A human truth about John McCain

John McCain in senate
McCain’s Senate portrait

Oh, that’s right; I was going to write about John McCain!

Right after he died, I said I never doubted he loved his country, and that I would wait a couple weeks to say anything else. Now it’s been 22 days and the news cycle (which is on ultra-spin these days) has moved on. So here we are. And this post is about him, but it isn’t only about him.

See, I want to honor the heroic things he did. I don’t care if he was a great pilot or not, he stood for his country and went to war while cadet bone-spurs was dodging STIs in Manhattan (look it up). He co-authored an important piece of campaign finance legislation. He spoke against the lies about Obama. And I am delighted that he stood up to Trump right at the end. But.

But he also gave us Sarah Palin, and there’s a straight line from Caribou Barbie to Donald Trump. Let’s be honest about that.

His voting record, for the most part served the interests of the rich. Which is not surprising, because he married into a rich family and lived as a rich person ever after. Let’s be honest about that. And have done with the myth that rich people built this country. It was the sweat and blood of working people and enslaved people. And the blood of indiginous people. And people in other countries who suffered and died so our extractive industries could exploit their resources. Let’s be honest about that, too.

Why bring this up? Because as someone once said, the truth will set us free.

When I die, don’t sugar-coat my legacy. (For example, I have never been great at anything, and have come very late in life to some realizations I should have had much earlier. And in spite of that, I still have hurt people who are important to me; sometimes by lack of understanding, sometimes by being unable to reconcile the directions of our respective lights.)

Why does this matter? Because we the living, need to stop living in the shadow of perfect dead people. We are trapped in the expectations of one sanitized legacy after another. If you want to honor me when I am gone, don’t pretend I was great. Let my shortcomings give living people space to breathe. To make mistakes and admit them, and walk on a journey instead of pretending to live at a destination.

And that’s the same for John McCain. He sometimes rose to greatness, and he was sometimes just awful. There are damn few people who were mostly great or mostly awful. This is where most of us live.

Let’s be honest about that.


  • Wikipedia, John McCain, is a pretty complete history and lacking in partisan rancor