Special Briefing: Remembering Sen. John McCain - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Special Briefing: Remembering Sen. John McCain

Special Briefing: Remembering Sen. John McCain

By OZY Editors

Republican presidential candidate John McCain pauses while addressing a campaign event at the Freedom Hill Ampitheatre in Sterling Heights, Michigan on September 5, 2008.
SourceROBYN BECK/Getty


Because a major figure in American life and politics has passed away, leaving a big void in the Senate and his party.

By OZY Editors

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.


What happened? After a yearlong battle with brain cancer, U.S. Sen. John McCain died on Saturday at the age of 81. The Arizona lawmaker was being treated in his home state after being diagnosed with glioblastoma in July 2017. A former Republican presidential candidate and a Navy pilot, McCain was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam after his plane was shot down in 1967. As a six-term member of the U.S. Senate, McCain relished a reputation as a political loose cannon who could work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Washington on key issues like campaign finance and foreign policy.

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Sen. John McCain leaves the Senate Chamber after voting against GOP efforts to pass legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Source Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Why does it matter? Among other things, McCain’s death leaves a major void in his fractured party. For the past two years, the senator had been a persistent conservative critic of President Donald Trump, including casting the deciding vote against the administration’s first big legislative initiative, the repeal of Obamacare. McCain took several jabs at the president in a final statement issued through an aide this weekend, including arguing that the U.S. is weakened by hiding “behind walls rather than [tearing] them down.” His death also leaves a big seat open in the Senate, one that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey hopes to fill with a replacement who is conservative enough to please the president and his base but strong enough to win re-election in 2020 in a battleground state. 


A long goodbye. Starting on Wednesday, McCain’s funeral will take the statesman through Arizona, where he will lie in state at the capitol in Phoenix, followed the next day by a motorcade and eulogy by former Vice President Joe Biden. On Friday, he will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol rotunda before another procession on Saturday past the Vietnam War Memorial to the National Cathedral, where former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush will speak. On Sunday, he will be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Absent from the memorial services — reportedly per McCain’s wish — will be Trump, although Vice President Mike Pence and a number of officials from the administration will attend. 

Belated respects. McCain’s war record lent gravitas to his opposition to torture, of which he was a victim while imprisoned in Vietnam. And yet Trump, who once said of McCain, “He’s a war hero because he was captured,” continues to enjoy support from some of the same people who normally hold the military as sacred. The White House flag was lowered to half-staff as is traditional for a member of Congress, but was swiftly raised and then lowered again after veterans groups implored the president, who issued a belated statement of “respect” for McCain Monday, to do so. 

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Portrait of American soldier and Vietnam prisoner of war (and future US Senator) John McCain as he sits on a sofa during a interview, April 24, 1973. About a month prior, he had been released and returned from Vietnam.

Source Thomas O’Halloran/Getty

A hero with ‘asterisks.’ While McCain’s reputation as a “straight talker” loomed large, some are pushing past the hagiography to point out mistakes McCain himself had acknowledged — and some he had not. He was implicated with other members of the Keating Five, legislators who lobbied in the late 1980s to take regulatory pressure off of a campaign contributor knee-deep in the savings and loan crisis. Though cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee, McCain called it an “asterisk” on his career. And while he’s been regarded as a bulwark against hard-right populism, he’s also blamed for breathing life into it by making Tea Party luminary Sarah Palin his 2008 running mate. 

Even in death, a fearsome adversary. Some of McCain’s worst detractors won’t even acknowledge his death. Conspiracy theories are popping up about how his death was faked — some say to disrupt the Senate candidacies of Trump supporters in Arizona. It’s something that might have amused McCain, who once said he enjoyed debunking “propaganda and crackpot conspiracy theories.” 


John McCain’s Final Letter to America, by Sen. John McCain in The Atlantic

“We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe.”

The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys and the Shrub: Seven Days in the Life of the Late, Great John McCain, by David Foster Wallace in Rolling Stone

“Sometimes he’ll wink at you for no reason. If all that doesn’t sound like a big deal, you have to remember that these pro reporters have to spend a lot of time around politicians, and most politicians are painful to be around.”


John McCain: Remembering a Maverick

“This was the kind of moment that John McCain lives for. He is going to be the deciding vote and he’s got control over a major piece of legislation in his hand.”

Watch on The New York Times on YouTube:

The Contenders, 16 for ’16: Inside John McCain’s Presidential Runs

“Occasionally someone comes to me and says, ‘Senator McCain, why don’t you get back in there? We need you.’ And I am reminded of the great Southern philosopher who once said, ‘There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.’” 

Watch on OZY on YouTube:


Time heals all. Upon hearing of his death, mourners in Hanoi, Vietnam, laid flowers at a sculpture of McCain near Trúc Bạch Lake, where he was shot down before being taken prisoner. McCain visited the country several times after diplomatic ties were restored. Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh said he had helped to heal the “wounds of war.”

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