Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I wrote this post three times and deleted all three drafts.

Each one was radically different than the others, despite trying to say the same thing each time. Each time I looked at it and said to myself "wow, this is straying really far from my original point."

Because my point, the only point I want to make, is that I used to believe in John McCain and now I don't. Up until this point I've ignored or excused his erratic behavior, but I've hit my limit of what I can tolerate. He's not a good man, he's not a good public servant, and he's not the person I thought he was.

The breaking point was, of course, McCain's continued filibuster of the move to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Because when you see on a hiring line that the government enforces a policy of non-discrimination regardless of race, gender, ethnic origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, physical disability, or age, they're holding that standard to everybody but themselves. You can't serve in the military and be openly gay. I had really hoped McCain was above this. It turns out he is far below.

Looking back on it, I've probably been fooled by the man's persona for a long time. Like many, I believed he took a strong stance against the things he believed to be morally wrong without caring about the consequences to his career. After all, he sponsored McCain-Feingold, which went against the conservative grain and tried to reform campaign finance. He's come out time and again stating that he believes in climate change and our need to combat it. He voted against the Bush tax cuts which squandered the Clinton-era surplus long before the war ever started. I really thought we had a guy here we could count on. I thought, given the chance, this guy would honestly change things.

If I had been paying better attention, I probably would have realized that he was more than a little duplicitous when he stuck so strongly by President Bush's side despite the fact that during the 2000 primaries, Bush was totally a dick.

I mean, seriously.

I might have thought more about it when Bush decided in 2006 that while signing McCain's bill on torture, he'd decide personally what did and didn't constitute torture and McCain didn't raise a word of protest. It might have stuck out a little more when he voted against a bill which would ban same-sex marriages in 2005, and then had on his website in 2008 that he believed marriage was only between a man and a woman and would appoint judges who felt the same if elected. If I hadn't been so taken with the idea that this guy was a reformer, a real, honest-to-God bi-partisan centrist who was concerned with doing what's right instead of what's easy or good for his career, I might have found it more than a little strange when he marched down the streets in Iraq and proclaimed them "safe," neglecting to mention that he was with an escort of over 100 U.S. soldiers at the time.

But it's hard. This man was my hero.

I don't have a lot of male role models in my life. Up until I was 16, if I needed guidance on what kind of man I wanted to grow up to be, I had to look either to my Uncle or Spider-Man. In 1999, the only thing I knew about politics was that Clinton was leaving office after giving America a lot of money and new definitions for "sex" and "is." Then John McCain shows up and wants to be President, and it seems to me for all the right reasons. Bush to me had the charisma of a goal post, which made him roughly twice as charismatic as Al Gore. I didn't care about them - I wanted this guy. He was passionate, driven; he really wanted to speak to my generation and make sure America, and its government, kept working for us.

In 2004, John McCain said this during an interview with MTV regarding Don't Ask, Don't Tell:

"There's many of us who are not comfortable with this issue, and I'm one of them. Primarily because I hate to see legislation and government involved in people's lives. ... But society is changing. We now have a don't-ask-don't-tell policy in the military. When I first came into the military, that would never have been possible. Society is evolving. Whether it's evolving for better or for worse, I'll let someone else make that judgment."

This gave me hope. Because when you're a public official, you don't have to like a policy - in fact, I'd say it's not part of your job to agree with everything sent your way. You just have to assess if it is what the people want. Vocal opponents of Don't Ask, Don't Tell would probably jump on McCain for not condemning the policy outright with this statement, but you know what? He shouldn't have to. What he's saying here is regardless of how he feels, society is changing and, whether he thinks it's right or wrong, it's his job to serve the American people, and the majority of Americans are against the policy.

So even as an old man, presumably set in his ways, he was not going to use his position to exert his wishes over those of the American people.

And now he filibusters the vote to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He filibusters not because he's trying to support the troops, since there are obviously tens of thousands of armed servicemen and women he's distinctly not supporting. Not because he thinks it's the will of the American people, they've clearly spoken out in favor of repeal. He's doing it because his Senate seat is up for grabs and he wants to make sure he earns the Republican nomination, so he's sticking up hard for the party line.

