Perhaps there's room, in the halls of gushing adulation for John McCain upon his death from brain cancer, for a more even-handed view of the man. There was a side to Sen McCain, R-Ariz., that has been obscured by the unqualified praise from both his former enemies and friends. This needn't be like William F. Buckley Jr.'s vicious comments on libertarian Murray Rothbard upon his demise, a piece so nasty Florence King called it an "attack obituary."
We must wonder: how can anyone reaping such torrents of hero-worship from the high and the mighty of America be considered a maverick? And indeed McCain was not one. On the contrary, he stood foursquare in Washington, D.C.'s imperial ways. There was scarcely a war, threat of a war, or the chance of American intervention anywhere that he didn't favor. He wanted the U.S. to intervene in the brief Russia/Georgia war-a war thousands of miles away in Russia's backyard that had nothing to do with us nor posed any threat to our security. Evidently he learned nothing from his support for the disastrous Iraq war.
Max Blumenthal points out that McCain had a penchant for aiding and posing with various terrorists and thugs, such as Ukraine's "sieg-heiling neo-Nazis." He favored the Libyan insurgents who, with American help, overthrew Muammar Gaddafi. Naturally our hamfisted meddling in Libya created havoc all over north Africa. McCain's appetite for war still unslaked and having learned nothing, he jumped into the fray to support meddling again, this time in Syria. The usual bloodshed and mayhem followed.
John Lewis called McCain "a warrior for peace." No, he was just a warrior. He can lay no claim to being a maverick just because he shuffled his votes between the GOP and Democratic Party from time to time. (Obamacare, anyone?) He was still in Washington's mainstream all the while. A true maverick is a constitutionalist such as Ron Paul, a neutralist such as Sen. Robert Taft, or pacifist U.S. Rep. Jeannette Rankin, who voted against entering both World Wars I and II.
He was a hero in one sense: not from being shot down in Vietnam which had nothing to do with heroism but merely lousy luck, but in rejecting the North Vietnamese offer to be released before his fellow prisoners of war were. Less inspiring were his propaganda broadcasts for his captors, but torture can elicit misleading results. See the American torture of Iraqis under President George Bush.
There is a last puzzle to McCain: why he strove so mightily to squelch inquiries into any possible surviving POWs in Vietnam. There's evidence that North Vietnam kept some 1,200 American POWs as bargaining leverage for after the war. Of all the unlikely people to do so, McCain took steps to ensure that reports and documents of unreturned POWs be kept classified and thus hidden while besmirching those trying to find the truth as "MIA [missing in action] hobbyists," "hoaxers" and "conspiracy theorists."
We each choose our own heroes. McCain isn't one of mine.
Nelson lives in Casselton, N.D., and is a regular contributor to The Forum’s opinion page.