John McCain is no maverick: The man who inflicted Sarah Palin on us kowtows to Trump

No one doubts McCain's personal courage. But he just showed up in the Senate to bail out the guy who mocked him

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published July 26, 2017 4:58AM (EDT)

 (AP/Wong Maye-E)
(AP/Wong Maye-E)

John McCain is not a maverick.

On Tuesday, barely two weeks after being diagnosed with brain cancer and receiving taxpayer-funded medical care that will likely total millions of dollars, the Arizona senator returned to Washington to help cast one of the deciding votes to move forward with debate on Senate Republicans' plans to destroy the Affordable Care Act. As an explanation for his vote, John McCain offered the following hollow qualifications:

Incremental progress, compromises that each side criticize but also accept, just plain muddling through to chip away at problems and keep our enemies from doing their worst isn’t glamorous or exciting. ... But it’s usually the most we can expect from our system of government, operating in a country as diverse and quarrelsome and free as ours. ... I voted for the motion to proceed to allow debate to continue and amendments to be offered. ... I will not vote for this bill as it is today.

For all of the spin and self-perpetuating mythology that McCain is some type of principled renegade within the Republican Party, the facts strongly suggest otherwise. McCain's policies are mostly the party's; the Republican Party's policies are largely his.

As most Americans know, as a U.S. Navy aviator John McCain survived more than five years of torture during the Vietnam War as a prisoner in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton." McCain also refused to abandon his fellow airmen when given a chance for early release. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump sneered at McCain's military service, suggesting in effect that he was a coward and a loser. McCain did not demand a public apology. In the final analysis, McCain has kowtowed to Trump and, like other Republicans, has helped shield him from the various scandals which surround the administration.

John McCain is a "traditional" Republican. He only appears to be a "maverick" by virtue of how extreme the Republican Party has become in its present form.

McCain consistently opposed honoring the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with a federal holiday until he had a "change of heart" some decades later. McCain has also opposed civil rights laws intended to protect people of color from discrimination.

McCain led a racist presidential campaign against Barack Obama which involved darkening the latter's skin in political ads to make him look more menacing and frightening to white voters. McCain also chose the grossly inexperienced and underprepared Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- who embraced the racist conspiracy theory known as "birtherism" -- as his vice presidential candidate.

One could argue that McCain helped to normalize the reckless incompetence and ignorance embodied by Trump in his selection of Palin, who seems in retrospect like a Trump precursor or premonition.

Democrats often wonder why they keep losing to the Republican Party. The causes for their hand-wringing and anxiety are many.

The Republican Party's policies on issues ranging from education to the economy to health care are extremely unpopular among the American people. Yet Republicans continue to defeat Democratic candidates.

Mr. Trump is a bigoted, ignorant, clownish political thug and professed sexual predator. Yet, with the help of Russian interference, James Comey's meddling and Democratic ineptitude, he was able to defeat Hillary Clinton.

The Republican Party and its media machine have created an alternate reality of fantasies, lies and delusions to appeal to their voters. Yet the Democratic Party has consistently been unable to craft a compelling counternarrative. Reason, sanity, facts and empirical reality are insufficient to rebut the cult-like levels of delusion and devotion found among some supporters of Trump and the Republican Party. This challenge is made even greater when the mainstream American news media legitimates the magical thinking offered up the Republican Party as reasonable positions to be debated under the rubric of "fairness" and "balance."

The Democratic Party's failures are also exemplified by its relationship with John McCain.

Democrats and the so-called liberal media lionize and respect him, fawning over his superior character and declaring him a "maverick." But on Tuesday, as many times in the past, McCain sided with his fellow Republicans and against the American people. Even as Democrats cheered McCain's return to the Senate, it should be clear that he is no friend of theirs.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party continues to treat its enemies on the other side of the political aisle with respect and to hold out a pathetic expectation that bipartisan compromise and negotiation are possible. For years, the Democratic Party has been in a fight to the death with the Republican Party. Yet the Democrats keep bringing hugs and handshakes while the Republicans show up with knives and guns. Who will win in the end? The answer is obvious. The question is really just a formality.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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