The John McCain Character Test


Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website

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28 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    I was a big fan of McCain in his 2000 campaign and had my heart broken when he dropped out of the race. My relationship with him became more complicated when he ran in 2008 but I will still be sorry to see him go. We need more men like him in the government.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I’ve no need to wait until he’s gone, and on the trivially small chance that he reads these remarks they may do him some good while he’s still here.

    Whatever disagreements I might have with him on a political level, whatever reputation for irascibility he may have acquired on The Hill, whatever his personal faults…

    He’s earned my respect and admiration as a politician, a military man, and an American. Would that we had more like him, now and in the future.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


    • Avatar pillsy says:

      Yeah, I thought he was a pretty good Senator, correcting for the fact that he played for the other team and had extremely bad ideas about FP. All in all, he was wrong within normal parameters, and less wrong than quite a few of his colleagues.

      I was never quite sure whether he was genuinely principled, or just erratic and easily irritated… but for a Senator, that’s a rare puzzle, and one which in its own way, is to his credit.Report

    • Avatar north says:

      Cosigned. If modern republicans bore even a remote resemblance to him things would have gone very differently.Report

  3. Avatar Jesse says:

    I have respect for McCain for the 5 1/2 years he was a POW.

    The other 75 1/2 years? Meh.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Here’s a relevant section from Slate Star Codex’s “I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.”

    The worst reaction I’ve ever gotten to a blog post was when I wrote about the death of Osama bin Laden. I’ve written all sorts of stuff about race and gender and politics and whatever, but that was the worst.

    I didn’t come out and say I was happy he was dead. But some people interpreted it that way, and there followed a bunch of comments and emails and Facebook messages about how could I possibly be happy about the death of another human being, even if he was a bad person? Everyone, even Osama, is a human being, and we should never rejoice in the death of a fellow man. One commenter came out and said:

    I’m surprised at your reaction. As far as people I casually stalk on the internet (ie, LJ and Facebook), you are the first out of the “intelligent, reasoned and thoughtful” group to be uncomplicatedly happy about this development and not to be, say, disgusted at the reactions of the other 90% or so.

    This commenter was right. Of the “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people I knew, the overwhelming emotion was conspicuous disgust that other people could be happy about his death. I hastily backtracked and said I wasn’t happy per se, just surprised and relieved that all of this was finally behind us.

    And I genuinely believed that day that I had found some unexpected good in people – that everyone I knew was so humane and compassionate that they were unable to rejoice even in the death of someone who hated them and everything they stood for.

    Then a few years later, Margaret Thatcher died. And on my Facebook wall – made of these same “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people – the most common response was to quote some portion of the song “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead”. Another popular response was to link the videos of British people spontaneously throwing parties in the street, with comments like “I wish I was there so I could join in”. From this exact same group of people, not a single expression of disgust or a “c’mon, guys, we’re all human beings here.”

    I gently pointed this out at the time, and mostly got a bunch of “yeah, so what?”, combined with links to an article claiming that “the demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure’s death is not just misguided but dangerous”.



    > John McCain’s legacy, good, bad, and indifferent, is now set. His character is known by a long and very public life and established history.

    From 1987 to 2015, McCain voted with the Republican Party 87 percent of the time on party-line votes. Not much of a maverick nor independent thinker. Established history, not media hype.

    He folded faster than Superman on laundry day in 2000 when the specter of a non-white illegitimate child loomed over the primaries in South Carolina. A man of character would’ve owned up to it, whether at the time of conception or the time he was called out by opponents.

    More recently, McCain voted in line with the POTUS more often than not. So much for him being adversarial to the President’s politics.

    At best, McCain is loyal. To his party. But principled? Yes, if the causes are conservative. As for the American people, he’s just another politician trying to stay in Washington rather than changing the world.

    I don’t like the guy but I don’t wish death on him, before nor after his diagnosis. Folks need to take off the veteran-colored glasses, tinted with the tragedy, and stop trying to shame people who continue to point out McCain’s not all ponies and kittens.

    An aside, and similarly disgusting, are liberals blindly celebrating McCain. If they always thought he was the bee’s knees, how come they didn’t give McCain a landslide victory in ’08? Then again, how bright can someone be if they get their information through celebrities retweeting news on Twitter?Report

    • Avatar Mike Siegel says:

      These scores of “how often X votes with Trump or the GOP” are next to meaningless though. Most legislation is uncontroversial or at least well within established party doctrine. And left out of your “McCain votes with Trump” is that he has voted with Trump the fourth least of any GOP senator, only better than Paul, Murkowski, Lee and and Collins.Report

    • Avatar pillsy says:

      He folded faster than Superman on laundry day in 2000 when the specter of a non-white illegitimate child loomed over the primaries in South Carolina.

      Um, there was no such child? It was a rumor based on the fact that one of his (adopted) children is Bangladeshi.

      I have my share of problems with him, which overlap with yours, but I don’t think it reflects badly on him that he was a victim of a reprehensible smear campaign[1] in South Carolina in 2000.

