“Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”-Gen. Douglas MacArthur
In our national mythology, we lionize the rebel, the maverick, the gallant and noble gunslinger. The images are many but the realities are few. One of those few was Senator John Sydney McCain III. Born August 29, 1936, to a military family in the American Protected Panama Canal Zone, John McCain inherited a monumental legacy of Naval Service. The son and grandson of Navy Admirals, Senator McCain did what many young boys do under the weight of such expectations: He redefined them. McCain determined that if he was going to fulfill that legacy, he would do so under his own terms.
When he entered the Naval Acadamy in 1958 to become a pilot, his record as a student was not the most exemplary. He was a bit of a rebel and partier. For Sen. McCain, education was a hands on experience that could not be encapsulated in textbook lessons. As such, he finished in the bottom half of the class. His academic credentials in flight training was not a prophesy, but a stage of what would become a remarkable journey into a life of incomparable public service.
Completing flight school in 1960, he became a pilot of ground attack aircraft and was assigned to A-1 skyraider squadrons. Although he was not among the elite in terms of skill, Sen McCain’s flight prowess improved overtime. He simply kept working until he got it right———– A practice that would serve him tremendously well later in life. Sen McCain requested and received a combat assignment aboard the USS Forestal in 1967. It is here that he would begin to demonstrate his legendary tenacity to survive near death experiences that would mark his incredible tour of duty.
On a hot July day in 1967, he boarded his A-4 skyhawk for a mission. He and other flight deck personnel failed to notice that one of his fuel tanks were leaking JP-5 fuel. His attempted take off ignited the flammable fuel and the 1,000(lb) bomb underneath his fighter jet exploded. Such a catastrophe is usually fatal. And it was for 134 sailors on deck on that fateful day. Miraculously, Sen McCain survived with only shrapnel wounds in his legs and chest.
But there was an equally dark trial awaiting him over the skies of Vietnam. On Oct 26, 1967, he was flying over North Vietnam when an anti-aircraft missile blew him out of the sky. Sen McCain ejected before impact and suffered 2 fractured arms and 1 fractured leg. He nearly drowned before his captors pulled him ashore. His captors crushed his shoulders and bayoneted him. He was beaten and interrogated but would defy his tormentors by responding only with his name and military id number. On several occasions he was left for dead, but fueled by an iron will to hold on, his enormous heart just kept on beating. He was only given medical care when it was learned that he was the son of an Admiral.
One would think that at first opportunity to leave such hellish confinements, a POW would look for the first exit no matter the circumstance. But if one thought that about John McCain, one would be most definitely WRONG! When offered the chance to leave he chose to stay with his other fellow POWs. There is a military code that states that there is an order of release of POWs based upon those who had been in captivity the longest. The man who had finished in the bottom half of his class, had now become the living embodiment of its’ teachings.
After his subsequent release in 1973, he served in the US Navy for 8 more years before retiring as a Captain in 1981. The next year, he entered politics. McCain was elected to the US House of Representatives, where he served two terms. He entered the US Senate in 1987 winning re-election a total of 5 times. Although a conservative, Sen. McCain was not a republican automaton. He was never hesitant to stray from the GOP Politboro partyline on issues that breached his principles. These principles included the reduction in, if not all out elimination of pork barrel spending. For this practice he was labeled as a maverick. A label that would come to define him for the rest of his life.
Sen McCain was also the personification of bi-partisanship. The result of which was the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002, that formed the basis of present day campaign reform in American politics. Although he was known to be hawkish on the Iraq War of 2003, he would advocate for the restoration of diplomatic relations with Vietnam. To many he would seem a bundle of conservative contradictions. But the truth was that at his essence, his politics were based on the twin virtues of pragmatism and moderation. He was the Yin and Yang of the Republican Party. He would politically pimp slap you one minute and embrace you the next.
Although two failed presidential bids denied him the office of the Chief Executive of the United States, he did not miss a beat. He simply returned to the Senate and kept fighting. Initially, he opposed the planned implementation of the Bush Tax Cuts of 2004. While he identified as a conservative, according to the National Journal, a non-partisan publication, Sen. McCain voted in line with President Obama’s position on legislation over 50% of the time in 2013.
He proved himself to be against Republican Plutocracy when he stated that: “I voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportional amount that went to the wealthiest Americans. I would clearly support not extending those tax cuts in order to help address the deficit.” Although he later altered his position in 2006 and 2008, he told MSNBC’s Tim Russert that his proposal would focus more on middle-income Americans than on the wealthy. It is tempting for some to try to paint him as an undercover liberal. He was not. He voted 19 times against raising the minimum wage. And although he favored equal pay regardless of gender, he opposed specific legislation that would have given workers more time to discover sex discrimination before bringing suit under the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
However, as the election of Donald Trump reached into the nether reaches of rationality, the old maverick loaded his pistol and fastened his gunbelt one last time. He would be diagnosed with brain cancer one year later. But McCain would show his legendary resolve by fighting both the cancer in his brain, and the one in his party. After the tasteless remark about his POW status as a war hero, Donald Trump continued to go after McCain in his interview with a reporter in 2015.
He remarked: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,”
This was laughable, coming from a man who received a deferment for a bone spur. And while he didn’t respond to Trump with an insult, McCain did clap back when he said:
“One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest-income level of America, and the highest-income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur…….”
Sen. McCain extended his attack by bringing the focus of the discussion back to the central tenant of the legislative branch of government: to provide a check against executive abuses.
He said: “We are an important check on the powers of the Executive. Our consent is necessary for the president to appoint jurists and powerful government officials and in many respects to conduct foreign policy. Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equal!”
He would further decry the opportunistic retreat into the abyss of meglomania and pornographic patriotism when he stated that:
“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of Earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems, is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history…”
But Sen John McCain would save his best shot for last when he was the dissenting vote against the repeal of Obamacare by discordant Trumpets in the Senate. It was here that the old maverick gave his most fervent critique of the Real Estate mogul turned President. If there was ever anyone who sought to “Make America Great Again,” it was Senator John Sydney McCain III. And although time robbed him of the best that was yet to come, his battle with Trump was the capstone on an epic legacy that encompassed over 50 yrs of service on behalf of the American people.
General Douglas MacArthur once said that “old soldiers don’t die, they just fade away.” In the case of John McCain, he got it half right. Although his mortal remains will be resigned to the earth, his legacy has achieved immortality. And as his party descends into the abyss of criminal cronyism, plutocratic politics, and blind obedience to oligarchy, the voice of John McCain will return to push it back to the hallowed grounds of reason and rationality.
TONY MACEO is a Senior Blogger at the Negromanosphere and the Chief Blogger at Power and Strategy.com. Like, share and subscribe to the website. Become a Patron at Power of Strategies on Patreon. Also, check out our online store for chess players. Till Next time, I’ll holla!