So… John McCain. Were there things to like about him? Sure. Did he have some good moments? Undoubtedly. There’s the one everyone’s sharing, where he told an old woman to her face that Barack Obama was a decent person and not a foreign-born Muslim spy/interloper/Manchurian candidate. Which, if you think about it, should not have been a high bar to clear. But given the turn toward wackadoodlism the GOP had taken and continues to take, I suppose that counts as political courage. Even if his thrusting of the unvetted, wholly unqualified half-term governor of Alaska into the national spotlight took that emergent wackadoodlism the rest of the way to cloudcuckooland, leading, among other things, to the cyberwar being waged on us by the Russians (remember Jade Helm? How Texans convinced themselves it was actually the US military invading them, to put them in concentration camps built from old Wal-Marts? And Greg Abbott sent the Texas state guard to ‘monitor’ the situation? That’s when the Russians knew they could cause us serious damage without firing a shot, just by feeding the credulous disinformation that fit their confirmation bias).
Of course, he never did meet a war he didn’t like (‘Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran’). Or a tax cut he wouldn’t vote for. Truth be told, he was as reliable a conservative as anyone.
And, let’s not forget that, when the chips were down and the soul of America was on the line in the torture debate, the man who knew how not only evil but ineffective it was folded in the face of political headwinds. The man with the most moral authority on the subject – a man who might have saved us going down that slippery slope – opted to sponsor a toothless bill that exempted the CIA (hello, Gina Haspel, current director) from sticking to the Army Field Guide’s non-torturous techniques for interrogation. Which made the whole thing a distraction at best.
That he remained as popular as he did – and does, even among those who disagree with him – and that he still garners the respect that he does is a testament to John McCain’s real legacy, his greatest accomplishment by far, in which he was, I think, unparalleled: the man knew how to build, and maintain, a brand.
I mean, seriously. He was a torture survivor who signed off on officially-sanctioned torture, who voted with hardline conservatives ninety percent of the time, a man who lent his credibility to Sarah Palin and cleared the ground for the rise of Tea Party conservatism and the worst instincts of the American right. But we still call him a straight-talking maverick who always stuck by his principles and his sense of right and wrong.
Say what you will about the man. But that’s one hell of an accomplishment. Too bad it didn’t do anyone but him any good.