As I already have noted here more than once, Senator John McCain’s ethical course was to resign from the Senate even before he got his brain cancer diagnosis, and definitely afterward. He is a courageous and admirable man in many ways, but the one of the hardest duties in life is to give up power and influence, and say goodbye when the time comes. The senator is not alone in failing this ethics test, indeed he is in distinguished company: FDR, Babe Ruth, Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali, Lawrence Tribe, Clarence Darrow, too many Supreme Court justices, including a couple current ones, and lots of U.S. Senators. Nonetheless, it is a failing, and in McCain’s case the failing has been compounded by his regrettable decision to use his status as a dying man to exploit the reluctance of critics to address the wrongdoing of the afflicted. He has decided top settle old scores in his final days. The conduct is petty and erodes his legacy, as well as the respect he had earned in his long career of national service. It is too bad.
Much of McCain’s self-indulgence is directed at President Trump, whom he is now insulting with mad abandon, banning him, for example, from the Senator’s funeral in advance. This is vengeance, nothing more ennobling, for Candidate Trump’s outrageous disrespect toward McCain and other prisoners of war when Trump said that he did not regard them as heroes. McCain revenge is thus a display of the kind of non-ethics Donald Trump believes in: tit-for tat, mob ethics, hit ’em back harder. The political theme since November 2016 is that the President’s enemies cannot resist lowering themselves to his level, or in some cases, below it. Strike-backs from beyond the grave are particularly unbecoming, but McCain is seething, and apparently can’t muster the other cheek, graciousness, or statesmanship. Too bad.
Particularly mean and churlish is McCain’s revelation in his new memoir, “The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and other Appreciations,” that he now regrets selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate and wishes he had instead selected his friend, former Sen. Joseph Lieberman. This is beyond ungallant; it’s ducking accountability. McCain, all by himself, ran a terrible, inept, clumsy campaign, and deserved to lose. He almost certainly would have lost worse if Palin, for all her quirks and flaws, were not on the ticket. She drew conservatives to the polls as he could not, and as Lieberman definitely could not. That McCain thinks that two old white guys would have had a chance against Barack Obama shows how detached from reality is, and perhaps always was. He is engaging in after-the-fact blame-casting, Monday morning quarterbacking and hindsight bias, and it is beneath him.
Or, at least, I once thought it was.