      [1] Just as repugnant, IMO, was the concurrently running smear that said he was mentally unfit as a result of his experience as a POW.Report

  6. Avatar pillsy says:

    RIP John S. McCain III.

    I didn’t agree with the man’s politics at all but this is still hitting me harder than I would have thought.Report

  7. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I have a very strong dissent here. Does anyone remember that in the 1990s McCain went around telling this “joke” at Republican fundraisers?

    “Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because Janet Reno is her father.”

    What outstanding character we have there, making fun of a child. I don’t know how or why the media started labeling John McCain as a very serious man of integrity or fortitude or character. I don’t know how or why we decided to go along with it. But I think these performative dances and pompous declarations of tests of character are to our detriment.

    McCain had some good ideas. McCain-Feingold was good but he was not a saint to be put on a pillar. I think there is a pernicious lie that we like to tell ourselves regarding politics and that is that deep down we all want the same things but have different ways of getting there. I don’t think this is true at all. But we want it to be true and we falsely elevate some people up for maverick status despite all evidence otherwise.

    If this means you think I failed a test of character, so be it.Report

    • Avatar Em Carpenter says:

      I remember that joke. And other very unflattering tidbits about him. I’m not a big fan.
      But I also respect and acknowledge his service and his stronger attributes. On the occasion of his death, I focus on the redeemable.Report

    • No, not at all. The idea of the piece is the folks that just rejoice in the death of the man over whatever their pet politics or issue is. The purpose is not to canonize a complicated legacy like McCains. You lay out a reasoned position based on things that happened, and judge the man accordingly. That is how it should be. Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        @andrew-donaldson @em-carpenter

        Perhaps so but I have become deeply cynical over the past few years and I can’t help thinking that there is an ulterior motive to these performstive dances. A large part of the ulterior motives is to clamp down on the discontents and dissenters for the age.

        Like many people of my political affiliation, I feel like we live in an age of deep income and wealth economy and I am someone who is doing pretty well! Yet even I can see that there is spiraling inequality that is only getting worse. I also feel like there is an elite chattering class of people whom see politics and policy as more of a thing for whom politics is a game. Mainly because they will never suffer adverse consequences. This group might be pro-choice for example but will pretend that Brett Kavanaugh won’t gut Roe because their access to abortion is never going to be in doubt.

        I can’t remember the name but a book came out recently about this class of the elite. They are the Aspen and Davos set and they will do anything to reduce income and wealth inequality except the things that will reduce income and wealth inequality because actual policies that help hurt their prerogatives and privileges. But maybe a performative dance requirement can keep the discontents at bay or outside the fortress they have erected.

        So when I read all the insiders making statements about how criticizing McCain is s failure of character, it makes me wonder how sincere they are or if it is just a hurdle against the dissenters to their status.

        I get why people dislike Gawker and Splinter. They can be abrasive and writers like Hamilton Nolan can have a self-righteous streak too. I can often be turned off by his tone. At the same time their absolute refusal to do performative dances is refreshing.Report

        • Again, just to clarify, my point of the piece was not canonizing or specifically insisting we should laud McCain in particular (note it was written before he died on Sat). My idea here was how people react and politicize something like a death based on their filters, and that the political filter needs to be turned down when it comes to things like death, in my opinion. To me, using someone’s pending death and protracted illness is something that we can make a basis of judgement on how they conduct themselves. Death is the commonality of all mankind, and we should be able to treat it with some shared humanity.Report

          • Avatar pillsy says:

            I’m torn here.

            I share a lot of @saul-degraw ‘s policy preferences and partisanship, and I definitely think he’s partly right about the idea that demands for civility, especially as extended to high profile elected officials like McCain, can come across as hypocritical, and designed to chill dissent.

            And that doesn’t really change all that much after someone dies. The argument for being more civil and forgiving is stronger on the merits, I think, but it doesn’t mean it stops being used in disreputable ways by disreputable people.

            But I also think it’s not coincidental at all that Trump is (sigh, of course) being a petty jerk about McCain’s death, and that “acolytization” (sorry) you were writing about last week has been running alongside a process where old pieties and norms fall by the wayside. It makes me think that maybe there’s something worth holding onto here.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


      I respect Senator McCain, not for being perfect, but for dedicating himself to a life of public service, for withstanding public scrutiny at the highest level and for spending a career trying to find compromise. He never hid his opinions behind an alias and there is something to be admired there. The man forgave his captors for years of torture, and even in death you’re still blame him for a joke told in poor taste.


  8. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Appealing to the better angels of our nature:

    “John McCain and i were members of different generations, came from completely different backgrounds, and competed at the highest level of politics. But we shared, for all our differences, a fidelity to something higher-the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched, and sacrificed. We saw our political battles, even, as a privilege, something noble, an opportunity to serve as stewards of those high ideals at home, and to advance them around the world. We saw this country as a place where anything is possible – and citizenship as our patriotic obligation to ensure it forever remains that way.

    “Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt. Michelle and I send our heartfelt condolences to Cindy and their family.”