to shield Charles Keating’s Lincoln Savings and Loan from federal investigation—John McCain among them. Keating not only had contributed $112,000 directly to McCain’s political campaigns. He had also invested heavily in one of his father-in-law’s shopping center projects. Nor would this be the last time that he mixed his official and private interests, maintaining a profitable portfolio of investments in Qatar—of all nations, the most profligate purchaser of influence in American politics.
The media celebrated McCain as a “maverick.” No surprise that this alleged “maverickness” went in one direction only—to the left. Casting the deciding vote that defeated the repeal of Obamacare (which he had promised to repeal), he exulted: “Now let’s see if [Trump] can make America great again!” Nor is it clear whether he did such things because of changing convictions, because of influences from family and friends, or from personal pique. Nor does it matter, because the John McCain who filled the pre-Labor Day newshole is an ephemeral creature whose use-date is now past. No one in doubt about the right thing to do has ever asked or will ever ask: “What would John McCain have done in these circumstances?” In the future, we are more likely to see treatises on the statesmanship of Donald Trump than on the statesmanship of John McCain.
Before last week’s headlines dissipate, it behooves us to remember who generated them: the very people whom the Washington Post reported cheering at a funeral as if at a political rally, and why they used a man’s death from brain cancer as yet another gob of mud to throw at their enemies. Because that is what they do with and about everything. They throw the kitchen sink. No better or worse than run-of-the-mill politicians, John McCain the human being deserved better than that.
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