Bilateral Commentary

One Last Chance to be a Hero

Author:  Dr. Anthony Bryson


John McCain has long been considered a hero to many in America.  He was a naval aviator during Vietnam, where his A-4E Skyhawk was shot down during a bombing run over Hanoi.  As a result Lieutenant Commander McCain was interned as a prisoner of war and kept with other captured Americans at Hoa Lo Prison, AKA the Hanoi Hilton.  During this internment McCain was beaten, interrogated and subjected to multiple bouts of torture.  McCain would be a captive for over five years, before being release on March 14, 1973.


John McCain would become a Representative of Arizona’s 1st District in 1982, and then a Senator for the State of Arizona in 1986.  McCain’s politics ran parallel to those of Ronald Reagan, and he was recognized as a strong leader, especially on military issues.  McCain would run for President in 2000 and 2008, but fail in both attempts.  The Arizona Senator would come to understand the depths to which politics in America could sink with his involvement in the Keating Five scandal, and then the vicious attack ads that the Karl Rove led Bush campaign would use against him during the 2000 Presidential campaign.  Mr. McCain knows what the political landscape in the United States is like, and just how important it is to speak truth to power.


Fast forward to 2017, the first six months of the Trump era, and the debate over healthcare in the United States.  Being a United States Senator gives Mr. McCain an important role in deciding the fate of millions of American citizens, and how their future access to healthcare services will be provided and paid for.  Mitch McConnell, and his cadre of Republicans, have been crafting what they consider a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare.  The legislation in question, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, AKA Don’t Care, was being massaged and prepared for a vote that would either repeal Obamacare, or repeal and replace the old law with the new reconciliation act.  To forward this measure, McConnell would have to get a majority vote in the Senate, but because of the divisions in the GOP, that number seemed a challenging hill for the Senate Majority Leader to climb.  John McCain would be one of the Senators to vote on this bill, and one McConnell would need to support this legislation.


On July 14, 2017 John McCain would go to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, to have a minimally-evasive surgery done to remove a blood clot above his left eye.  During the procedure it was discovered that Senator McCain had a glioblastoma growing in his brain.  This aggressive brain cancer is considered terminal, even with treatment.  Patients with this form of brain cancer can live up to five years, but only after having chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries to control the spread of the tumor.  Sadly, an individual will live only 15 months on average from discovery of the tumor.  The news for Mr. McCain, and his family, must certainly be devastating.


While Senator McCain was receiving treatment Mitch McConnell knew his healthcare bill was dead in the Senate.  He required every vote possible, and McCain’s was one he was counting on to pass the legislation, or at least get it up for debate.  Without McCain’s vote, the bill would be defeated.  As a result McConnell reached out to McCain and urged him to return to Washington as soon as possible so a vote could be called on the Better Care Reconciliation Act.  McCain received permission to travel and headed back to Washington for a vote on that bill.


This may be the last time John McCain does anything of note in the Senate of the United States.  This may be his last opportunity to be a maverick and take a stand on something that means so much to so many Americans.  Senator McCain has the opportunity to be a hero one last time, and stand up for the people in America that do not have the many advantages that he or his ilk have working in their favor.


John McCain could take to the floor of the Senate and take a principled stance on an important issue.  Senator McCain could talk about the importance of healthcare insurance and access to health services for all citizens.  He could speak to the weaknesses of Obamacare, and the failure of the Better Care Reconciliation Act to address those problems.  He could speak out against the tax cuts for the rich hidden in the reconciliation act and try to address the needs of the middle and lower class Americans he is supposed to represent.  John McCain has an opportunity to be that hero one more time.


What would be a real story book ending for McCain is for him to find meaning in his tumor and come to some realization that people all over the country face similar problems each day - waking up feeling fine, then discovering their world is coming to an end because of a medical condition. McCain could speak for all of those people by making a statement that Obamacare does need to be repealed and replaced, but repealed and replaced by Medicare for all. He could go out on top and be remembered as someone that would do the right thing, even as he faced his own mortality. John McCain could go down in history as someone who spoke truth to power and provided for the weakest in our society when they were left with nothing.  McCain could be that hero. 


We will know later today if McCain truly is a man of principle, or if he’s just another Republican, who only does things to enrich themselves or their corporate backers. Will Senator John McCain make an impassioned plea on behalf the of the less fortunate in America, so they can have access to healthcare, or will he cast a vote for the for-profit healthcare community, demanding that they be allowed to service only the elites, and charge whatever they see fit, by endorsing the repeal of Obamacare?  With apologies to Bonnie Tyler, we’ll be waiting for a hero to step up and do the right thing for all Americans, and demand Medicare for all.  John McCain, opportunity knocks.

Dr. Bryson is an adjunct faculty member at Fielding Graduate University, teaching classes in media and political psychologies.  He is the author of the book, The Trump Card: The Long Game of Discrediting Media and Influencing Elections.