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John McCain, dead at 81, helped build a country that no longer reflects his values

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Elizabeth Sherman, American University School of Public Affairs

Arizona Sen. John McCain – scion of Navy brass, flyboy turned Vietnam war hero and tireless defender of American global leadership – has died after a year of treatment for terminal brain cancer.

“With the Senator when he passed were his wife Cindy and their family. At his death, he had served the United States of America faithfully for sixty years,” McCain’s office said in a statement.

I am a scholar of American politics. And I believe that, regardless of his storied biography and personal charm, three powerful trends in American politics thwarted McCain’s lifelong ambition to be president. They were the rise of the Christian right, partisan polarization and declining public support for foreign wars.

Republican McCain was a champion of bipartisan legislating, an approach that served him and the Senate well. But as political divides have grown, bipartisanship has fallen out of favor.

Most recently, McCain opposed Gina Haspel as CIA director for “her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality” and her role in it. Having survived brutal torture for five years as a prisoner of war, McCain maintained a resolute voice against U.S. policies permitting so-called “enhanced interrogations.” Nevertheless, his appeals failed to rally sufficient support to slow, much less derail, her appointment.

Days later, a White House aide said McCain’s opposition to Haspel didn’t matter because “he’s dying anyway.” That disparaging remark and the refusal of the White House to condemn it revealed how deeply the president’s hostile attitude toward McCain and everything he stands for had permeated the executive office.

McCain ended his career honorably and bravely, but with hostility from the White House, marginal influence in the Republican-controlled Senate, and a public less receptive to the positions he has long embodied.

The outlier

McCain’s first run for the presidency in 2000 captured the imagination of the public and the press, whom he wryly referred to as “my base.” His self-confident “maverick” persona appealed to a more secular, moderate constituency who like him, might be constitutionally opposed to the growing political alignment between the religious right and the Republican Party.

McCain enthusiastically bucked his party and steered his “Straight Talk Express” through the GOP primaries with a no-holds-barred attack on Pat Robertson and Rev. Jerry Falwell. The two were conservative icons and leaders of the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority.

McCain branded Robertson and Falwell “agents of intolerance” and “empire builders.” He charged that they used religion to subordinate the interests of working people. He said their religion served a business goal and accused them of shaming “our faith, our party, and our country.” That message earned McCain a primary victory in New Hampshire but his campaign capsized in South Carolina, where Republican voters launched George W. Bush, the stalwart evangelical, on his path to a presidential victory in 2000 against Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore.

By 2008, McCain saw the political clout of white, born-again, evangelical Christians. By then, they comprised 26 percent of the electorate. Bowing to political winds, he adopted a more conciliatory approach.

McCain’s willingness to defend America as a “Christian nation” and his controversial choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, an enthusiastic standard bearer for the Christian right, as his running mate, signaled the electoral power of a less tolerant, more absolutist “values-based” politics.

McCain’s about-face revealed a political pragmatist willing to make peace with the Christian right and accept their ability to make or break his last attempt at the presidency.

His strategy reflected his tendency to abandon principles if they threatened his quest for the presidency. Having railed eight years prior against the hypocrisy of the right-wing religious leadership, McCain may have felt some personal discomfort kowtowing to the dictates of self-appointed moral authorities. But the electorate had changed since then, and McCain showed he was willing to shift his position to accommodate their beliefs.

The primary that year also required an outright appeal to independents and even crossover Democrats. That would potentially provide enough votes to boost him past George W. Bush, whose campaign had already expressed allegiance to the conservative religious agenda.

In 2008, Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon considered religiously suspect by many evangelicals, emerged as McCain’s main rival for the nomination.

Sensing an opportunity to establish a winning coalition, McCain jettisoned his former objections to the political influence of the religious right, shifting from antagonism to accommodation. In doing so, McCain revealed his flexibility again on principles that might fatally undermine his overriding ambition – winning the presidency.

In fact, the incorporation of the religious right into the Republican Party represented but one facet of a more consequential development. That was the fiercely ideological partisan polarization that has come to dominate the political system.

