By Peter Certo
In the last days of his life, an old video of John McCain surfaced on the internet.
It’s 2008. He’s running for president and fielding questions from voters in Minnesota. A middle-aged woman takes the microphone.
“I can’t trust Obama,” she complains of McCain’s Democratic opponent. “He’s an Arab.”
The Arizona Republican shakes his head. Obama is “a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with,” McCain retorts. And adds: “He’s not [an Arab].”
Standing up for a rival was classic McCain, many believed, and his handling of the incident got praise at the time. No wonder it’s circulating again now, after a later presidential candidate made that woman’s slanderous race-baiting look tame.
Still, too few people asked: Do real Arabs not make “decent family men” or citizens? Can one not have principled “disagreements” with them?
More concretely: McCain was then campaigning on a pledge to expand the Iraq war, which he’d championed from the beginning. That war had killed perhaps a million Arabs. It would lead later to a devastating occupation by ISIS, and yet more U.S. military intervention.
Throwing an entire ethnic group under the bus may not have been McCain’s intent, though he’d had his brushes with bigotry before. For years he referred to East Asians by a Vietnam-era slur, opposed making MLK Day a holiday, and reportedly had a habit of calling women, even his wife, the c-word.
But it’s not really about McCain or what’s in his heart. It’s more about how the D.C.-based media reported him, and how admiring Americans interpreted his behavior.
Sporadically, the late Republican senator did take some principled stands. As a POW who suffered torture himself, he took on multiple Republican presidents to keep the U.S. from resuming it (though he steadfastly supported the wars in which that torture took place). And last year he cast a surprise, decisive vote against the GOP’s effort to kill Obamacare (though he’d voted against Obamacare earlier).
Mostly, though, McCain was a reliable vote for his party’s worst ideas, and contributed many of his own (like putting Sarah Palin a heartbeat from the presidency). And despite his well-known feud with President Trump, he voted in support of the president’s agenda 83 percent of the time.
McCain supported the $2 trillion corporate tax giveaway that could tear our safety net to shreds. His unrelenting passion for military conflict was a thing of caricature (“bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” he famously sang). And his support for empire-crumbling military budgets was so renowned that his colleagues named this year’s $717 billion atrocity after him.
Trump never thanked McCain when he signed it, but sign it he did. Some feud!
The point isn’t that McCain’s odes to honor or civility were somehow dishonest. To him, I’m sure they were genuine.
But in emphasizing McCain’s personal style over his actual politics, his eulogizers imply there’s some “honorable” way to implement an agenda like Trump’s (or 83 percent of it, anyway), as long as you don’t talk like Trump himself.
Personally, I disagree. Whether they realize it or not, I think the “straight talk” people praise McCain for is actually what most of them can’t stand about politicians: They say noble words but cast ignoble votes.
I don’t mean to suggest that Trump’s personal style is a welcome change from McCain’s. It’s not. But politics can’t just be a theater for elites, where standing up for one rival outweighs supporting a war that killed a million people.
Actions matter more than words, and that’s the straightest talk I can think of.
Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and editor of OtherWords.org.
Wow, McCain, just another human who has passed. Surprise, surprise.
Oh jeeze says
Don’t have too much of an issue with this article as a whole. The writer however, (probably intentionally) fails to acknowledge the fact that the woman who referred to Obama as an Arab, meant it as if to say he was a terrible person. McCain’s response was a good one, and the questions that the writer adds after describing the back and forth, tries to take away from it. Yes, obviously an Arab CAN be a family man AND a decent person, many of them are. The woman clearly meant it as the opposite and everyone including the senator, could see that.
I hate politics. Politics.is whatever the media wants to make it out to be.
Michael Cocchiola says
We should remember Senator McCain for his bravery and his service to this country. On the downside, he was a Republican who often voted against the best interests of working Americans in order to hold his seat in the Senate. He also cheated on his wife and left her with three small children. I can appreciate his service, but I cannot honor a man like this.
