The End of a Maverick: Sen. John McCain Dies of Brain Cancer

Please join The Stream in praying for Sen. McCain's family, friends and constituents.

By Rachel Alexander Published on August 25, 2018

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) has passed away at age 81 after battling terminal brain cancer. He was one of the most recognized and longest serving members of Congress, known for his maverick style and “straight talk.” During his 35-year tenure, he often voted against his own party, upsetting the GOP faithful.

McCain graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958 and became a navy pilot. While on a bombing mission in Vietnam in 1967, he was shot down over Hanoi. He was seriously injured and captured by the North Vietnamese. His captors tortured him throughout the five years he was in captivity, leaving him with lifelong physical disabilities.

After he was released to return to the U.S., he met Cindy Hensley, a beer heiress he fell in love with. But he was still married to his first wife, Carol. According to The Los Angeles Times, he continued living with Carol for nine months after he started dating Cindy. A year after he met Cindy, he filed for divorce from Carol. In his book Worth the Fighting For, he wrote, “my marriage’s collapse was attributable to my own selfishness and immaturity more than it was to Vietnam, and I cannot escape blame by pointing a finger at the war.” He called it his “greatest moral failure.”

McCain called the breakup of his first marriage his “greatest moral failure.”

McCain saw there was an open congressional seat in Arizona and moved to the state in 1981. When a voter accused him of being a carpetbagger, McCain responded,

Listen, pal. I spent 22 years in the Navy. My father was in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the First District of Arizona, but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.

Congressional Career

McCain served in the U.S. House from 1983 to 1986. He then ran successfully for the U.S. Senate. He replaced Arizona’s legendary Barry Goldwater, who had retired.

After being investigated in the Keating Five Savings and Loan scandal, McCain authored the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill in 2002. It helped improve his tarnished reputation after the financial scandal. But in 2010, the Supreme Court gutted much of it. Its decision in Citizens United v. FEC overturned the prohibition on corporations and unions from funding issue-oriented advertisements during election seasons.

Likely due to his military background, McCain was one of the Senate’s hawks when it came to military action. Understandably, he opposed using torture during military interrogations.

McCain ran for president in 2000, but lost in the primaries to George W. Bush. He ran again in 2008 and won the nomination, but decisively lost the general election to Barack Obama. In naming Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, he became the first Republican candidate to choose a woman.

Controversial Record

He waffled back and forth on issues like illegal immigration, talking tough during primary elections but championing open borders once safely past the primary. In 2005, he partnered with Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy to draft legislation that would create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. This earned him derision from conservatives, especially in his home state, who nicknamed him “McAmnesty.” During the 2000s, the chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Party wore a lapel pin everywhere with McCain’s name crossed out. The party voted to censure him over illegal immigration.

The American Conservative Union rated him a low 81.63 percent conservative voting record. McCain claimed to be pro-life, but he was a staunch advocate for government funded embryonic stem cell research. In 2008, Arizona Right to Life endorsed Mike Huckabee for president, not McCain. A CNN poll in December 2017 found that only 48 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of McCain. In contrast, 68 percent of Democrats viewed him favorably.

McCain made the deciding vote on last year’s attempted Obamacare repeal, preventing it from passing. He greatly angered conservatives and President Trump, who ran on a platform of repealing Obamacare. He has been a fierce critic of the president, also angering conservatives. When he obtained the Trump dossier, he turned it over to the FBI instead of telling Trump about it. Of course, there are two sides: Trump criticized McCain while he was campaigning for president, saying he wasn’t a war hero.

McCain’s daughter Meghan has followed her dad into politics, writing three books and landing a regular spot on The View. She is also a maverick Republican, frequently criticizing conservatives.

He said he didn’t want the president attending his funeral.

McCain wrote a final book this year, The Restless Wave. In it, he says he wished he hadn’t picked Sarah Palin. He wished he had chosen Joe Lieberman, a Democrat who became an Independent. He criticizes Trump, writing “Flattery secures his friendship, criticism his enmity.” He said he didn’t want the president attending his funeral.

Neither Maverick Nor Reformer

Reporter Stephen Lemons, who wrote about McCain for The Phoenix New Times for many years, says “John McCain is neither a maverick nor a reformer.” Instead, “He is a cunning promoter of his own self-interest, a charlatan with a knack for playing both sides of an issue to his advantage. It is political expediency, not courage, that defines McCain’s 35 years in Congress.” He was known for his temper and mean-spiritedness toward his opponents, threatening them and using profanity.

While McCain may have been a controversial figure, his absence from the Senate leaves big shoes to fill. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, will appoint his replacement.

 

Follow Rachel on Twitter at Rach_IC

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  • Becky Wilson

    Good article & insights, thanks!

  • realvegasdawn

    Arizona – Please vote for Dr. Kelli Ward in the primary this coming Tuesday!!

  • Paul Trey

    It doesn’t seem particularly “maverick ” to follow several generations along a gilded path into the military. It seems rather predictable to translate a highly publicized and heroic suffering into a profitable political career. It isn’t novel to see a politician embroiled in a financial scandal suddenly become a born again crusader for justice.
    Time and history will eventually settle John McCain’s place and legacy, but for the moment he continues to be used as a pawn to obstruct and obfuscate the much needed conversation about the future of America.

  • Paul

    I understand all the accolades and reflection on his life at this time and am very sympathetic to his family for their loss. What is hard for me to accept is not stepping down from the work he was elected to do when he could no longer do his duties, being paid 15k/mo as a Senator not doing his job for 8-9 months.

  • NeverMueller

    He was the best republican ever owned by the Democrat party.

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