The lonely Republican

Rough parity between the parties since 2000 has intensified the electoral battles for Congress and the presidency. It has supercharged the fundraising machines on both sides. And it has nullified the “regular order” of congressional hearings, debates and compromise, as party leaders scheme for policy wins.

Fueled by highly engaged activists, interest groups and donors known as “policy demanders,” partisan polarization has overwhelmed moderates in our political system. McCain was a bipartisan problem-solver and was willing to compromise with Democrats to pass campaign finance reform in 2002. He worked with the other side to normalize relations with Vietnam in 1995. And he joined with Democrats to pass immigration reform in 2017.

But he was also one of those moderates who ultimately found himself on the outside of his party.

McCain’s dramatic Senate floor thumbs-down repudiation of the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare turned less on his antipathy to Trump and more on his disgust with a broken party-line legislative process.

On an issue as monumental as health care, he insisted on a return to “extensive hearings, debate, and amendment.” He endorsed the efforts of Sens. Lamar Alexander, a Republican, and Patty Murray, a Democrat, to craft a bipartisan solution.

Foreign and defense policy was McCain’s signature issue. He wanted a more robust posture for American global leadership, backed by a well-funded, war-ready military. But that stance lost support a decade ago following the Iraq War disaster.

McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign slogan of “Country First” signified not only the model of his personal commitment and sacrifice. It also telegraphed his belief in the need to persevere in the war on terror in general and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in particular.

But by then, 55 percent of registered independents, McCain’s electoral base, had lost confidence in the prospects for a military victory. They favored bringing the troops home.

Over the course of six months that year, independent support for the Iraq war fell from 54 percent to 40 percent. Overall opposition to the troop “surge” was at 63 percent. Barack Obama’s promise to wind down America’s military commitment and do “nation-building at home” resonated with an electorate wearied by the conflict and buffeted by their own economic woes.

Advocate for global leadership

McCain continued to assert the primacy of American power. He decried the country’s retreat from a rules-based global order premised on American leadership and based on freedom, capitalism, human rights and democracy.

Donald Trump stands in contrast. Trump, like Obama, promises to terminate costly commitments abroad, revoke defense and trade agreements that fail to put
“America First,” and rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

In his run for the presidency, Trump asserted that American might and treasure had been squandered defending the world. Other countries, he said, took advantage of U.S. magnanimity.

In Congress, Republicans have become cautious about U.S. military interventions, counterinsurgency operations and nation-building. They find scant public support for intervention in Syria’s civil war.

Seeing Russia as America’s implacable foe, McCain sponsored sanctions legislation and prodded the administration to implement them more vigorously.

Accepting the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia, McCain repudiated Trump’s approach to global leadership.

He declared, “To abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

McCain spent his life committed to principles that, tragically – at least for him – have fallen from favor, and the country’s repudiation of the principles he championed may put the nation at risk.


The Conversation

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article originally published on on June 12, 2018.

Elizabeth Sherman, Assistant Professor Department of Government, American University School of Public Affairs

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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House Democrats Subpoena Full Mueller Report, and the Underlying Evidence

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee formally issued a subpoena on Friday demanding that the Justice Department hand over to Congress an unredacted version of Robert S. Mueller III’s report and all of the evidence underlying it by May 1.


The subpoena, one of the few issued thus far by House Democrats, escalates a fight with Attorney General William P. Barr over what material Congress is entitled to see from the special counsel’s nearly two-year investigation. The chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, asked for all evidence, including summaries of witness interviews and classified intelligence.

“My committee needs and is entitled to the full version of the report and the underlying evidence consistent with past practice,” Mr. Nadler said in a statement. “Even the redacted version of the report outlines serious instances of wrongdoing by President Trump and some of his closest associates. It now falls to Congress to determine the full scope of that alleged misconduct and to decide what steps we must take going forward.”

Mr. Nadler’s deadline falls a day before Mr. Barr is scheduled to testify publicly before the Judiciary Committee in what is expected to be an explosive session where Democrats plan to excoriate Mr. Barr’s handling of the report and Republicans will urge their colleagues to accept that there was no criminality and move on.

Mr. Barr released to Congress and the public a redacted copy of the more than 400-page report on Thursday. Though the redactions were less extensive than some Democrats feared, the Justice Department had blacked out sections of the report that it said contained classified material, secretive grand jury testimony or information that would affect investigations still underway.

