John McCain, the US Senator from Arizona who I will compliment by calling a Republican, by today’s standards, in name only, is profiled in a Sunday New York Times article describing his fight against brain cancer at home, which makes a lot of news.
Mr. McCain is spending his days in physical therapy, on strategic conference calls, and receiving guests on his deck, where he is most at ease. He and his wife Cindy, who may replace him as Senator from Arizona if, owing to Arizona election law, he survives into June, sit on the deck and listen to the gurgling stream that runs through the lush area of an otherwise dry region which the McCains call home.
They have some disagreements, as John, well known as a hawk himself, playfully roots for the hawks that bedevil their chihuahua mix pet, Peanut; while Cindy roots for the dog. And John isn’t giving up. At 81, and a life long fighter, John McCain is battling through his grueling struggle against grim odds, and yet still looking forward. Symbolic of that fighting spirit, he just gave up his flip phone for an iPhone, so he could download the Major League Baseball app, to follow his favorite team, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
And he urges close friends, some who might surprise the casual follower of politics, not to give up in the fight against Trump, whom, McCain’s people have let it be known, will not be welcome at the great Senator’s eventual funeral. In particular, it is Joe Biden, the Democrat, and former Vice President from the Obama Administration – someone lesser Republicans would heap derision upon for his closeness to America’s first black, and last Democratic, President – whom McCain hopes to see continue the fight. McCain urged Biden to “not walk away”, as Biden told the Times, from politcs. But Biden wouldn’t say whether or not he would be a candidate for President, the only logical next step for Biden, as McCain surely knows, to challenge Trump or Pence, in 2020.
A week before the publication of the New York Times article, Mr. Biden traveled to Arizona to visit his ailing friend. They met on the deck, where Biden says McCain “finds real solace”, and took a walk down memory lane together. They recalled the close relationship Mr. McCain had to Mr. Biden’s two sons, the many trips they had taken together in their time in public service, and the “crazy senators” they had known over the years.
But McCain had more pressing concerns to discuss, and that is the regression of his party, and his country, under the spell of Donald J. Trump. “Here John knows he’s in a very, very, very precarious situation,” Biden told the Times, “and yet he’s still concerned about the state of the country. We talked about how our international reputation is being damaged and we talked about the need for people to stand up and speak out.”
McCain spent two years in solitary confinement as a prisoner of war in the Vietnam conflict, and is well known to dislike solitude. And so he has received a steady flow of guests there, on his deck, in Arizona. Among them, Republican Senator Jeff Flake, also an Arizonan, who made a career defining stand against President Trump and the decline of his own party some months ago, at the start of this year.
With Senator Flake, and his wife Cheryl, McCain lamented the loss of the bipartisanship of the politics of the past. They recalled how it was Morris Udall, the former Arizona Democrat considered legendary, like McCain himself, in those parts, who in the 1980’s took the fledgling new Senator McCain under his wing, despite the party difference.
Today, among Republicans, cooperating with Democrats will get you labeled a R.I.N.O — a Republican In Name Only. For many old school Republicans who retain a shred of dignity, like McCain, or Flake, the label may be taken as a compliment. For others, it’s the kiss of death in a party which espouses increasingly fascistic, nationalistic ideals.
In a party whose leaders seem unperturbed by their President being someone who stood before TV cameras and entreated Russia, “if you’re listening”, to hack his opponent, and went on to use hacked emails in his electoral bid – and now has the temerity to insist there was no collusion with Russia… A party which now regularly tries to spin it all, put up smokescreens, and to obstruct the Special Counsel’s investigation into the matter… A party where racism is so central to the the party platform that they’re literally trying to wall out brown people whose ancestors were indigenous to this land… A party which has legalized bribery (overturning a bipartisan law with McCain’s name on it, McCain Feingold, in the process) and bows at the alter of the 1%; oligarchs, now both American, and Russian… In such a party men of principle – even conservative principle – hardly belong.
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And so it is that today John McCain is fighting perhaps his last, and greatest battle: to survive through the month, and ensure that if he does pass away as seems likely, his seat in the Senate which gives the Republican party it’s one seat advantage, will go to someone from his camp – not someone put forward in a special election by the party. We can all only hope McCain will succeed, and pass his seat to another person with the same kind of principles – to another Republican, in name only. Not to someone picked to be a rubber stamp for Trumpism.
Those close to the great man say he ends his visits upon the deck by telling those who’ve come to visit and at last, must leave, “I love you”. Mr. McCain, America loves you, and even we “liberal” Americans who have been your critics from time to time, love you. On balance, well done, sir. Man your post a bit longer, soldier, and then, God speed.