Its in poor taste an low class to denigrate the Dead especially MCain
McCain was a hero. The news showed the Clintons present at the funeral which is enough to make me sick. I remember back then while McCain was in prison and being tortured for five plus years in Nam Bill Clinton deserted the US and fled to Canada. There he burnt his draft card and partied till it was safe to come back. The coward should have stayed under the rock he crawled out from under. That entire family is evil and belong in prison.
Mark, that is about the dumbest post I’ve ever read…so the life lived by the individual has no meaning on the man? Trump’s draft dodging bone spurs are an equivalent to McCains’s patriotism? Get real!
You dummys says
Baited Sheep……the first laboring 80 words of this op-ed will save you from reading the rest ….title should read “Arabs Can Be Decent Family Men” nothing else said……..guess McCains death is self serving for many including the left.
Concerned Citizen says
Just curious as to why this was written AFTER his death? Did the author not have the fortitude to write it while he was alive?
Obviously not. Easier to criticize someone after they are dead.
McCain was the first to admit that he was not a perfect man and that he made many mistakes. But he tried his best to serve his country and he was a lot more honest than a lot of “progressives” I might name.
Trump also “dodged” the draft and so did George W. Bush. I think you’re missing the bigger point—if you have money, means, and ability, you can get out of anything. It’s not just the Clintons—it’s people on both sides of the aisle. Wake up and see reality for a change and not just what you want to see.
No, you have a brain to decide what is truth and fact.
agree with mark 101,politics sucks.We havent had a decent person run for office for the past 30-40 years, every election I vote for least of 2 evils I.E. trump vs clinton … mclain(who I never liked , however I dont pick on the dead) vs obama, bush vs kerry and gore,anyone against slick willie. what a bunch of crappy choices.
Next, you can indict yourself for being one of many minnows in the commentariat nibbling on the legacy of a better man.
This, was THE most important comment to share on Labor Day – while Red-baiting hyenas like trump, scott, and desantis goose step on its grave?
Although I am proud Democrat, I had great respect for Senator McCain, even though he had some lapses in judgement, like choosing Sarah psycho Palin as VP.
I was very moved by McCain’s daughter eulogy about her father. What made me sick and disgusted was seeing Ivanka trump and jared Kushner at the funeral service.
The previous comment talks about Bill Clinton being a coward? typical republican hypocrisy, what about mr bone spur deferment, donald trump? talk about a coward, give me a break. The family that belongs in jail are the trumps and all their russian colluders.
to bad McCain wasnt perfect like most of the media thinks they are
McCain rightfully should be honored for his service in the military in one of the most controversial wars of all time and service to his country as a politician. What irks me are the hypocritical Dems who so quickly call out Trump for his improprieties but TOTALLY overlook those of democrats such as the Clinton’s who are among the worst offenders along with many other dems who have done much worse but get a “free pass”. And they are so blatant about it too! SMH
At least civility and honor are being discussed now. It’s a foreign concept in Washington and especially in the White House.
Michael Cocchiola says
O.k., Richard…show me the specifics on Democrats. Just what are you referring to?
@ marlee yep a brain comes into play, but so many people let the media dictate their position on issues without even reviewing the fact. That’s why I use the AP and PBS news for my info.
Pierre Tristam says
So why do you practically live on this site?
Randy Jones says
Some people say Obama became President because John McCain made one inexcusable error.
@ Michael – Well I would guess that Makeitso1701 appears to be one of those hypocritical democrats. And the reason I posted in the first place.
I’m not trying to dishonor or disrespect Mr. McCain, but the whole funeral reeked of political vendetta against Trump, by a long list of Globalists who hate Trump for his anti Globalist policies. The Globalists have stated it before and proved it once again, that they will use any Crisis or event to forward their agenda to create a Global “One World Government” under the United Nations.
@anonymous…Of course and we know that the United Nations is comprised of space aliens from the planet Zita. You have overdosed on Alex Jones my friend.
McCain was an embarrassment to this country. He couldn’t get along with no one and accomplished little to nothing with his bullying and big mouth. A funeral is no place for politics!