Over the weekend our nation lost one of its heroes.
Senator John McCain, whose resume of accomplishments hardly needs recounting here, would have been 82 on Wednesday, the day he’ll be laying in state in the Arizona capitol.
Throughout McCain’s career he was described as a “maverick” by a national press corps which loved him. At least some of the time.
When it was McCain dissenting against the tax cuts policies of his rival for the 2000 presidential nomination, George W. Bush, or feuding with current President Donald Trump the press couldn’t ever seem to get enough of a Republican who was a thorn in the side of other Republicans.
There’s a lot of hagiography going on about McCain right now from the national press. A typical example is the obituary for the late Senator in the New York Times which is glowing in its admiration and totally at odds with the way the Times covered McCain when he was the only obstacle between Barack Obama and the White House in the 2008 election.
Back then the Times was positing the idea that McCain was too old to be President. The paper also delivered McCain a sort of birther scandal, wondering if he constitutionally qualified to be President given that he was born in the Panama Canal Zone.
They ran a front-page story accusing McCain of having an affair with a lobbyist.
When the Times endorsed Obama for the Presidency in an editorial, they wrote that McCain’s campaign had “hints of racism.”
In short, back when McCain was a thorn in the side of Democrats, he was a too-old, unethical, and a racist. A Pew Foundation review of media coverage in the 2008 election cycle found that just 14 percent of it was positive for McCain.
Contrast that with the treatment McCain got from the press in more recent years when he mostly made headlines as a defector from Republican majorities and an outspoken critic of Trump.
In the National Review today Jim Geraghty notes the “fair weather” admiration for McCain:
Rolling Stone assured its readers that the tale of honorable, patriotic McCain was all a myth, and that the senator was “a man who has consistently put his own advancement above all else, a man willing to say and do anything to achieve his ultimate ambition: to become commander in chief, ascending to the one position that would finally enable him to outrank his four-star father and grandfather.”
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. The New Yorkercontended McCain had “betrayed his ideals.”
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. The arrival of Trump made McCain a hero again.
McCain was a complicated figure. I often disagreed with him politically (perhaps most sharply in the realm of campaign finance policy where the McCain-Feingold reforms made things demonstrably worse) but admired him as a person.
How could you not?
That sort of conflict over his legacy is understandable, I think, and not uncommon.
Less understandable are those who called him a racist, war mongering kook at one point yet treat him like he was a national treasure today.
Maybe it’s that whole “don’t speak ill of the dead” thing. Or maybe it’s just hypocrisy driven by ideological bias.