John McCain’s Finest Hour

One moment at a campaign rally in October 2008 defines better than anything else what American politics lost when John McCain passed away.

It has been less than twenty-four hours since we learned of the passing of Senator John McCain and, as might be expected, the news sites on the Internet and the cable news networks have spent most of that time talking about McCain’s legacy, his history, and the things that he is likely to be remembered for by history. Many of the topics are ones that have been well-known by anyone who follows politics and news on a regular basis, such as his history as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, the circumstances of his capture and five-year-long detention, and his refusal to accept an early release when the North Vietnamese realized he was the son of one America’s top commanders in the Pacific and the grandson of an Admiral who had played a significant role in the war against Japan during World War Two. Another story, which fewer people may remember, involves an incident that preceded his capture when he was nearly killed in an explosion on board the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal which Jazz Shaw recounts in a post this morning at Hot Air. Other stories have focused on his years in Congress and the Senate, a career that was capped off by his sure to be legendary “thumbs down” vote on an effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

For me, though, there is one moment that stands out among all the others. It happened during the 2008 General Election campaign, and perhaps more than anything else that happened during that portion of the campaign, it revealed the core decency that McCain always had notwithstanding the fact that he was, as he often admitted himself, a far from perfect man. I am speaking, of course, of an incident that occurred in early October 2008 at a rally that McCain was presiding over on his own rather than a joint appearance with running mate Sarah Palin. By this point in the race, of course, the McCain/Palin ticket had erased the gains that it had made in the immediate aftermath of the Republican National Convention and the Obama/Biden ticket was on an inexorable upswing that would eventually lead to victory. As the polls turned sour, the McCain campaign found itself dealing with the fact that many supporters on the hard-right were criticizing it for allegedly not being more aggressive in the fight against then-Senator Obama, and even Governor Palin was openly talking about “going rogue” and being more brazen in attacks on Obama by bringing up some of the more bizarre allegations against him that had been circulating around the conservative media, including questions about Obama’s place of birth and his religious faith. McCain and his close circle of advisers resisted those calls and did what they could to prevent Palin from traveling down that road, something that reportedly caused significant tension between the running mate and the campaign.

All of that came to a head on October 10th in Lakeville, Minnesota during one of the town-hall style events that McCain had perfected in New Hampshire during his run for the Republican nomination in 2000 and which he returned to several times throughout the primary and General Election season in 2008. In any case, at some point the microphone was handed to a woman in the audience, and, well, Politico reported it this way:

Fearing the raw and at times angry emotions of his supporters may damage his campaign, John McCain on Friday urged them to tone down their increasingly personal denunciations of Barack Obama, including one woman who said she had heard that the Democrat was “an Arab.”

Each time he tried to cool the crowd, he was rewarded with a round of boos.

“I have to tell you. Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States,” McCain told a supporter at a town hall meeting in Minnesota who said he was “scared” of the prospect of an Obama presidency and of who the Democrat would appoint to the Supreme Court.

“Come on, John!” one audience member yelled out as the Republican crowd expressed dismay at their nominee. Others yelled “liar,” and “terrorist,” referring to Obama.

McCain passed his wireless microphone to one woman who said, “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him and he’s not, he’s not uh — he’s an Arab. He’s not — ” before McCain retook the microphone and replied:

“No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about. He’s not [an Arab].”

The public display of fear and unease over Obama comes at the end of a week in which other Republicans at McCain and Sarah Palin events expressed similar frustrations, a product of exasperation at the prospect of the Illinois senator becoming president and their own nominee not doing enough to prevent it.

McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, sought to tamp down concerns about the audience outbursts on a conference call earlier Friday, saying they were not a “big deal.”

But that was before the highly-charged meeting in a high school gymnasium in Lakeville, Minn., Friday night.

In addition to the man who said he feared Obama as president, another predicted the Democrat would “lead the country to socialism.”

“The time has come and the Bible tells us you speak the truth and that the truth sets you free,” the man added.

Yet another voter implored McCain in plain terms: “The people here in Minnesota want to see a real fight.”

McCain promised the audience he wouldn’t back down — but again sought to tamp down emotions.

“We want to fight, and I will fight,” McCain said. “But I will be respectful. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments, and I will respect him.”

At which point he was booed again.

“I don’t mean that has to reduce your ferocity,” he added over the jeers. “I just mean to say you have to be respectful.”

