I consider myself a socialist. As such, there have been many times in John McCain’s career as a senator that he has infuriated me. His hawkish views on the middle east, generally supporting the shrinking of social safety nets, and, of course, the hideous choice of Sarah Palin in the 2008 campaign. In that campaign, I think even he thought he let himself down. The racism and xenophobia that is in such full bloom today was already beginning, and I think it caught him off guard.
Now that the man is dead, however, liberals are ready to dance on his grave, even though by any reckoning, we are dealing with far more corrupt, demagogic partisans on the right than John McCain ever was. It may be hard to remember that he and Ted Kennedy were good friends, and they often worked together when they could find common ground. It’s impossible to imagine such cooperation in the Senate today.
On Twitter, the left was ready to pounce on his defense of Barack Obama as a “good man, a family man” during the 2008 campaign when a woman called him an Arab. This must be, they reasoned, a racist thing to say — implying that Arabs could be neither. And so, an off-the-cuff moment of defense, an indication of higher principle — I won’t wallow in that mud hole — is distorted into something else. God help me if my every utterance were so scrutinized. Clumsy wording? Yes. Was he trying to insinuate something sinister? I just don’t think so. But in the tribal left, that is not allowed.
No conversation allowed. Everything is black and white — John McCain was all bad and therefore can contain no good. I would expect as much from FOX News. And this is the problem. We’re all people, muddling along. We make mistakes. Are we allowed to? Are we allowed to change? To grow? To talk to one another?
Like I said, I’m a socialist, and many of the policies that McCain advocated are, in my mind, egregious. But there were times when he stood up, against his party, for what is right, like campaign finance reform. He would not sink to mudslinging against his opponent in 2008, even though Sarah Palin showed no such disinclination. Mistakes, yes. But also attempts at nobility that are hard to find today.
Right and left, we have become so hardened, so tribal. Policy doesn’t even matter any more — it’s a war of personalities. “No Berners!” cry some on the left, as though supporting Bernie means, what? Hating Hillary? Can’t we appreciate both? Criticize both? The right-wing has so firmly attached its lips to Trump’s ring that “crossing the aisle” is impossible. The left is becoming just as hopeless, but more fractured into camps. Ah, the Democrats. Always their own worst enemy.
It is a sad day when we cannot recognize the good in an imperfect man, who nevertheless served to the best of his ability and was, in any sense of the word, a hero of war. It is a sad day when such a man, rather than be remembered, is flagellated and reviled in the name of tribalism by people who wonder where our civility has gone. We have seen the enemy, and he is us.