Senator McCain’s nickname as a maverick referred to his history of bipartisanship and putting country before party. His very visible friendships with former Democratic Senators Joe Biden, John Kerry, Russ Feingold, Joe Lieberman and the late Ted Kennedy have become the exception for most Republicans. The loss of Republican bipartisanship has lead to the deepening tribal warfare, contributing to legislative stalemates on issues like healthcare, immigration reform and foreign policy.
Perhaps more concerning than the loss of bipartisanship is the loss of Republicans’ commitment to putting country before party. McCain was one of the few Republicans left that elevated the country first before party politics. McCain was the deciding vote in defeating the repeal of Obamacare. When Senator McCain dramatically stood before the Senate and gave that legendary thumbs-down, he signaled to his party that they were wrong to try and sabotage Americans’ healthcare without a replacement. It was a bold reminder to his Republican Party that Americans’ healthcare was too important to be used as a political football to their base.
“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of the aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people,” McCain said. “We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”
Today, most Republican leaders have fallen into virulent tribal lockstep with Trump. The thought of working with Democrats, let alone befriending them, has become unthinkable to most Republicans.
The loss of McCain signals the end of an era that once saw Republican President Ronald Reagan enjoying a jovial friendship with Democratic Leader Tip O’Neill. The end of the era of political bipartisanship by the Republican Party doesn’t bode well for the future of America.
President Trump has greatly contributed to the sharpening of this partisan divide with his name-calling, belittling and insulting attacks on Democrats. The Republican Party must reflect on how firmly Senator McCain opposed Trump. His request that Trump not attend his funeral should be a sharp reminder to Republicans that they must distance themselves and limit the president’s power.
In September 2017 McCain warned, “We are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equals.”
McCain, an expert on foreign affairs, was especially concerned that Trump’s apologies to dictators and admiration for Putin presents a dangerous threat to American security.
“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki (Trump and Putin meeting) was a tragic mistake,” McCain said.
As America celebrates McCain’s life and bipartisan accomplishments, the Republican Party should look back and reevaluate their divisive tactics. McCain was so successful because he joined hands with Democrats for the good of our country.
Certainly one of the most celebrated events in McCain’s political career was his defense of his 2008 presidential rival, Barack Obama. His campaign, known as the “Straight Talk Express” lived up to that description during a campaign event in Minnesota. One of the questioners told McCain she couldn’t support Obama because he is an Arab. McCain didn’t hesitate to correct her.
“No, ma’am,” he said. “He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that just, I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what the campaign’s all about. He’s not.”
In yet another reminder of bipartisanship, he asked Obama to speak at his funeral. McCain’s history of bipartisan work on major issues is legendary. McCain joined with Democratic Senator John Kerry to restore America’s diplomatic relations with Vietnam. He worked with Democratic Russ Feingold on public financing of elections and restricting soft money and corporate donations in campaigns.
One of McCain’s greatest friends was the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Their joint work on reforming immigration and attempting to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is needed today more than ever. In 2009 at Kennedy’s funeral, McCain offered this advice.
“Ted and I shared the sentiment that a fight not joined was a fight not enjoyed,” said McCain.
Iowa recently lost another highly respected Republican, former Iowa Governor Ray. As Iowa Republicans reflect on the lives of Ray and McCain, they should reevaluate their commitment to civility, bipartisanship and putting country first. Perhaps some Iowa Republican political leaders need to try modeling McCain’s country-first, straight-talk patriotism.
by Rick Smith
Photo via Gage Skidmore