Here’s the video:

In the end, of course, the McCain/Palin ticket lost the election and, in a way, McCain lost the argument that he was effectively having with the crowd in Minnesota on that day. In the end, it was the vitriolic rhetoric that Palin that those that gathered around her and, ultimately, the Tea Party, that won the day in the Republican Party while McCain, who returned to the Senate and continued to contribute to his country as he had since graduating from the Naval Academy, was pushed to the sidelines, denounced as a “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) due in no small part to his refusal to engage in the gutter swamp politics that was represented by the people who booed him that day. It was those people and those who represent them in the media and in “news” outlets such as Fox News Channel, Breitbart, and other places, that came to define what conservatism and Republicanism were to be during the Obama Presidency. From time to time, McCain sought to push back on these impulses, including during one of his final speeches to the Senate in which he called on his fellow Senators to reach across the aisle in much the same way he had throughout his career. Unfortunately, in an era where Trumpism has taken over the Republican Party, that call is likely to fall on deaf ears.

This sad truth is perhaps best personified in July 2015 when then-candidate Trump dismissed the idea that McCain was a war hero and said he preferred people who weren’t captured. In an ordinary era, that remark would have meant the end of a campaign. Instead, it only seemed to push Trump higher in the polls and on a path that eventually made him the Republican nominee and President of the United States. More than anything else, that fact is a fairly apt demonstration of the extent to which the values of service and decency that McCain sought to bring to the campaign that day in October 2008 have been rejected by modern-day conservatism and the modern-day Republican Party.

Not surprisingly, in the hours after news of Senator McCain’s passing, the clip of that moment in October 2008 went viral on Twitter and elsewhere on social media. It’s easy to understand why. While the McCain campaign of 2008 was far from perfect, that moment revealed something fundamental about McCain’s character that is utterly lacking in people like Donald Trump. It is the kind of character that we desperately need more of if we are going to make it through our current crisis without the tidal forces of hyperpartisanship tearing us apart. With the passing of Senator McCain, we have lost one of the strongest warriors for that ideal. He made not have been perfect, but John Sidney McCain III was a decent man, as he revealed that day. In the coming days, politicians, analysts, journalists and others will eulogize Senator McCain and the contributions and sacrifices he made for his country will be appropriately honored. In the long term, though, it occurs to me that the best way to honor the Senator would be for all of us to take a step back from the brink and to remember these words from McCain’s acceptance speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention:

I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency, for its faith in the wisdom, justice, and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again; I wasn’t my own man anymore; I was my country’s.

We’re going to need people like this to rescue us from the path we’re headed down in the age of Trump and I’m not sure if they’re going to arrive in time.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    Kelli Ward accused John McCain of deliberately dying just to ruin her bus tour:

    WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?@kelliwardaz staffer: I wonder if John McCain's trying to steal attention from Ward's bus tour by announcing his life is coming to an end.Ward: Yup, it's all about me. #AZSEN— BrahmResnik (@brahmresnik) August 25, 2018

  2. steve says:

    Didn’t agree with McCain on a lot of stuff, but always thought he was a decent person. Never did figure out why he added Palin to his campaign. Unlike many people here I generally see conservatives as good, decent people, but we just disagree on some policies. However, when Trump publicly denigrated McCain (remembering that Trump was basically a draft dodger) and Trump still went up in the polls and won even more votes, that made me realize that there is a very large percentage of people (hope it is not a majority) that have given up on the concepts of decency, courage, love of country and honor.


  3. Kylopod says:

    We were discussing this the other day. To reiterate: His response to the lady was not perfect. She said “He’s an Arab,” and he shook his head and took the mic from her and said “No, Ma’am, he’s a decent family man”–as if the two were mutually exclusive.

    It reminds me a little of a scene from the 1947 movie The Gentleman’s Agreement. A reporter pretends to be Jewish as part of an investigative piece on American anti-Semitism. His young son starts receiving anti-Jewish slurs from other kids. To comfort him, the reporter’s girlfriend tells the boy, “You’re no more Jewish than I am.”

    As I said, I’m willing to give McCain the benefit of the doubt about this–probably he was just flustered and phrased his response a little awkwardly, without intending to make a slur against Arabs. But that’s part of the trap set whenever a bigot falsely accuses someone of belonging to a group they despise. Deny the charges, and you risk sounding like you’re bashing actual members of the group.