Democrats have been threatening to issue a subpoena for weeks, and the Justice Department on Thursday sought to head off the subpoena with a pledge to share more information with Congress.

Stephen E. Boyd, an assistant attorney general, wrote in a letter that the department would allow the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate, as well as the heads of their judiciary and intelligence committees, to view a fuller version of the report beginning next week. But he said even that copy would still have secretive grand jury information blacked out because of legal requirements.

Given the sensitive nature of the information, Mr. Boyd wrote, “all individuals reviewing the less-redacted version” must agree to keep the newly unredacted information confidential.

Mr. Nadler rejected the proposed accommodation as insufficient on Friday. He has repeatedly asked the Justice Department to join him in requesting that a court unseal the grand jury information, in particular, for Congress to review privately. Mr. Barr has so far rejected that request.

“I am open to working with the department to reach a reasonable accommodation for access to these materials,” he said, “however I cannot accept any proposal which leaves most of Congress in the dark, as they grapple with their duties of legislation, oversight and constitutional accountability.”

(Reporting by Washington Post)

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Health

Judge Rejects Anti-Vaxxer Lawsuit Against New York City’s Vaccine Mandate

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A state judge on Thursday rejected a lawsuit filed by anti-vaccination parents who sought to lift New York City’s new measles vaccination mandate, as parts of the metropolis continue to face an outbreak.


“A fireman need not obtain the informed consent of the owner before extinguishing a house fire,” Judge Lawrence Knipel wrote in his ruling. “Vaccination is known to extinguish the fire of contagion.”

Five anonymous parents in Brooklyn filed the lawsuit earlier this week against the city health department for ordering the mandatory vaccinations in parts of the borough amid a growing outbreak of the measles virus concentrated in the Williamsburg area. The lawsuit said the city’s response is “irrational,” and that the spread of the virus does not pose a clear danger to public health.

Knipel ruled that the city’s decision to require measles vaccinations during the outbreak is supported by “largely uncontroverted” evidence.

New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot issued the emergency order on April 9, requiring everyone who lives and works within four Brooklyn ZIP codes to receive the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine if they hadn’t already gotten it. Failure to comply with the mandate could result in misdemeanor punishments, including criminal fines or imprisonment.

The city has already issued summons to three people who refused the mandate and face $1,000 in fines.

As of Wednesday, the measles outbreak has infected at least 329 people since October, mostly children from Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, according to Barbot. Many Orthodox Jewish people believe vaccinations go against Jewish or Talmudic law, resulting in low vaccination rates for some communities.

Barbot praised the decision to dismiss the lawsuit, saying in a statement to HuffPost that it “will protect New Yorkers from a very dangerous infection with potentially fatal consequences.”

She added that officials “do not want to issue violations but will continue and hope that New Yorkers make the best choice for their families, their neighbors and their own health ― to get vaccinated.”

(Reporting by HuffPost)

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Court Rulings

Federal Appeals Court Backs California Laws To Protect Immigrants

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Thursday kept in place three California laws intended to protect immigrants, continuing the state’s efforts to be a national leader in opposing Trump administration policies.


The court upheld lower court rulings denying the Trump administration’s request to block law enforcement from providing release dates and personal information of people in jail, as well as to throw out a law barring employers from allowing immigration officials on their premises unless the officials have a warrant.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected U.S. District Judge John Mendez’s reasoning last year for denying a portion of the third law, which requires the state to review detention facilities where immigrants are held. It ruled that the section requiring the state to review circumstances surrounding the apprehension and transfer of detainees puts an impermissible burden on the federal government.

But the appellate panel said Mendez can consider rejecting a preliminary injunction for that section on other legal grounds.

The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has repeatedly sued the Trump administration mostly over immigration and environmental decisions, said the ruling shows that states’ rights “continue to thrive.”

“We continue to prove in California that the rule of law not only stands for something but that people cannot act outside of it,” Becerra said in a statement.

California officials have said the immigration laws promote trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement, while the administration argued the state is allowing dangerous criminals on the streets.

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