McCain and the Aisle

Senator John McCain

We all know by now that Senator John McCain has passed away over the weekend. Every living US President has offered condolences to his family, including (finally) President Trump. His colleagues have issued statements of support for a man who many of them considered to be a friend, and the news cycle has been dominated by tales of his heroism and courage. His legacy as a world-class “maverick” is forever imprinted on the hearts of Americans.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve always identified as a Democrat. Maybe that was just because my parents did, or maybe it was because I loved Bill Clinton so much. Who knows what motivates a 4-year old to choose a political party, but as I got older, I did (clearly) align myself with the left more than the right.

That being said, I was always keeping an eye out for a right-wing candidate or official who I could also get behind. I still am.

In school, you’re taught about the US government and the way it works. You learn that George Washington never wanted political parties because he knew people would simply vote along party lines rather than vote for the best candidate for the job. You’re taught that this is a bad thing because, inherently, it is.

You’re encouraged to think freely and to examine each candidate, their stances on the issues, and their value system. After so doing, you vote for the one you agree with the most. Maybe you like their prognosis for the economy if X, Y, and Z happen. Maybe you like their views on tax policy. Maybe you like that they’ll fight for more government spending on education, infrastructure, or the military.

But over the years, it’s become nearly impossible on an institutional level to do this.

The two-party system is built into our way of governing this huge nation.

And this is a huge nation. Putting aside the idea that over 325 million people are supposed to fit into one of two parties, which is already ludicrous, it’s unreasonable to assume that of those 325 million people who are eligible and registered to vote, they’re all well-informed on their political candidates. That includes, but is not limited to, presidential, gubernatorial, mayoral, and congressional candidates, not just of the party they support, but of the opposing party, as well.

Add in the fact that you’re constantly having to decipher messaging behind attack ads, discern what’s a lie and what isn’t, analyze statistical data to determine whether or not the results have been skewed and biased, and investigate the actual motives and ramifications behind politicians’ words and actions.

Etc., etc., etc.

Keeping up with all of this would be like taking on a part-time job or signing up for night classes. You’d be inundated with information. You’d be a fact-checking machine with limited resources. You’d get so fed up and tired that you’d eventually just give up.

It’s a lot.

Instead, we choose a party that more or less stands for the same things we more or less stand for. At the very least, we vote for people who we think will vote for things that won’t upset us, disrupt our daily lives, jeopardize future generations, or tank our financial institutions. Not a lot to ask for, right?

So even despite my own personal efforts to stay informed, I end up voting along party lines. I don’t feel that badly about it, though, because of the way the two parties have been defined.

The parties, and therefore anyone who registers and runs as a member of each party, stand for certain things, and these things are so engrained within the party that it’s incredibly difficult for a candidate to break from these pre-determined positions. For example, if you’re a Republican, it’s safe to assume that you’re anti-Roe v. Wade. If you’re a Democrat, you’re probably pro-Medicaid and other social programs. There are stereotypes that are also affiliated with each party, and while stereotypes are generally not hard-and-fast, they’re practically treated as though they are.

It just makes things easier on the American people.

As far as the elusive Republican that could convince me to break from the Democratic party and vote across party lines? In the words of Michael Bublé, “I just haven’t met you yet.” And he or she will “make me work so we can work to work it out.”

That’s a mouthful.

Really, Bublé’s on to something. It’s work. Compromise is hard and negotiating common ground on issues that are dear to people is sometimes nearly impossible. But in a democratic republic where our words and actions need to be rooted in empathy but so rarely actually are, we’ve got to talk to one another, listen to the other side, and be willing to take difficult stances on issues, even if it means going against the wave and influence of our peers.

Otherwise, what’s the point? Does it even matter who we put in these seats, just as long as they’re on our side? Have we diminished our leaders to simply a number and a vote? Why put a highly-educated veteran with a long and distinguished career in politics in a Senate seat when we could just put Joe His-Last-Name-Doesn’t-Matter in there? Either way, the vote gets cast, right?

Our government is a numbers game. Whichever side is in control of whichever branch of government, they call the shots. Voting across the aisle is so rare that Democrats and Republicans arguing their sides on the House or Senate floor is really just a lot of preaching to the choir.

Senator McCain was different, though.

I’m by no means saying I agreed with every stance he took. Throughout his career, he has voted, more often than not, along party lines. He was a staunch supporter of a war that a lot of people were against, a war that cost many families loved ones. When he ran for President of the United States, I didn’t want him to win either time.

But I never disliked the guy, and I was sad to hear about his illness. I’ve always respected him. I actually even felt badly for him when Sarah Palin joined his presidential ticket and…was Sarah Palin. She seemed to cheapen a lot of what McCain stood for. I still don’t like her.

One thing I came to appreciate about him, though, most notably in his later years, was that McCain spoke out against perceived injustices within his own party during a time when many of his Republican colleagues would not. Did not. He actually was able to put his country over his party, which is a thing people like to talk about, but it appears to be easier said than done. Granted, McCain had the benefit of not worrying about running a successful re-election campaign, so he didn’t have to worry about being outspoken or alienating his base.

Side note, this is why (if there’s one thing I agree with Trump on, it’s this) congressional term limits make a lot of sense to me, but that’s another story.

Furthermore, it’s pretty hard not to admire a man who survived what McCain did during his time as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam. Anyone who chooses years of torture over selling out their nation and countrymen is deserving of respect in my book.

Not to make this about Trump (even though he clearly really wants to make this about him), but I think that’s why his response to McCain’s illness and now death is so bizarre. For most of us, it’s so easy and obvious to give McCain the respect he deserves, despite whatever personal and political grievances we might have with him.

Long story short, Trump took all day to issue a statement about McCain when news broke of his passing. He nixed the first statement that was drafted for him because it was too complimentary to McCain. He did, however, issue a statement via Twitter and Instagram that basically said nothing about McCain. On Instagram, the image associated with the statement was a picture of himself. Let that sink in. Then, he ordered the flags to be raised back up to full staff before interment. Finally, after mounting pressure from people and groups he couldn’t afford to alienate, he issued an actual statement and agreed to lower the White House flag again.

So exhausting.

You know what, though? I get it – kind of. Trump later said that he didn’t want to say anything nice about McCain because people would know it was fake. True. He publicly feuded with McCain in life – we know that – but he didn’t have the decency nor the diplomacy to put it all aside and pay respect to a man who had spent the majority of his life serving his country. These are basic human interactions that we should all be familiar with.

It’s not disingenuous. It’s just…life.

Either way, even as the President of the United States, Donald Trump needs to understand that some things are bigger than him. But he doesn’t understand that, so let’s get back to McCain.

Senator John McCain’s final words were perfect, a great way to top off his legacy as an American hero and servant, and a classy way to remind the American people to hold out hope when faced with strange times. I’m curious to see who, if anyone, will pick up where he left off, fighting the fight that needs to be fought, and doing it with dignity.

They don’t make them like McCain anymore.

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