    While my feelings about McCain are mixed, it was moments like this when he seemed very human. He bears a lot of responsibility for springing Sarah Palin on the public, who helped stoke the fires that, in this clip, he was attempting to calm. And he wasn’t totally above using dirty politics himself to stoke that fire, as in his bringing up Bill Ayers on the campaign trail. But he did seem genuinely shocked by what he was confronting in this clip. And it creates a marked contrast between him and Mitt Romney (who didn’t engage in overt bigotry but did little to push back against it–including cozying up with Trump himself) and Trump (who hasn’t just failed to push back against the bigotry of his crowds but has actively egged such people on by engaging in his own brand of extreme bigotry the likes of which we haven’t seen in mainstream politics in decades). McCain’s own actions helped pave the road toward Trump, but at least I can say that with him it wasn’t a conscious choice, and I truly believe he neither wanted nor intended it to end up this way.

  4. Jen says:

    @Kylopod: The full statement the woman was making here matters. What came before her question matters too. She started off with “I cannot trust Sen. Obama. I have read about him, he’s not, he’s not, he’s a, he’s an Arab…” and at that point McCain took the mic back. He wasn’t zeroing in on the “an Arab” comment, he was responding to both her statement and, frankly, the one before, in front of a crowd that was in the process of turning on him. He was–as the articles above mention–being BOOED for his responses.

    His response might not have been phrased as he intended or as you may wish–but in those settings, and in those conditions, it’s as good as anyone could have possibly have hoped for. Saying that response wasn’t enough detracts from what it was: a direct rebuke to a voter, in front of an angry crowd. It was more than sufficient.

  5. Kylopod says:


    She started off with “I cannot trust Sen. Obama. I have read about him, he’s not, he’s not, he’s a, he’s an Arab…” and at that point McCain took the mic back. He wasn’t zeroing in on the “an Arab” comment, he was responding to both her statement and, frankly, the one before

    That’s a good point, and it helps make his response a little more understandable. But ask yourself this: how would you have responded? I know how I would have: I would not have neglected to mention that regardless of Obama’s ancestry there’s nothing wrong with being an Arab, that there are millions of good, patriotic Arab-Americans in the country.

    It’s not like McCain didn’t notice the woman calling him an Arab. You see him visibly jolt when she says it. It’s what prompted him to quickly take the mic from her. But even he wasn’t able to state the obvious, to defend Obama and also defend Arabs.

    When Colin Powell endorsed Obama’s candidacy that year, he made a point of saying that, while Obama isn’t in fact a Muslim, there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim or with having a Muslim as a US president. How hard can it be to say that? But for most Republicans, even relatively decent ones like McCain, it’s like admitting that is broaching some massive taboo. It was gratifying to see McCain push back against the woman’s attacks on Obama, but it was disappointing that he couldn’t go further and point out that her bigotry against Arabs was uncalled for.

  6. SenyorDave says:

    @steve: Never did figure out why he added Palin to his campaign.

    To state the obvious: he and his staff didn’t do the bare minimum of vetting Palin. A one hour interview with her would have shown her to be a complete cipher. Every candidate has weaknesses but Palin’s weakness was a total lack of general knowledge. For some reason McCain and his senior staff didn’t do their homework. It is not possible that she was able to fake it. The biggest decision of his political life was the selection palin as his running mate. Thank God he didn’t select Lieberman; he might have won and the combination of his predilection for war and Lieberman acting like the senator from Israel would have almost guaranteed that we would have bombed Iraq.

  7. Kylopod says:

    @SenyorDave: If you want to learn more about how Palin ended up on the ticket, I recommend a lengthy 2008 New Yorker article. Palin was being pushed by right-wing activists as early as 2007. At that point most of them assumed Hillary Clinton was going to be the Democratic nominee, and they hoped Palin could neutralize the historic nature of Hillary’s candidacy as the first woman president. So she had been on the conservative radar for a while when it came time for McCain to make his fateful choice.

