Remembering the Real John McCain by Al Sikes


Some of us, and emphatically me, are McCain Republicans. Most of course are not. Most were willing to overlook President Trump’s conclusion that John McCain was not a hero.

John McCain’s death discloses the inadequacy of obituaries. I have read several and none seemed to me to capture the ineffable quality of McCain. He would of course push back; “come on” he would say, “I made my fair share of mistakes.” And he did and many he admitted through very public apologies. In a sense his greatness results not so much from laws passed or campaigns won, but his capacity to forgive others and seek forgiveness himself.

John McCain was an unscripted politician. He was not bound by Party orthodoxy or special interest insistence and when he stumbled he got up a wiser man.

I knew John because he was an active member of the US Senate Commerce Committee when I chaired the Federal Communications Commission. The Commerce Committee had oversight authority and I paid attention. What I recall most about our exchanges were that they were cordial (not necessarily his reputation) and relatively quick. I always had the feeling that I owed him a quick and hopefully cogent response. I always felt he was trying to make up for the five plus years he was out of commission while a prisoner of war at the Hanoi Hilton.

Several on the Sunday public affairs talk shows called for the Russell Senate Office Building to be renamed for Senator McCain. I heartily agree. Among other things, Senator Richard Russell, for whom the building is named, “supported racial segregation and co-authored the Southern Manifesto with Strom Thurmond.”

Senator’s McCain’s absence will leave a vacuum on two of his important causes. He was a constant voice for “regular order” in Congressional proceedings.

Senator McCain cast the vote that precluded the repeal of what is called Obamacare. He believed that the repeal effort had not been given the rigorous process of hearings and committee actions that regular order anticipates. He wanted to know, among other things, what was going to replace the discredited law and believed the replacement law should be bi-partisan. Obamacare was passed without a single Republican vote.

Regular order must be a product of bi-partisanship. A polarized Senate or House rewards the relentlessly partisan maneuvering that has become so characteristic of Congressional impotence. Only independent-minded and acting Members of Congress will object to their leadership’s efforts to rule by Party caucus.

One other thing is notable and brought him into conflict on both sides of the aisle but in particular his side, the Republican one. He voted against the tax cuts proposed by the George W. Bush administration. He was both a foreign policy and fiscal hawk. He essentially asked, if we are going to cut taxes, since we are operating at a significant deficit, how are we going to cut expenditures? He also thought the cuts were weighted in favor of the wealthy. His fiscal legacy reflects an intense desire to pay it forward.

There is, as noted, a bi-partisan opportunity. The Congress should give President Trump the opportunity to tweet on the newly named John McCain Senate Office building.  

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

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