Once more, John McCain was the hero.
The first hugely notable time was when his Skyhawk jet was shot down by a missile over North Vietnam, he landed with a parachute in a lake, nearly drowned, was rescued and bayoneted, and stuck in a prison. There, for a period, he was beaten up multiple times daily and finally was told as a propaganda move that he could go home, an online account reminds us.
No thanks, he said, unless servicemen captured before him were released first. That did not happen. He spent more than five years in what was then jocularly called the Hanoi Hilton, although a Hilton it clearly was not.
Here’s a man who will sacrifice himself for America and others, and this latest time he did it shortly after brain surgery. The Republican senator from Arizona and former candidate for president has brain cancer. Bed is recommended at this point, but he scooted to Washington, D.C., to cast a vital vote to allow floor debate and action on health care.
Then he gave a great speech. It was about Senate responsibilities at a time when ignoring them is in fashion. While much of it was obvious, it took bravery to say it and wit and wisdom to say it so well.
“The success of the Senate is important to the continued success of America,” he said. “This country — this big, boisterous, intemperate, restless, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, good and magnificent country — needs us to help it thrive. That responsibility is more important than any of our personal interests or political affiliations.”
What is needed, he said, is collaborative, compromising work for the sake of incremental progress of the kind that has made this nation freer, more prosperous and powerful than any other. We are, he said, a defender of the liberty and dignity of one and all, we have been an “inspiring beacon” in the world, and much has depended on the Senate as a solid deliberative body.
But right now, he warned, senators are “more partisan, more tribal more of the time than any time I can remember.”
He blamed members of both parties, and did not let himself off the hook. Crucial procedures get shoved aside for the sake of secret conniving, he said. Too many too often aim to further their own interests without the give and take that works best for the good of all. He conceded that he himself had failed to always act in accordance with what the national good has required of him.
It might not be glamorous or exciting, this business of giving in on one thing or another to get at ends advantageous to all, he said. What it amounts to is muddling along, never abandoning core principles but looking beyond self and party to honest achievement. The reward is serving America.
McCain’s earlier vote helped open the door for floor consideration of an Obamacare reshuffle in a Republican bill McCain himself found unenthralling. But health care is a mess, he said, and Obamacare needs revision just as some replacement ideas need revision.
Two Republican bills have since failed, and some of us regret the defeat of a repeal that was not to take place for two years, leaving all that time to take one prudent step after the other, aiming piece by piece to get it right instead of doing everything in a hopeless bundle.
Will McCain’s speech change things, not just on this issue, but on others? It got a standing ovation on both sides of the aisle, not just because of what he said, probably, but because of who he is, the specialness of his three decades in the chamber and what he now faces.
Don’t look for miracles, but do look at the possibility of some senators checking their consciences a touch more now and then, of hearing quotes from the speech and just maybe seeing some gradual improvements.
Thanks, Senator McCain.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.