The crimes of an “American hero”

August 28, 2018

What is the cause of the amnesia about John McCain’s record, even among those who know better? Tom Bramble has some answers in an article written for Red Flag.

OUT THEY rolled, one after the other, gushing obituaries for John McCain, six-term U.S. senator for Arizona and chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who died from cancer on August 25.

Former President George W. Bush described McCain as “a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “In an era filled with cynicism about national unity and public service, John McCain’s life shone as a bright example.”

Democrats joined in the mourning. Barack Obama said that McCain’s life demonstrated “the courage to put the greater good above our own,” while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer described him as one of “the few truly great people” you might encounter: “His dedication to his country and the military were unsurpassed, and maybe most of all, he was a truth teller...The Senate, the United States and the world are lesser places without John McCain.”

Newspapers of record joined the eulogies. The New York Times obituary ran to a whopping 6,300 words, the Washington Post’s to an only slightly less expansive 4,300. The Post editorial described McCain as “the irreplaceable American,” “driven by a code of honor” and “a courageous and principled leader.” Op-ed pieces in the paper described McCain as “last lion of the Senate,” “war hero and giant of the Senate” and “a maverick we can learn from.”

Senator John McCain (center) tours U.S. military installments in Iraq in 2007
Senator John McCain (center) tours U.S. military installments in Iraq in 2007 (Staff Sgt. Margaret Nelson | Wikimedia Commons)

But the tears weren’t shed just by the mainstream political establishment. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who in the 1960s fought against the Vietnam War, declared that McCain was “an American hero, a man of decency and honor and a friend of mine. He will be missed not just in the U.S. Senate, but by all Americans who respect integrity and independence.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, newly elected Democratic candidate for a House district in New York City and, like Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist said: “John McCain’s legacy represents an unparalleled example of human decency and American service.”


THERE IS nothing to admire about McCain. The world is the better for his passing.

As a lifelong Republican, McCain was a filthy representative of the 1 Percent. One of his last acts in the Senate was to vote for Trump’s tax cuts for big capital and the super-rich.

The son and grandson of U.S. Navy admirals, McCain was always an aggressive warmonger. And not just in Vietnam, where he flew 23 missions before being shot down while trying to bomb a factory making civilian goods.

He supported American gunrunning to the reactionary Nicaraguan “contras” in the early 1980s as part of the U.S.’s efforts to overthrow the Sandinista regime. He supported the first Gulf War against Iraq in 1991 and the imposition of sanctions in the years that followed, which bled the country dry and resulted in the deaths of a million Iraqis.

He lobbied hard for the invasion of Iraq in the months following the September 11 terrorist attack, and in 2007, he supported sending a further 20,000 troops. In 2006, he helped to enact legislation setting up military commissions to prosecute suspected terrorists and stripping terrorist detainees of habeas corpus rights in court. He also urged the Obama administration to bomb Libya. And as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, one of his final acts was to add tens of billions of dollars more to U.S. military budget for 2018 and 2019.

Far from “decent” and “principled,” McCain never fought racism if it meant jeopardizing his political advancement. Early in his political career in Arizona, he voted against the creation of a national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King. In 2000, during the presidential primaries in South Carolina he defended flying the Confederate flag, saying shortly afterwards he had done so to garner votes in the state. In 2008, he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate for the presidential contest against Obama, giving his hard right-wing teammate national respectability and helping to smooth the way for Trump’s later bid for office.

McCain was a crook who escaped far too lightly in the late 1980s after conspiring with four other senators to lobby federal regulators on behalf of a crooked banker and donor. The subsequent inquiry, which ran for two years, destroyed the careers of his colleagues, but McCain survived.

McCain developed the reputation of someone prepared to stand up to Trump. He cast the deciding vote that prevented Trump from repealing Obama’s Affordable Care Act. But this was very much the exception: he voted in the Senate straight down the line for the Republican cause on 83 percent of occasions after Trump’s inauguration, including for the president’s tax bill.


GIVEN THIS track record, the ruling class’s effusive praise for McCain makes sense. He served them well.

But how to explain the tears shed by liberals and social democrats, who in many cases opposed the American wars in Vietnam and Iraq, and who would not normally be put out by the passing of a self-described “conservative Republican”?

This goes to one of the worst features of the current political conjuncture in the U.S. — whereby anyone who is even remotely identified with opposing Trump is lionized, no matter what their prior political career. Not just McCain but George W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, every butcher who has criticized Trump, is now championed by American liberals, their past records carefully swept under the carpet.

Even if liberals and social democrats criticize some of the specifics of U.S. imperialism, they nonetheless hanker for the past era of American dominance which, they believe, is now being brought to an end by Trump. In particular, they charge Trump with jeopardizing the vital interests of American imperialism due to his attacks on allies in Europe, North America and Asia. Hence their love affair with Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron. In this they are joined by the likes of McCain and Bush Jr., who attack Trump from the right — for being too soft on Russia and China.

No, McCain was no hero. That label belongs to the victims of the American imperialism which he championed, and in particular the millions of Vietnamese who saw their country razed to the ground, their fellow countrymen and women killed in their millions and their children deformed by chemical weapons, but who continued to fight rather than concede one inch of their land to the likes of McCain and the military-industrial complex that he represented his entire life.

Another version of this article appeared at Red Flag.

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