    McCain, for his part, realized that he was headed toward a defeat. He was behind in the polls, and despite his “maverick” reputation couldn’t escape from the shadow of the unpopular Bush. He figured that if he went with a safe, boring choice like Mitt Romney or Rob Portman, that in itself probably wouldn’t have harmed his candidacy–but it would have done nothing to turn around his fortunes. He calculated that he needed to do something bold and unexpected. Lieberman would have fulfilled that goal, albeit in a very different manner, as a centrist independent who had been on the Democratic ticket just 8 years earlier. Palin, in contrast, was a hardcore conservative–but a young, attractive, and charismatic one with the potential to inject youthful enthusiasm into the aging McCain’s campaign. Remember the “celebrity” ads that McCain did against Obama? McCain wanted his own celeb to steal the thunder from Obama.

    It was, in short, an act of desperation, and it’s easy to understand how the McCain campaign got caught in the moment (as the media temporarily did)–the excitement of a sudden turnaround in the campaign like it was some Aaron Sorkin TV drama. That’s what got them to gloss over the details and ignore the warning signs.

  8. Jen says:


    how would you have responded?

    I would *like* to believe that I’d have the presence of mind to respond along the lines of “Senator Obama is a good man, and a lot of what you’re reading about him is flat-out false–they’re lies. I know him, I work with him, and while we disagree often on policy, he is as American as you or me.”

    But again, I’m not trying to think on my feet in front of a hostile crowd. I worked around politicians for part of my career, and even the best on-your-feet thinkers fumble on occasion. I honestly believe that he was trying to shut down one falsehood (with “no ma’am, he’s not an Arab”) and then went full on into a defense (he’s a good family man…etc.). The statements were just too close together, and were not meant to be linked.

    There’s only so much educating you can do on the fly (for this woman, let’s just start with: not all Arabs are Muslim, not all Muslims are Arabs, Arabs and Muslims are good people just like you and me, Obama is an American, and a good guy, and we all love our families…etc.).

  9. Kylopod says:


    I worked around politicians for part of my career, and even the best on-your-feet thinkers fumble on occasion.

    Agreed. And McCain fumbled here. That’s all I was trying to say. His response was worthy of some praise–especially in contrast to the Republicans who came after him–but still flawed.

  10. CSK says:

    The WaPo is reporting that Trump vetoed a Tweet prepared by his WH staff that praised McCain as a hero.

    Trump must be frantic to figure out a way to do something that will draw attention from the funeral. As I said: Perhaps a hastily scheduled rally?

  11. Modulo Myself says:

    If you want to blame McCain for something real, blame him for the fact that the RW media spent eight years treating this racist woman like dirt. They fed her idiotic lies and played on her racial prejudices. Whereas someone like McCain–who treated her with decency–washed his hands of the entire matter. Following Obama’s election, Republicans could have been pointing to Palin, the Iraq years, and Fox as a sign of things having gone horribly wrong. Instead, they were happy to go along with it. And yet most humans watching this exchange admire McCain, even if he’s clumsy, and don’t despise the woman. Obama’s entire hopeful message was about not despising an old racist white woman who thought he was a terrorist. The f—ing Republicans were given a free chance to be admirable without having to denounce racist Grandma and they went the absolute opposite way and just fed insane nonsense to racist Grandma.

  12. MarkedMan says:


    To state the obvious: he and his staff didn’t do the bare minimum of vetting Palin. A one hour interview with her would have shown her to be a complete cipher.

    Just to expand on your comment: She should have never reached the interview stage. I knew about Palin because she showed up in some lists of “If the Republican front runners wanted to name a woman as their running mate”. And it was obvious she was busy imploding in Alaska due to her paranoid and vindictive nature. She was involved in an ugly scandal where she was trying to use the state police to harass neighbors she had been feuding with in her home town. (I may have the specifics awry but the pettiness, vindictiveness and attention,toed abuse of State police were definitely in the mix. )

  13. Kylopod says:

    One comment I’d like to add concerns the 2012 HBO movie Game Change. It features great performances by Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin and Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt. But one performance that was a little disappointing was Ed Harris as McCain; though a great actor, for some reason he came off stiff and wooden in this role (I think they overdid the makeup, and he seemed lost underneath it). The movie recreates the entire “He’s an Arab!” moment, but Harris failed to register the emotion–the visible discomfort–that was so obvious in McCain’s expressions and body language in the real clip.

  14. Lynn says:

    And then there’s this:

    When presidential candidates appear at public forums, passions about the field are often on vivid display. Monday, Senator John McCain received a question from a woman in Hilton Head Island, S.C., that was blunt and harsh.

    “How do we beat the bitch?” the woman asked.

