Courtesy of Tribune News Service

Opinion: McCain's legacy was a mixed bag

The death of John McCain has, perhaps more than any event since the dawn of the Trump era, united partisans from across the aisles in the mourning and celebration of a man almost universally hailed as a genuine American hero and political maverick. 

Regardless of party, those commenting on McCain’s passing invariably praised his astuteness of character and his passionate commitment to the nation’s highest values. Joe Biden, in a tearful eulogy delivered at his funeral, called McCain his brother. Perhaps no Republican since Ronald Reagan has been this universally beloved. 

It’s not hard to see why so many people have such deep admiration for the man. He endured hell in the service of his country in the disastrous war in Vietnam, and for his sacrifice can certainly be called a war hero. He also represents a sort of conservatism of respectability, one that is passionate in its defense of American exceptionalism while avoiding the more unhinged qualities that certain segments of the country’s conservative movement have embraced in recent years. 

Many have pointed to the now famous incident on the 2008 campaign trail, where McCain firmly rebuked one of his supporters who denounced Obama as an "Arab," as an example of the “right” kind of conservatism, on that is conservative while avoiding needless bigotry. In an age of increasing polarization and radicalization on both sides, McCain is thus a symbol of “respectable” form of conservatism, one that liberals feel is worth engaging with. 

In spite of whatever genuinely positive qualities the man may have had, I simply cannot join the chorus of unadulterated adulation. McCain in reality was a deeply flawed politician, on whose legacy is far more ambiguous than conventional wisdom would have it. Surely there is much to be admired in the man, but we can’t forget his very real shortcomings. 

For the past several decades, McCain has been the face of American warmongering. If McCain had his way, we would likely have engaged in war with Iran, Syria, North Korea and possibly even Russia. McCain would see thousands die for ill-defined geopolitical goals, fully embracing the strategy of regime change that was such a disaster in Iraq. Regardless of his own personal heroism, McCain’s chronic hawkishness made him an enemy to peace and global stability. 

Though some will inevitably decry this article as liberal garbage, I actually am right of center (though I do find little of value in conventional American conservatism). The kind of conservatism that McCain championed was neoconservatism, the malignant form of conservatism that seeks to remake the world through regime change and seemingly endless war. We can recognize McCain’s personal sacrifices and his genuinely positive qualities while also taking him to task for his shortcomings, something that the media has seemingly forgotten in their assessments of his legacy. 

In the end, I simply don’t consider McCain to be some unambiguously great statesman. He had his positive traits to be sure, but he was ultimately just another warmonger with blood on his hands. Sad to see the man die, but I won’t shed any tears over the death of his political vision. 


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