A Longtime Senate Staffer, on John McCain
I’ve had my say about John McCain’s decision to support the rushed consideration of the Republican drive to repeal Obamacare. Installment one was here, and two was here. The theme of both was that McCain missed a historic opportunity to match the scolding-and-uplift of his much-praised words, about the need to avoid simple fights for partisan victories, with the weight of his actual votes, which in the crucial showdown this week supported just such partisan warfare.
Now Mike Lofgren, who spent 28 years as a Congressional staffer mainly working for Republicans, and has since then become a noted author of The Party Is Over and The Deep State, writes in about the McCain he came to know from long observation on Capitol Hill. I’ve learned over the decades to take what Mike Lofgren says seriously, and in that spirit I invite close reading of what he has chosen to say:
Let us respectfully acknowledge John McCain’s past sacrifice to the United States and his present health struggles. Still, the media’s fawning over both his return to the Senate and his sanctimonious jeremiad against partisanship is difficult to bear. He rightly excoriated a grotesquely unfair Senate process, but then became the deciding vote allowing that process to move forward. Compounding his duplicity, he claimed he could not support the underlying legislation, but a few hours later voted in its favor—although nine of his Republican colleagues found the courage not to, defeating the measure.
Regardless of his vote on subsequent health care measures, should one of them pass and deprive millions of Americans of health insurance, McCain will have been the key enabling factor. The “Conscience of the Senate” would deny to those Americans the blessing which he takes for granted. But this chasm between his pretenses and his behavior has been a consistent feature of his Senate career.
His rhetorical denunciation of torture during the Bush years was loud and long—yet he never followed up, despite the fact that his moral prestige as a former POW would have carried great legislative weight. A ban on torture came only with Obama’s executive order. Likewise, a persistent feature of his career has been to bitterly scold pork-barrel spending in defense bills.
Yet, invariably, he fails to offer amendments to remove those offending provisions; nor does he vote against the underlying bill. As a staffer, I recall that almost all Senate Republicans, hardly a sensitive and swooning lot, really couldn’t stand his moral preening. But his tactics were a mechanism by which McCain got cheap credit from a lazy press looking for the One Righteous Republican they could lionize.
None of us vain creatures can bear scrutiny of the gap between our words and our deeds—but few, I fear, would suffer from that scrutiny more than John McCain.
His present obeisance to the reptilian Mitch McConnell, his strange non-reaction to Trump’s sliming of his wartime service, and his curious passivity towards the Bush campaign’s scurrilous attack on his family (later supporting Bush’s reelection as he stood by while Karl Rove defamed fellow Vietnam vet John Kerry), are all inexplicable incidents if one believes the standard narrative about McCain. The man who inflicted Sarah Palin on our suffering country and started us on the inevitable slide to the nightmare of Donald Trump is a far more complex, interesting, and fraught human being than the heroic caricatures depicted in the establishment media.
Offered as part of the ongoing record of our times. Let’s hope (as opposed to expect) that McCain will surprise us in the final stages of the Obamacare-repeal debate, and use the independence of this stage of his career to vote the way he himself has long recommended.