Dead Senator

Senator John McCain was an asshole. But he was the kind of smart, sarcastic asshole that, when he was on your side, you were just jazzed to have fight with you. When you were on the opposite side from him, he was just a fuckin' asshole. To understand the "complexity" of McCain,  as so many like to say, is to misunderstand something basic in his nature: he obviously loved being an asshole.

Look, anything anyone writes about McCain, who died this weekend after battling brain cancer, has to acknowledge that the central part of his story is balls-to-the-wall badass, tragic, and heroic. McCain, who was a shitty pilot and a shitty student at the Naval Academy, was shot down in his fighter plane in North Vietnam and was beaten and tortured by his captors. He declined early release because he knew the NVA wanted a propaganda coup for doing it, so he was subjected to more and worse torture. For five years, he endured and then came home. If you want to know why McCain has engendered more sympathy than most figures in American politics, it boils down to the horror he experienced. We saw his sacrifice in every step his damaged body took.

It's too bad that he went through that for a completely useless war, but we're not supposed to say that. We're not supposed to acknowledge that McCain took pleasure in killing "gooks," as he himself said, or that he was likely hitting civilian targets in his bombing runs. But it doesn't take anything away from McCain's genuine heroism in the Hanoi Hilton. It doesn't take away an iota of the pain he suffered or the fact that it would have killed most of us. It's just that we tend to think in simple terms about the complicated reality.

For instance, yeah, McCain worked with Russ Feingold to pass a weak campaign finance reform law, but at least it was something. Then, when it was pretty much wiped out by the fuckery of the Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision in 2010, McCain bemoaned it and then did dick about the tsunami of corporate cash in elections except makes sure he got his. His one great legislative achievement was burnt to the ground, and McCain gave it a eulogy instead of trying to rebuild. You'll generally only hear about how much of a "maverick" McCain was for even working with a Democrat, not that he threw in the towel and said, "Fuck it, I'm done" when it was challenged.

That's because McCain has always been a good GOP soldier. He didn't so much as squeak over the odious prick mite Mitch McConnell's declaration that all legislation would die in the Senate during President Obama's two terms. He didn't flinch in backing McConnell on preventing Merrick Garland from even getting a hearing on his Supreme Court nomination.

But, goddamn, he could talk a good game. He could say all those pretty, useless words about "regular order" while doing nothing to bring the Senate to it. He got praise for just not being a racist dick towards Barack Obama, but he treated Obama like shit otherwise. He talked shit about Trump, but he backed the president in nearly every vote. Yeah, he gave a thumbs-down to the skinny repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but shortly after, he agreed to a jammed-through, out-of-regular-order tax bill that included a repeal of the individual mandate, one of the major stabilizing legs of the ACA.

What the fuck else did McCain do? He supported military involvement whenever he could, and, again, sometimes, like in Bosnia, it could be for decent purposes. But he was mostly just a bloodthirsty son of a bitch who really fuckin' loved bombing places. Back in 2002, he wanted to go to Iraq in the worst way, and, only long after the whole thing turned out to be a giant clusterfuck, he said recently he made a mistake. That didn't stop him from advocating for bombing Syria and Iran and being one of Israel's most avid lickspittles in Congress.

Even on one of his signature issues, the end of torture by the United States, he could be an asshole to the Bush administration, leading to a ban on "enhanced interrogation" techniques like waterboarding. Then, he could turn around and vote for Alberto Gonzales, one of the people who came up with legal justification for torture, as attorney general.

McCain was not above pandering to conservatives, whether in the presidential races (especially in 2008) or in his congressional races. From his vote against the holiday for Martin Luther King and his refusal to condemn the Confederate flag (both of which he later said he regretted) to his embarrassing wooing of the Christian right to his ultimate dicking of the nation by elevating the extravagantly vapid and vicious Sarah Palin, McCain wanted the right to know that, even though he sometimes said something vaguely sane, he was still just as bugfuck crazy as the rest of them.

Frankly, much of what McCain did was driven by pissiness and spite. He was nearly drummed out of office for doing the bidding of a donor, Charles Keating, back in the 1980s.  So that lit a fire in his ass on campaign finance reform because fuck the rest of you, too. Except, of course, McCain kept raking in that cash and doing favors for the biggest donors. McCain railed against the congressional earmarks process - so-called "pork barrel spending" - which is something that got members of different parties to actually work together.

The easiest way to put this is that, putting aside his torture in Vietnam and his ability to manipulate the media into creating a bullshit myth around him, John McCain wasn't anything particularly special. He was your basic Republican, a conservative who happened to be able to turn a phrase better than the yahoos who populate his party. He was marginally more honorable than most of the GOP because he actually did regret some shit, and he was mightily reamed by the savage Karl Rove in 2000 with the phone calls and flyers in South Carolina that said McCain had a black love child (it was a daughter from Bangladesh he and Cindy had adopted). And Donald Trump isn't worth a single white hair on McCain's balls, but Donald Trump isn't worth most people's pubes.

Mostly, then, we're honoring a lie. If this post isn't as mean and full of anger as you might have liked, it's probably because I've said so many terrible things about McCain over the years that I don't fucking want to repeat myself.  I can't think of what more to say about him. Besides, everyone gets so upset if you say one negative word. People love and are so deeply invested in the lie of McCain, of the honorable public servant, of the war hero, that they don't give a shit that he didn't really do much of anything to help people. They need the lie.

Mourning McCain for most of the nation feels less like mourning a man than mourning an illusion of a lost America where people worked together for a common purpose. It was an illusion that McCain talked about all the time, even in his final message to the American people. Throughout his career, though, McCain did as much as anyone to keep the illusion from becoming reality.

However fucked we are now, he is one of the people who fucked us. That he did it with a limp and a quick wit fooled just about everyone.