    Mr. McCain was obviously uncomfortable, trying to deflect the vitriol with humor and offering to give a translation. But he did not condemn the questioner, instead calling it an “excellent question.”

    He then addressed the question without any apparent doubt as to whom it referred.”

    from the NY Times, By MARC SANTORANOV. 14, 2007

  15. gVOR08 says:


    It was, in short, an act of desperation, and it’s easy to understand how the McCain campaign got caught in the moment (as the media temporarily did)–the excitement of a sudden turnaround in the campaign like it was some Aaron Sorkin TV drama.

    Character emerges in times of stress. A more honorable man, or a more calculating man who realized that in the shadow of Iraq and the financial crisis no Republican had a chance of winning, might have made a decision with more concern for long term effects.

  16. Bob says:

    @steve: With out Palin, McCain would have lost even worse than He did, I and the people I knew only voted for McCain because it was a vote for Sara Palin, With the hope that She would be the next presidential candidate, Palin had tons more going for Her than McCain ever did, McCain was a legacy twerp.

  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    We’re going to need people like this to rescue us from the path we’re headed down in the age of Trump and I’m not sure if they’re going to arrive in time.

    If you’re expecting Republicans, I wouldn’t count on them showing up at all. Hopefully, I’m just jaded and cynical, but I don’t think so.

  18. Scott says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    blame him for the fact that the RW media spent eight years treating this racist woman like dirt. They fed her idiotic lies and played on her racial prejudices.

    One thing I think people do not understand about how this country operates is that they tend to blame big visible entities like RW media. The real source of hate, disparagement, and disinformation are the evangelical and fundamentalist churches. They have been doing this since the country was founded and well before any modern media. And they are the source of discontent today. I remember back when McCain was battling Bush in South Carolina in 2006, Molly Ivins had a column which basically said that the primary was going to be fought on the windshields of the cars parked at church on Sunday. It was true then and it is true today.

  19. Kylopod says:


    With out Palin, McCain would have lost even worse than He did

    According to at one study, Palin cost McCain 1.6% in the popular vote.

    I and the people I knew only voted for McCain because it was a vote for Sara Palin

    You sound like the apocryphal Pauline Kael quote about how nobody she knew voted for Nixon. Your personal experience is not proof of how the country at large behaved.

    It’s true that Palin excited many conservatives who weren’t very enthusiastic about McCain. But she turned off many, many more independents and centrists, and probably helped stir up Democrats who found her candidacy a lot more frightening than McCain’s. The evidence couldn’t be clearer: The right loved her, almost everyone else was appalled by her. That is not a recipe for electoral success.

  20. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott: Lord I miss Molly Ivins. These days she wouldn’t have needed the Texas lege for material.

  21. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR08: Some years back when she was still alive, I listened to the audiobook version of her Bushwhacked, narrated by her. Later I listened to the audiobook of another book of hers, where the recording came out after her death and so was narrated by someone else–and I realized that one of the things I’d enjoyed about hearing her narrate Bushwhacked was her thick Texas accent. It was a lot of fun hearing Bush bashed by someone who seemed authentically from the same culture.

  22. al Ameda says:


    McCain was a legacy twerp.

    … and Hillary was pilloried for referring to many Trump supporters as ‘deplorables’ ?

  23. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I don’t share the emotional gush that people are indulging in on this occasion. He was congresscritter for over 30 years and I have yet to see anyone list his achievements during that time. Lots of references to speeches, but few, if any, real achievements. All the focus is on those 5 1/2 years he spent as a POW.

    His maverickicity usually consisted of making noble speeches and then voting with the Republican majority anyway. His torture speech was exactly the same. His recent single vote to save Obamacare in the Senate – for which he was lauded to the skies – was later voided because he voted with the Republicans again to defeat another pro-Obamacare motion. Again: 30 years as an elected representative.

