Kearney: An embarrassing end to McCain’s lifetime of service


Ryan Kearney, Columnist

Remember Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)? War hero, POW camp survivor, “maverick” of the Senate, rider of the “Straight Talk Express?” He ran for president twice, and was a particular beacon of integrity in his first run?

It’s easy to forget that this John McCain, the one who regularly reached across the aisle and opposed his own party’s President on issues from taxes to torture, once existed. Since his decisive loss to now-President Barack Obama in the 2008 election, the man who once seemed capable of tackling big issues and putting “country first,” to quote his 2008 campaign slogan, has vanished. In his place now stands a cynical and downright unpleasant old man, one who is more concerned with opposing the man who beat him than in leaving any positive historical legacy. I hesitate to devote a column to the man and give his antics attention, but his recent actions have proven to be so outrageous that they must be acknowledged.

McCain’s fall from respectability has been a long time coming. In contrast with his 2000 Republican primary campaign, his 2008 campaign was something of an embarrassment. His use of non-issues like Joe the Plumber and Bill Ayers was maddening, and his choice of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his vice president quickly proved to be a misjudgment of epic proportions.

Since deservedly losing that election, McCain has shifted from being a “maverick” to acting as a reliable opponent of Obama’s agenda. However, it is his behavior in the aftermath of the president’s re-election that has truly crystallized just how lacking McCain now is in integrity.

McCain’s post-election pattern of embarrassing himself began with his vehement and unjustified opposition to the possibility of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s nomination as secretary of state. Taking issue with Rice’s public handling of the September 2012 Benghazi attacks, McCain lashed out at her for being “not very bright” and “unqualified” to serve as secretary. That he would label an accomplished diplomat as “unqualified” to serve as the nation’s top diplomat was especially galling, given the obvious lack of judgment in “qualifications” that McCain demonstrated when he selected the 20-month governor of Alaska with no expertise or interest in any actual policy area to run as his Vice President.

McCain continued his questionable crusade against the President’s foreign policy team by vehemently opposing the nomination of his former Senate Republican colleague Chuck Hagel, a friend and fellow Vietnam veteran, to serve as secretary of defense. McCain’s reasons for opposing Hagel so strenuously, many of which I explained in a previous column, are as flimsy as his rationale for fighting Rice.

Once again ignoring the fact that his vice presidential pick left him as perhaps least-qualified member of Congress to ever judge the merits of anyone for a job, McCain ludicrously labeled Hagel as unqualified to serve as secretary, and complained about his willingness to attack former President George Bush’s Iraq policy and be “anti his own party and people.” The old, “maverick” McCain would be proud of Hagel’s independence — but not today’s McCain, who never lets an opportunity to oppose the Obama Administration go to waste.

McCain’s unreasonableness and grandstanding may have hit a new low last week, though, in a Phoenix town hall exchange with the mother of a victim of the Aurora, Colo. theatre shootings.  Responding to the mother’s question about the need for an assault weapons ban to prevent tragedies like Aurora from happening again, McCain responded not with compassion or an open mind on the thorny issue of gun control, but with condescension and false bravado. Breaking out a tired slogan for the grieving mother, McCain told her that she needed some “straight talk” because an assault weapons ban would never pass the U.S. Senate. The mother, a Republican, was “appalled” by McCain’s rudeness, and she and her husband have vowed to never vote for him again.

In his strident opposition to any and all policy proposals or nominations that come out of the Obama Administration, McCain has forsaken his sense of bipartisanship and reasonableness. It is an immense shame that the career of this 76 year-old war hero is concluding not in triumph, with McCain acting as the senior statesman and dealmaker of the Senate, but in embarrassment, with him looking like little more than a crotchety old man who is still drowning in bitterness over a lost election. I hope that McCain remembers why he used to be a successful senator and why people used to actually like him, but based on his conduct of late, I will not hold my breath.

Ryan Kearney is a Communication sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]