Taking a Look at John McCain’s Sordid Legacy

In light of John McCain’s staggering fall from relative grace within his own party, his current status as the “Republican” darling of the Democrat party, and his impending demise, it’s as appropriate a time as any to take a far-sighted, honest look back at his career as it pertains to his track record in the Air Force, as an American politician, and as a man.

McCain, known in many circles as a war hero emerged alive from a Vietnamese POW camp after five years, had an ignominious start to his career in the service. He is considered by many to be the beneficiary of nepotism that would be bestowed upon most individuals whose father and grandfather were both Admirals in the Navy. His grandfather, John S. McCain, Sr., and his father, John S. McCain, Jr., are the rare father-son duo who reached such heights during their military service, and they had a 500-foot Naval destroyer named after them because of their respective achievements. It’s the level of rare accomplishment that granted the third McCain namesake – the McCain Americans now know best of the lot – near-complete autonomy in choosing which military post he most coveted.

John McCain III ultimately chose the Air Force, but it wasn’t for any outstanding talent flying fighter jets. In fact, quite the opposite would prove to be true based upon his performance record. An LA Times report details how McCain’s judgement and flying skills were questioned by Navy officials at least three times in instances where McCain’s aircraft ultimately crashed.

Those instances included a crash in Texas’ Corpus Christi Bay which McCain, in his autobiography, blamed on engine failure. Investigators found otherwise, concluding that McCain ‘wasn't paying attention and erred in using a power setting too low to maintain level flight in a turn’. The other two instances are indicative of the widely-shared belief that McCain was not as qualified or serious about safety as most of his peers, and were it not for his family’s unrivaled legacy in the military, McCain’s tenure in the Air Force almost certainly would not have outlasted these incidents.

‘In his most serious lapse, McCain was "clowning" around in a Skyraider over southern Spain about December 1961 and flew into electrical wires, causing a blackout, according to McCain's own account as well as those of naval officers and enlistees aboard the carrier Intrepid. In another incident, in 1965, McCain crashed a T-2 trainer jet in Virginia.’ (LA Times)

The crash which would lead to McCain’s time as a prisoner of war – a time for which he deserves admiration for persevering through – was caused by a surface-to-air missile, not pilot error. That said, many overlook McCain’s troubled beginnings in the Air Force due to his more-notable status as a war hero, a status of which the origin story has been repeated time and again, many times at the expense of acknowledging McCain’s less admirable characteristics and proclivities.

While I want to focus primarily on McCain’s status as a politician, it’s widely believed that a politician’s personal life is in many ways indicative of his qualifications to serve honestly and with integrity. The left has espoused this belief time in again in citing Donald Trump’s extramarital affairs, as the right did with Bill Clinton. But McCain’s own story most mirrors that of John Edwards, who continued an affair as his wife was stricken with incurable cancer, a revelation that would eventually end his political career.

McCain’s first wife, Carol, was in a life-threatening car accident that required surgeries requiring the shaving of bones in her lower body which significantly altered her once model-like appearance. When McCain returned from Vietnam, he was reportedly appalled by Carol’s appearance, and he would not long after begin to have affairs and ultimately divorce her in pursuit of other women. Ultimately he settled upon Cindy, his current wife who is eighteen years younger than he. Carol, ever-gracious and conscious of her altered state, does not fault her ex-husband and blames the divorce on a ‘mid-life crisis’ and ‘lost time’ which passed during his time in a prison camp. But most cannot help but conclude that Carol’s drastically changed appearance due to the accident had much to do with her husband’s change of heart.

‘[McCain] also showed incredible callousness to his first wife. She had stood by him throughout the time he was in Vietnam, but then she was in a terrible car accident that cost her five inches of her height and also led her to put on weight. And, while still together with her, he began pursuing Cindy, the heiress whose family would finance his political campaigns.’ (NY Times)

We all have our personal faults, but many have also taken exception to the way in which McCain has conducted himself as a civil servant. He ultimately decided to join the political fray once it became clear his prospects for advancement in the military were not great. With the status as a national hero, McCain was ripe for a run in public office.