In 2008, when John McCain had a chance at becoming the President, I stood behind him. I believed in him, and whenever anyone pointed out his dramatic shift in tone, I brushed it off. "He's just pandering to the conservative base so that he'll get elected," I would tell them. "Once he gets into office he'll go back to his old self." Even though he lost, largely, in my mind, due to his choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate, his concession speech seemed to confirm everything I thought. Obama won, he lost, now it was his job to help the President any way he could, because that was the will of the people.

I was wrong.

The reason I deleted my other drafts is that I spent so much time trying to dig up all the good McCain had done that I meandered completely away from the point. I did this because I wanted to balance what I was saying with examples of how he was a great guy before. But his filibuster finally makes me wonder if that was ever really the case.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell violates the first and fifth amendments of our Constitution. And remember, this is a step forward from pre-Clinton years; Reagan described homosexuality and military service as "incompatible." Why would anyone stand up in support of violating an American's rights, especially a member of our military? Why would anyone stand up to prevent such a violation from being repealed? And asking those questions inevitably leads me to more questions.

Why would McCain suddenly support a fence along the border, blaming illegal immigrants for home invasions and murders? This completely reverses years of opposition to rhetoric which blames immigrants for our problems.

Why would McCain not make a comprehensive statement on his plans to protect Social Security during his 2008 campaign, when he did during 2000?

Why would McCain support an anti-abortion agenda, and then vote No on a bill which would have given $100 million to reduce teen pregnancies through education and contraceptives in 2005?

Why would McCain attack a plan to cut Medicare and Medicaid spending by $491 billion in 2009 when his own 2008 campaign ran on a platform which would have cut over $1.3 trillion?

Why would he pledge to vote "No" on Obama's stimulus plan unless the tax cuts from the Bush era were made permanent - the same cuts he voted against in 2000?

Why would McCain emphasize so strongly his desire to work with the President, support the President, and help make America stronger with the President, healing the red/blue divide in this country, only to become his most vocal critic and opponent?

Because . . .

Because he's not a hero.

He's not an arbiter of change.

He's just a politician, doing what politicians do. Trying to appeal to his base of solid voters to make sure he keeps his job for a few more years. And now that is actively hurting the troops he's claimed to support so actively all this time.

And I have to ask myself, in the midst of all this, what if it was unpopular amongst McCain's base to be Jewish? What if they demanded Jews not be allowed to serve openly in the military? Would McCain stand in front of Congress and say that it's for the good of the troops that no one who's Jewish be allowed to observe while in the armed forces? If that was the party line being taken, would I watch John McCain on the Senate floor filibustering an attempt to enforce the first amendment?

Like he's doing right now?

And in answer, yeah, I probably would, because there's no reason to think McCain would be any different in anti-Semitic America than he is in homophobic America.

I thank John McCain for his years of service to this country during Vietnam. That is where my gratitude for his work ends. Because now I can't tell if all the work he did in the Senate was legitimately for the good of this nation or just the good of himself. Shame on you, McCain, for failing to support our troops in favor of supporting yourself. Shame on you, McCain, for choosing to oppose the rights of Americans because your Senate race was a little tougher than usual this year. Shame on you, John McCain, for costing me my role model.

I wanted to be just like John McCain. I wanted to stand in front of Congress and demand we do the right thing. I wanted to be this dynamic persona who reached across party lines when he needed to because as much as he believed in his own convictions, he believed in helping America more. I wanted to be the one who changed things, who made a difference, who never backed down from what was right even if being pushed down upon by a sea of wrong.

So thank you, John McCain. Because I've decided I still will be. I'll be everything you pretended to be, everything you are not.

And one day in the future, when some young boy or girl looks to our government for a hero, I will not let them down.

1 comment:

Brett said...

The way I've interpreted his behavior is that in the past he was truly the "maverick" he was known as, willing to go against the party line to pursue his genuine ideals, but that his Presidential races corrupted him, in the sense that, believing that the country *needed* him to lead as one of the few genuinely idealistic politicians, he became more and more willing to compromise said ideals to win until there was nothing left but the politician.