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Horowitz: John McCain; An Appreciation

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


John McCain

The novelist David Foster Wallace in a non-fiction piece he wrote about the 2000 campaign said John McCain “acts somewhat in the ballpark of the way a real human being would act.”  Senator McCain’s public reaction to the devastating news the has an aggressive form of brain cancer was vintage McCain. He tweeted, “, "I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support — unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I'll be back soon, so stand-by!"

While not immune to political calculation, such as his marked move to the right to fend off a primary challenge in his most recent re-election campaign, we have grown accustomed to his candid, sometimes irascible, but usually brave and constructive voice in our national politics.  Through-out a more than 30 year career in politics, John McCain has lived up to the slogan of his 2008 Presidential campaign, putting “country first.”

The Naval Academy graduate was first introduced to the nation as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, where he rejected an offer to be released early by his North Vietnamese captors because his father was an American Admiral, denying the enemy a propaganda victory and doing so despite being severely tortured. McCain spent 51/2 long years under the worst kind of conditions and was left with permanent painful wounds. Yet, as a Senator, he was instrumental in normalizing relations with Vietnam because he believed it was in the national interest.

Senator McCain was and is a voice for principled bi-partisan compromise, leading the successful fight for campaign finance reform. Working with Senator Russ Fiengold (D-WI), McCain won adoption of the McCain-Feingold bill, which restricted the use of soft money by political parties, among other sensible features.  Unfortunately, the positive impact of this landmark law was dramatically reduced by the Supreme Court’s ill-advised decision in the Citizens United case, which re-opened the floodgates of special interest money in our politics.

McCain is a leader on so far unsuccessful efforts to win adoption of comprehensive immigration reform. Legislation he co-sponsored that included a path to citizenship and tougher border security cleared the Senate, but failed to get a floor vote in the House of Representatives.   Given President Trump’s strong anti-immigration positions, comprehensive immigration reform is not going to move anywhere in the political short-term.  Still, McCain has stayed true to his beliefs as one of the few Republican elected officials criticizing President Trump’s travel restrictions for residents of certain Muslim nations.

Senator McCain has emerged as one of the most consistent and strongest critics of President Trump’s refusal to plainly state that Russia interfered in the 2016 US Presidential election and of Trump’s cozying up to Putin.  The campaign bus in McCain’s insurgent 2000 Presidential campaign for the Republican nomination was called the “Straight Talk Express.”   Whether you agree or disagree with his positions,, John McCain has provided a President of his own party with a regular, if not welcome, dose of straight talk.

“Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles,” wrote John McCain in his military memoir, Faith of My Fathers. As a soldier and as a politician, he has lived his creed.  As he explores treatment options with his family and doctors, Americans-no matter their ideology or party identification-- wish him the best and hope that we are privileged to hear his voice in our politics for years to come. It is needed now more than ever.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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