That run would ultimately peak (or bottom out, depending on your perspective) with a failed presidential run, for which he is now blaming Sarah Palin, stating in his latest interview that he regrets choosing her as a running mate. We all know Palin was not the right pick, in retrospect, but McCain sure as hell wasn’t, either. Rarely does a vice president lose a presidential race, and McCain is once again showing his uglier side in implying that he would have won the presidency had he chosen, of all people, Joe Lieberman. If it’s been said once, it’s been said a million times.

If only John McCain had Joe Lieberman on the ticket, that 2008 election would have been a sure-fire Republican victory!

There were plenty of reasons not to vote for McCain in 2008, his record as a hawkish, under-accomplished Senator chief among them. Some prominent current and former politicians have not refrained from referring to McCain as a warmonger, and an examination of his public stances and voting record make it difficult to argue.

Lew Rockwell, a noted libertarian, details in a 2000 editorial McCain’s bellicosity by equating him, ironically, to America’s version of Vladimir Putin.

‘From his own words and speeches, it is clear that he is America’s Vladimir Putin, a man who was shaped by old unjust wars he still defends, who identifies most closely not with civilians but with the old-line members of the military and secret police, who believes in mandatory national service leading to conscription, and is pleased to work as a rabble rouser for the military-industrial complex…’ (Lew Rockwell)

It’s the opinion of one man whose views trend toward the isolationist bent, but it’s a viewpoint shared by many non-libertarians who have witnessed McCain consistently bang the drums of war over his career in public office.

As recently as 2008, McCain’s greatest complaint with the war in Iraq, for example, wasn’t the war itself. It’s that Bush hadn’t committed enough troops to the interminable conflict in the desert. McCain is considered to be a neocon in that he often maintains the outlook that American military intervention will solve the problems of even the most un-American nations, a viewpoint that has proven false time and again, with Iraq serving as a prime example. Yet, it’s a viewpoint that McCain has obstinately clung to, maintaining that more troops and missiles will inevitably lead to some undefined solution.

‘the Arizona senator has been the most vocal critic of Bush’s Iraq policy, arguing as far back as late 2003 that he should commit even more troops to the war.’ (Cato Institute)

And, the most pressing foreign policy issues of the day, should McCain be left to make decisions (as he very well could have, considering his run for president) may well have ended up in massive, simultaneous wars with potentially nuclear ramifications.

‘…it is not merely McCain’s views on Iraq policy that mark him as an überhawk. He has also advocated hardline policies toward Iran, Syria, and North Korea, and has even staked out confrontational positions toward such major powers as China and Russia.’ (Cato)

McCain was not always this way. He criticized Ronald Reagan’s decision to intervene in Lebanon in 1983, a decision that would prove foolhardy and bereft of any significant progress in the region. But somewhere along the way, McCain adopted a blanket view that war is the universal solution to foreign policy disagreements, and he’s only grown more extreme in that view as the years passed.

Neither McCain’s old age nor soon-to-be-fatal illness have stemmed his thirst for global conflict. Most who have examined the allegations of Russian hacking of the DNC server determined them to be easily disproved farce. McCain considers the allegations to be an ‘act of war’ perpetrated by Russia.


'When you attack a country, it's an act of war,' he said on Ukrainian TV after meeting with President Petro Poroshenko. 

And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay so that we can perhaps persuade Russians to stop this kind of attack on our very fundamentals of democracy.' (via Daily Mail)

While any death has a tinge of sadness, McCain hasn’t garnered any additional sympathy over the final years or months of his life. It may sound harsh, but reality often is.

Shamelessly criticizing your party members, voting against policies you have long vowed to support – the repeal of Obamacare being the primary example – and lobbying for war on no fewer than five major fronts is no way to curry favor or fond memories from the party who once made him a rising star.

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