The Morning Jolt


McCain’s Funeral Guest List Doesn’t Define Him

Making the click-through worthwhile: A lot of thoughts about the legacy of Arizona senator John McCain, a jaw-dropping scandal rocks New York’s political world, and a reminder that sometimes kids with famous parents can pleasantly surprise us.

Contemplating John McCain’s Legacy

Charlie Kirk, responding to a report that Senator John McCain, battling brain cancer, does not want President Trump to attend his funeral: “He wants Obama there. That tells you everything you need to know about McCain.”

Really? You think everything you need to know about a man’s 81 years on this earth can be nullified or reaffirmed by your approval of his guest list at his funeral? Twenty-three years of military service, 23 bombing missions, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a Distinguished Flying Cross, five and a half years as a prisoner of war, solitary confinement for two years, two to three beatings a week, repatriation refused, two terms in the U.S. House, six terms in the Senate, nearly 800 pieces of legislation introduced, thousands of votes, six books, hundreds of speeches, two presidential campaigns, two spouses, seven children . . . and you think “everything you need to know about McCain” is whether he shares your view of the president?

Having said that, there is an aspect of the current McCain coverage that is sticking in my craw. At some point, John McCain will pass away into the arms of his Creator, and he will receive a lot of well-earned praise and fond farewells, particularly from political figures and those who covered him for the past three decades or so.

I wouldn’t mind if those political figures and those who covered McCain took a moment to evaluate if they were fair to the man, particularly in the year 2008. Because maybe no national figure in the modern era flipped so quickly from the hero to the villain column in his media coverage and back, depending upon whether the majority of the mainstream media agreed with his stances or not.

Back in the late 1990s, the national media loved him for McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform, which would have made it more difficult for ordinary citizens to use their money to support their preferred candidates and made the exempted media coverage even more influential. In the 2000 Republican presidential primary, most of the media quickly decided they preferred him to George W. Bush. In 2000, The New Republic endorsed McCain in the Republican primaries, declaring, “for the first time in recent memory, a serious Republican presidential candidate is seeking to remake his party into something other than the political arm of the privileged few.”

After 9/11, McCain emerged as a strong supporter of the War on Terror and war in Iraq, and in most of the media’s eyes, McCain became just another terrible crazed Republican warmonger again. Michael Moore made the “loser” sign at McCain during his speech at the 2004 Republican convention. By 2006, Ezra Klein was criticizing McCain’s status as “every liberal’s favorite conservative,” spotlighting his “wingnut bonafides.” The coverage of McCain in the Bush years was predictable; when McCain touted comprehensive immigration reform, he was a hero; when he supported the surge, he was “embracing an unpopular strategy that will make an already unpopular war longer and bloodier.” (As we all know, the surge worked, and violence and casualties in Iraq dropped.)

By 2008, the same New Republic magazine that had once endorsed him suddenly remembered the Keating Five scandal from 1989 and suggested he should have been expelled from the Senate for it. Suddenly there was a surge of profiles focusing on “the dark side of John McCain.” The media suddenly began to focus on his family’s wealth, which hadn’t been much of an issue before. The value of military service as preparation for the presidency, such a strong argument in 2000, suddenly disappeared once the race became John McCain vs. Barack Obama.

In a campaign ad, the Obama campaign mocked McCain’s age and inability to use a computer. (Eventually, even Joe Biden called the ad “terrible.”) Yet media coverage lamented that John McCain had somehow “sold his soul” to win the Republican nomination.

McCain remained mostly in villain status through Obama’s presidency, although sometimes he could still get good coverage when contrasted with another, usually more conservative Republican. But Michael Tomasky summarized the national media’s view well: “He used to be a great senator. But all that was very, very long ago. Since 2008, when he caved in to the advisers who pushed Sarah Palin on him as his vice-presidential pick, he’s been a different guy.”

And then in 2017, McCain opposed the GOP legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, and then he was touted as a heroic “maverick” again. Jimmy Kimmel called him a “hero.”

I’d like to believe that my view of John McCain hasn’t really changed from his national prominence in the 1990s – great American and patriot, often but not always a solid conservative, and intermittently unbearably insufferable when he got up on his high horse. He’s one of those men who is a joy to have as an ally and an absolute pain in the rear when you disagree. He was indeed a maverick, and that was one of the factors that made him such a challenging nominee for president; it’s hard to unify the party when you’ve spent a significant amount of time telling other members of your party that they’re wrong. But there’s little doubt that when McCain took a position, he did it because he was convinced it was the right thing to do. In fact, it was his absolute certainty that his chosen path was the righteous one that made McCain so infuriating, as he could rarely resist implying that those who disagreed with him had chosen a dishonorable or unprincipled path.

He will be missed because he was, despite his flaws, a good man — and we would be better served if our national political media would expand its definition a good man beyond the habit of defying conservative orthodoxy.

New York Politician Finds Way to Surpass Spitzer, Weiner in Repugnance

Wow, New York state voters, you have a real way of picking them.

Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York State attorney general who rose to prominence as an antagonist of the Trump administration, abruptly resigned on Monday night hours after The New Yorker reported that four women had accused him of physically assaulting them.

After this anecdote, I’m starting to think of partisanship as a mental disorder.

After the former girlfriend ended the relationship, she told several friends about the abuse. A number of them advised her to keep the story to herself, arguing that Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose. She described this response as heartbreaking. And when Schneiderman heard that she had turned against him, she said, he warned her that politics was a tough and personal business, and that she’d better be careful. She told Selvaratnam that she had taken this as a threat.

Too valuable to lose? What, are ambitious Democrats with law degrees rare in New York?

Who the hell looks at physical abuse and thinks, “Yeah, it’s bad, but not bad enough to merit removal from office?” Apparently this is not merely one nut-job partisan friend of a victim, but “several”!

Dan McLaughlin considers Schneiderman’s rapid resignation:

I don’t argue that every sin is an unforgivable one, or that every allegation should be believed and acted upon at the first whiff of trouble, before waiting to see if it’s actually substantiated. But Republicans should beware that Democrats have at least learned how to sacrifice expendable officeholders to create the perception that they have turned over a new leaf on sexual abuse and corruption. Some voters, of course, don’t care. But if the GOP doesn’t learn from that, it will pay the price from those who do, and in close elections, that can make a big difference.

Perhaps this is a reversal from 1998, which left a lot of lawmakers believing they could weather the storm and that voters would eventually forgive or forget any major scandal.

ADDENDA: I completely concur with my colleague McLaughlin, spotlighting and saluting three adult children of famous figures who faced (perhaps justified) cries of nepotism when they began various professional efforts . . . but who year by year, through a willingness to learn and dedication and effort, demonstrated that they were actually pretty darn good at their jobs: Ronan Farrow, Luke Russert, and Meghan McCain.


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