The President’s Reasonable Criticism of John McCain

President Trump recently renewed criticism of the late Senator John McCain’s neo-liberal yet synthetic policies and persona. That elicited a vigorous chastisement from the media including the usually supportive Fox News. As the leading political officer of the Republican party President Trump has an implicit right to criticize what he views as fundamentally wrong political policy. The late Senator McCain was famous for ‘maverick’ political positions developed over a long period of time in close association with his fellow brain cancer sufferer the late Senator Ted Kennedy. The two seemed to share many positions. Senator McCain definitely did not qualify as a true conservative, except in cases of war, where he sought to enter conflict wherever possible.

Senator McCain seemed to personify the one-party state. For the senator, being a maverick seemed to mean taking up liberal causes while being a big spender on defense. Senator McCain’s Cold War history led him towards finding conflict with the new Russia rather than finding or creating opportunities for increased closer ties with it. That was a huge sea change away from the Reagan years for developing increasingly closer ties.

Senator McCain received much reverence from the media for being a war hero. President Trump said McCain wasn’t a hero; that being a p.o.w. isn’t heroic. Yet no one would want to be a p.o.w. except perhaps if the alternative is death (unless one was a WW II Japanese soldier where the dishonor might be worse than death). That raises a difficult point about the late Senator McCain’s Vietnam War record.

Some question the way John McCain became a prisoner of war. His father was the commander of all naval pacific forces. Some sailors probably hated him for that, especially draftees. He was a fighter pilot. Sitting in his aircraft on the flight deck of the Forestal a missile from a plane broadside launched and shot his. A firing pin was missing. At any rate, the ensuing fire and bomb cook-offs killed 134 sailors. McCain was transferred to Saigon to be a liaison officer.

Then he requested transfer to another carrier to fly again. He agitated aboard the carrier to fly right away before getting situated. He insisted on flying a mission to bomb Hanoi. During the mission he disregarded instructions about flight operations, about flying to low, and was shot down. He said a SAM missile shot him down though the other pilots flying with him said they saw no evidence of a missile. He broke his jaw ejecting from the jet fighter and then landed into the unsympathetic arms of his captors for the better part of the next decade. Then he returned to the United States with the war’s end and was elected Senator. Is that all heroic? 

The Vietnam action had a million heroes and stories. It is difficult to say that one was more heroic than another sometimes. I met a Sgt Benevidez in Texas while attending theology school. He was awarded a medal of honor and operated a garage in El Campo Texas. Carlos Hathcock was another one of those guys with extraordinary performance in battle, Unquestioned courage deserves respect. That is why some people found Senator McCain’s record and description as a hero suspect.

There is no question that John McCain was a fighter; a guy that would enter a brawl to help an embattled friend. It may be wrong though to ascribe to his record such valor as to cover a plenitude of bad political choices in the Senate.