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Posts Tagged ‘Senate’

Return of the Roar

The lion roared again yesterday.  John McCain returned to the Senate eleven days after undergoing brain surgery and receiving what is effectively a death sentence to cast an “Aye” vote on the motion to proceed with debate on the health care bill, and then to gently but firmly scold his colleagues for the way the Senate has been operating for at least the past seven years.

McCain didn’t play holier than thou, saying, “Both sides have let this happen. Let’s leave the history of who shot first to the historians. I suspect they’ll find we all conspired in our decline – either by deliberate actions or neglect. We’ve all played some role in it. Certainly I have.”  In truth, others (Harry Reid prominently among them) have been far more guilty than McCain.

McCain provided a much-needed appeal to the spine of his Republican colleagues: “Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equal!”  The President’s need for a so-called “win” on this issue does not outweigh the Senate’s duty to debate and pass a responsible bill – not just whatever he’ll sign, but something that would be good policy.

He also provided a correction to the Democratic hagiography of how the Affordable Care Act came to be.  “The Obama administration and congressional Democrats shouldn’t have forced through Congress without any opposition support a social and economic change as massive as Obamacare. And we shouldn’t do the same with ours.”  It was an honest accounting of what really happened, and a warning to Republicans to be better than their opponents.  It is an understandable impulse for Republicans to say, “If the Democrats street fight while we play by the Marquis de Queensbury rules, policy will slide further left than it would in a fair fight”.   But they should remember that the Democrats’ forcing through the ACA cost them the House for the past seven years and the Senate for the last four.  (It would have been eight had the 2010 Republican primaries not been a train wreck.)

Maybe most importantly he implored his colleagues to recognize how privileged they were to be in their position, to realize they are the stewards of a great old tradition and reputation as the world’s greatest deliberative body, and to do their part to rescue that reputation from the refuse bin they’ve left it in during the past decade.  His words were far more eloquent than any summary of mine so I’m just including a few passages.  “I have a refreshed appreciation for the protocols and customs of this body, and for the other ninety-nine privileged souls who have been elected to this Senate.”  And … “The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and to defend her from her adversaries.  That principled mindset, and the service of our predecessors who possessed it, come to mind when I hear the Senate referred to as the world’s greatest deliberative body. I’m not sure we can claim that distinction with a straight face today.” And … “The success of the Senate is important to the continued success of America. This country – this big, boisterous, brawling, 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.”

I’m leaving out other memorable portions.  It was a great speech.  When McCain is eulogized someday, it will be one of the speeches mentioned, along with his 2000 Convention speech and his graceful concession in 2008.  The Twittersphere, predictably, ignored his message, ripping him for his vote on the motion to proceed to debate.  Some even called him a coward – just digest that one for a second.  A lion he is, but a cowardly one he demonstrably is not.  As that flawed but noble lion approaches winter, my hope is that his fellow senators take this latest (and possibly last) eloquent appeal of his to heart.  We need better than we’ve gotten.

1TF

 

 

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Last night, I learned the sad news that Senator John McCain has a glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. While McCain is 80 and has already lived a remarkable life of consequence, it still makes the breath catch a little in surprise. McCain’s a fighter, and he’ll answer the bell on this one too, but there’s no getting around the fact that a glioblastoma is usually fatal.  It is just such a malady that felled McCain’s former colleague, Sen. Ted Kennedy.

McCain’s condition appeared to manifest itself last month during his awkward questioning of former FBI Director James Comey. Listening to the questioning is painful; something was clearly not right. Were McCain well, he and Comey probably would have hit it off. The two have distinct similarities. Both are pragmatic Republicans originally from the northeast (McCain’s family background is really more Pennsylvanian than anything), mainline Protestants (one formerly Catholic and the other nearly became one as a child), somewhat religious but not especially so. Both have been accused of moral narcissism on occasion, because both are apt to follow their conscience, party loyalty be damned.

Opinions on both from partisan members of both parties have careened from approval to disgust and back again. My own opinion of both, however, has remained steadfast – while each has his flaws, both are principled, pragmatic men far better than the average public servant. In an age where society and its issues have become so complicated that many people just throw up their hands and retreat to their own corners, McCain and Comey have wrestled those issues head-on, engaged and found common ground with people different than them. And each has worked out his philosophy for himself, so each arrives at a final position from a strong philosophical foundation, not from the herd mentality of the intellectually confused and politically frightened that habitually roam DC. Those who bounce back and forth in their opinion of McCain and Comey say more about themselves than of those two lions. The government is the lesser for Comey’s forced departure from it. It will be reduced further when McCain’s health forces him to take leave of it.

1TF

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