    My feelings are best summarized by Daniel Larison at The American Conservative site, in his post on McCain’s legacy:

    McCain distinguished himself as a consistent proponent of unnecessary foreign wars in the name of American “leadership,” and the country was always worse off when the president heeded his recommendations. He was a leading cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq and intervention in Libya, and he was wrong about both. He was also a Kosovo war supporter and has been a steadfast defender of U.S. support for the Saudi war on Yemen. When Georgia escalated a conflict with Russia, he insanely proclaimed, “We are all Georgians” and gave the impression that he was willing to risk WWIII over a dispute that had nothing to do with us. Despite his constant demands for more “action,” the U.S. did not intervene in Syria as forcefully or as soon as he wanted. He was even once quoted praising the Saudis for their role in Syria. “Thank God for the Saudis,” he said. He was famously hawkish on Iran (“bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran,” he sang), and in recent years went so far as to jump on the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) bandwagon. This is a record of horrible judgment and even more horrible costs for the people in the countries affected by the policies he supported.

    If McCain had his way, the U.S. would have been in even more wars for much longer than we already were, and even his admirers can’t deny that. For the last twenty years of his political career, McCain was an irrepressible champion of reckless U.S. meddling around the world. It was an enormous stroke of good fortune for the U.S. and the world that his 2008 presidential bid failed. If you believe that U.S. foreign policy is far too militarized, overreaching, and destructive, McCain did a great deal to make and keep it that way.

    I think that’s a fair assessment. We need to get past our American knee-jerk tendency to throw military “solutions” at every international problem. It hasn’t brought us much in the way of national security, or even victory.

    And his great “moment” confronting the future Trump voter at the rally and defending Obama? Applause, cheers.

    And then there’s Sarah Palin. He didn’t have to pick her. He said later that he regretted not going with his preference, Joe Lieberman. I think a maverick would have gone with his preference, not the one favored by the political hacks on his payroll.

  24. TM01 says:

    Ah yes….Character.

    We tried that with John McCain. How’d that work out?

    We tried it again with Mitt Romney, who is, by all accounts, one of the nicest people to walk the face of the earth.

    And the people you’ve chosen to ally with, Doug, turned him into a racist, bigoted, evil, woman hating murderer beholden to no one but Wall Street.

    So yeah….we’ve got Trump.

    You can thank yourself for that.

    Your much vaunted Norms dictate that Trump should have meekly cowered in the corner and apologized the first time he was called a racist by The Ever Outraged Left.

    And yes, McCain pushed back against a racist. Good for him. Too bad that no one on the left pushes back when the racism comes from the top on their side. Joe Biden about Romney: “They’re gonna put y’all back in chains!”

    But not pushing back against that blatant racism from the left is The Norm as well.

    Even Obama accused McCain of running a campaign tinged with Racism. So could McCain really have been that great?

    RIP Senator McCain, and thank you for your military service.

  25. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Yes, the 2008 McCain campaign was racist – the “finest hour” moment was the one time McCain drew the line with this woman because he couldn’t stand for it to happen right in front of him. He never once lifted a finger to get the RNC or his own campaign to knock off the dog whistling.

    As for Mitt “nicest guy” Romney, if he hadn’t been such a spineless pandering dweeb, he might have done better. And in retrospect, his courting of Trump’s endorsement – after Trump had insulted Ann Romney – wasn’t a really smart thing to do either. It made Trump into a legitimate Republican rival and gave him a shot of credibility for 2016.

    So yeah, TM01, boo sucks to you.

  26. Kylopod says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: I avoided joining the thread announcing his death, largely because of my mixed feelings about McCain and my fear of seeming like I was dancing on the man’s grave. There have been public figures whom I’ve found so loathsome that I was tempted to bend that rule, such as Andrew Breitbart. (Even there, I was hesitant on account of the fact that Breitbart passed away at the relatively young age of 43 and left behind a family with small children.) McCain wasn’t one of them. There were things I admired about him, and I certainly think he was preferable to 99% of the elected Republicans today. But he was wildly overrated, and I just can’t help pushing back against some of the claims I’ve been seeing in the various hagiographies over the past few days.

    For example, a WaPo piece the other day contrasted Trump’s character with McCain’s (talk about a low bar!), and among the things it said was, “McCain played down his heroism; Trump boasts of imagined rescues into school buildings to save children from gunfire.” That made me snort. McCain may not have been a crude braggart like Trump, be he practically built his entire career around his reputation as a war hero, and he never passed up the opportunity to flaunt it. I’m not saying that made him an awful person. He was a war hero who was well-deserving of the plaudits for what he went through, quite unlike Trump’s boasts to imaginary, made-up achievements. But a beacon of humility he was not.

