There’s a special place in hell for people who dance on your grave before you’re even dead. This is especially true when you have served and sacrificed for your country. Yet, this is the kind of nastiness some are showing John McCain in the eleventh hour of his life.
Consider the case of Sam Nunberg, a former adviser to Donald Trump, who tweeted a meme of McCain saying he doesn’t want Trump at his funeral, juxtaposed with a picture of President Trump saying, “I’ll celebrate from home then.”
It was in response to the revelation by New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin that McCain’s friends “have informed the White House that their current plan for his funeral is for Vice President Mike Pence to attend the service to be held in Washington’s National Cathedral but not President Trump…”
If ever one should get to control his own invite list, a funeral seems like the appropriate place. And who could blame McCain for preferring Trump not grace his family with his company? After all, this is the same Trump who previously suggested that McCain wasn’t a war hero (“I like people who weren’t captured”).
Or consider the case of Glenn Greenwald, who chose this occasion to hit McCain from the left (although it’s so hard to define what that even means nowadays). “John McCain has spent the last 60 years advocating, cheering for and glorifying the most monstrous and murderous wars on the planet, while demanding many others that never happened,” Greenwald tweeted. “He has enormous amounts of blood on his hands. That he’s dying of brain cancer doesn’t change this.”
Of course, some of the worst stuff comes from people you’ve never heard of—and wouldn’t hear of if it weren’t for Twitter. I’ll save you from rehashing the worst examples coming from those fever swamps, but as Bill Kristol noted, “Anti-McCain twitter seems to have reached new heights (or depths) of repulsiveness.” And I echo Jonah Goldberg’s sentiments: “I have political disagreements — from quibbles to more significant—with John McCain. But all of these self-described conservatives using the man’s funeral wishes to piss on his whole life just to prove their love of Trump are debasing themselves. It’s grotesque.”
In some ways, this unseemly nastiness is the result of the unchivalrous times we live in. But this backlash is, in many ways, a reflection of a career McCain spent doing bold things. Sometimes those things were incredibly stupid (like pausing his 2008 campaign to deal with the market collapse) or unethical (the Keating Five scandal) or dangerous (his penchant for saber rattling). Sometimes they were heroic (refusing to leave the Hanoi Hilton ahead of his comrades—and then standing up against torture) or heroic for the media’s portrayal purposes, but annoying for conservatives (calling out the Bush tax cuts, voting no on the Obamacare repeal, etc.).
Some of these things were good and some of these things were bad—but you can’t say they weren’t significant.
In that vein, of course it makes sense that one bold choice he didn’t make—picking Joe Lieberman as his running mate—haunts him to this day. And of course it makes sense that a number of people he agitated over the years (from those aforementioned conservatives to Greenwald) are also piling on now. One imagines this is merely the opening salvo in a fight to define his legacy.
With apologies to Donald Trump, John McCain was, by virtue of his extraordinary service in Vietnam, an American hero. But he wasn’t a perfect political leader, for such a thing does not exist. McCain’s biggest political asterisks are those occasions when he made political decisions (such as his failure to engage in straight talk about the Confederate flag during the 2000 Republican primary to his selection of Sarah Palin—which at the time was a completely rational and defensible strategic move). But he is also a man who has always endured vicious attacks. Who could forget the scurrilous accusations in 2000 that he fathered an illegitimate black child with an African-American prostitute?
This is nothing new for John McCain. His has been a life of ups and downs, rights and wrongs, but also of heroism and purpose. The evil things people say about him as he heads into his next journey say more about them that they do about him. To be honest, I don’t think McCain minds it one bit.
Every one of us will die, and we must all grapple with how we lived our lives here on earth. Did we, for example, sacrifice for a cause larger than our own self interest?
None of us—including John McCain—have lived perfect lives. But McCain has lived an important life. And I wonder something: What will be said about John McCain’s critics when they go on to meet their maker? John McCain is an American hero. If Sam Nunberg died tomorrow, what could we say about him? That he died before being indicted?