    Similarly, you mention his mixed record on health care, but it’s even worse than you described. I’ve been seeing numerous people claim that McCain “saved Obamacare.” That’s a pure myth. Just to review: Last year the Senate initially proposed two Obamacare repeal bills. One was sold as “repeal and replace,” the other as “repeal without replace.” McCain voted for the first, against the second. But both failed to pass, with at least five Republicans voting against each one–well over the margin where its failure could be attributed to a single Senator. Then the Senate drafted a new bill that quickly got dubbed “skinny repeal,” consisting of nothing more than elimination of the individual mandate penalty and a few taxes, while otherwise leaving the entire structure of the ACA in place. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski came out against the bill, but as long all the other Republican Senators had voted for it, it would have passed. McCain was expected to support it, but at the very last moment he unexpectedly gave a thumbs-down, killing the bill (and inspiring Trump’s grudge against him).

    Here’s the thing, though: all three of those Senators later ended up voting for the tax bill, which essentially included skinny repeal within it, in its elimination of the individual mandate. In other words, McCain played no real part in saving Obamacare. The first comprehensive repeal bill died in spite of his support for it, the second he opposed but wasn’t singlehandedly responsible for killing, and then he did singlehandedly kill a watered-down “skinny repeal” bill before later turning around and supporting more or less the exact same policy. But all people remember is the drama of that thumbs-down gesture. If that isn’t an illustration of the superficialty of the media narratives, I don’t know what is.

  27. Monala says:

    @Jen: Excellent point. Colin Powell’s statement, in contrast, took place during an interview in which Powell was sharing prepared in advance remarks about why he had chosen to endorse Obama. Under the circumstances, I think McCain’s remarks were very admirable.

  28. Monala says:

    @TM01: Ah yes, the latest rightwing talking point, “You deserve Trump because you were mean to the nice guys we nominated before.” Conveniently ignoring the rightwing nastiness aimed at the nice guys who Democrats nominated or elected, including Carter, Dukakis, Kerry and Obama.

  29. gVOR08 says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    And then there’s Sarah Palin. He didn’t have to pick her. He said later that he regretted not going with his preference, Joe Lieberman.

    Not possible. McCain needed a veep to offset concerns about his age. Lieberman’s about 6 years younger, but looked ten years older.

    And I’m not at all sure Joe (Make Israel Great Again) Lieberman would have been an improvement over even Palin.

  30. Kylopod says:


    Not possible. McCain needed a veep to offset concerns about his age.

    The problem posed by McCain’s age was having a veep with the ability to take over in the event of his death or incapacitation (and given that we now know McCain didn’t survive two years beyond what would have been the end of his second term, this was hardly an unreasonable fear). He didn’t necessarily need someone very young, he needed someone who seemed competent and prepared–and whatever Lieberman’s other faults, he did not tend to come off as a neophyte or amateur who didn’t know what he was doing.

    I imagine that if McCain had picked Lieberman, it would have heavily impressed the Beltway set and given the campaign a lot of fawning media coverage. Certainly, Lieberman would not have fallen apart in interviews. McCain would still probably have lost–there was pretty much no way he was winning after the collapse of the banks. But I don’t think we’d have seen the complete meltdown that we saw with McCain-Palin. Remember, Colin Powell (and a number of other prominent Republicans) cited Palin as one of their main reasons for endorsing Obama. Powell may have endorsed Obama anyway, but I doubt he’d have been as horrified by Lieberman as he was by Palin.

    Of course it would have come with its own political risks, including the possibility of a civil war at the convention–which was one of the foremost reasons why McCain’s advisors talked him out of the choice. But I disagree that it was “Not possible” or that McCain would never have done such a thing; there’s no question he seriously considered it, and he was exactly the personality to attempt something that unconventional. And I don’t think it would have been worse than the Palin choice substantively either; Lieberman at least was qualified, and as for his being a trigger-happy Israel freak, so was Palin (indeed I’d say she was well to Lieberman’s right on that issue), so at the very least it was a wash.

  31. TM01 says:


    Conveniently ignoring the rightwing nastiness aimed at the nice guys who Democrats nominated or elected, including Carter, Dukakis, Kerry and Obama.

    And Reagan, Bush, Bush, McCain, etc? All hitler. Racists. Woman-hating. War-mongering. Bringing back slavery. Yadda-yadda-yadda.

    Really, man. Come up with something new. You’ve been spewing the same crap for around 40 years.

    And then calling everyone else mean.