By: Susan Knowles
Sometimes, the best way to better understand a person and to figure out what makes him or her tick is to take a look at their background. Gathering historical and psychological data helps to piece together the facets of one’s life so that a pattern of future behavior can be formulated or explained. In taking a closer look at John McCain’s life, one is immediately struck by his deference to the military and his pride at being a “maverick”. These two components, along with his integrity and willingness to work with the Democrats, help to explain what makes John McCain the man he is today and more importantly the Senator he has been and will continue to be.
Military career and service to country
Most of us are familiar with John McCain the war veteran and hero. John McCain, who emerged as a hero during Vietnam, was shot down over Hanoi by a missile while flying his 23rd bombing mission. He was badly injured in the crash and almost drown before being pulled from the water by the North Vietnamese. John was severely beaten and although he had broken arms and a broken leg he was denied treatment. Instead, he endured savage beatings by his captors. The beatings only stopped when it was learned that McCain was the son of a top admiral. He remained a prisoner of war (POW) in North Vietnam for five and a half years. His service to the United States was exemplary and cannot be questioned. What also cannot be doubted is how his service in the military has shaped his career, his political views, and his friendships during his time in office as a U.S. Senator.
John McCain divorced his first wife upon his return to the United States after having marital affairs for which he later took responsibility. Following his divorce, John married Cindy Lou Hensley, the daughter of man who founded a large beer distributorship (Anheuser-Busch) in Phoenix, Arizona. John eventually left the Navy and received a disability pension due to the many injuries he received as a prisoner of war.
McCain came from a career military family, being the son of an admiral. Perhaps it was his love of country and how he was raised that made him want to continue serving his country after he retired from the military. What better way to continue to serve his country then to become involved in community and political issues.
John worked for his father-in-law as Vice President of Public Relations at Anheuser-Busch but soon developed an interest in politics. He decided to run for a congressional seat with the the political support of heavy-hitters in Arizona. John was also financially backed by his new wife, Cindy Lou.
His congressional career began when he won a seat in 1983 during Republican Ronald Reagan’s presidency. He was immediately elected to a leadership position as the head of the incoming group of Republican representatives and was assigned to the House Committee on Interior Affairs.
Not unexpectedly, as a former military man trained not to oppose his superiors, McCain’s viewpoints were mostly in line with those of Reagan’s foreign policies including those regarding the Soviet Union and backing of the Contras in Nicaragua.
However, also as one would expect, McCain spoke out for the military and subsequently opposed his Commander-in-Chief, when he denounced President Reagan’s policy of keeping U.S. Marines in Lebanon. He openly chastised the president for pulling the troops out too late.
John McCain would continue his support of the military when he later became a member of the Senate in 1987 and a member of the Armed Services Committee.
McCain continued his backing of those who served their country, by showing his support for John Kerry, a Democrat and friend to John McCain, when Kerry’s military service was called into question during Kerry’s presidential campaign against George Bush in 2004. McCain had become friends with Kerry when he and Kerry served on a POW related committee from 1991 to 1993.
McCain continues to this day to be a strong supporter and ally of the US military.
Political controversies and McCain’s integrity
Perhaps it was McCain’s political controversies in the 1980s that best highlight McCain’s integrity and gives us a glimpse into his ethics as Senator today.
Few remember the issues of the 1980s that once plagued John McCain. John was one of five United States Senators referred to as the Keating Five. McCain had lawfully received $112,000 from Charles Keating, Jr. (one of his original heavy-hitter supporters for his bid to congress in 1983) and had taken trips on his private jet. Keating was the head of Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, targeted by the government for seizure. McCain had met with federal regulators to discuss the seizure after being contacted by Mr. Keating for his assistance in preventing it. Although, McCain was cleared by the Ethics Committee of any wrong doing, it left the impression that he had tried to influence the government’s decision pertaining to his one-time political supporter, Mr. Keating.
These issues did not hinder John’s future elections and it appears that John McCain had put this behind him when he was again criticized in regards to ethical issues in the late 1990s.
This time, John McCain as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee in 1997, was admonished for accepting money from the very organizations that were under his committee’s oversight. McCain’s response was that the small contributions weren’t part of the corrupt financing that he had opposed earlier when he proposed the failed 1994 McCain-Feingold bill.
John McCain has had more failures than successes with his strategy to “reach across the aisle” and work with the Democratic Party in order to secure passing of a bill for the benefit of the American people. Yet, he has utilized this strategy throughout his career and continues to do so today.
In 1994, McCain worked with a Democratic Wisconsin Senator on campaign finance reform to change what he saw as the corrupting influence on political campaigns of large political contributions from huge corporations, wealthy individuals, labor unions, and other organizations. This endeavor was no doubt influenced from earlier accusations leveled against him during the Keating Five investigation in the 1980s and accusations against him in 1997 as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
The McCain-Feingold bill as it was called, was opposed by many on either side of the aisle and never was brought up for a vote. The bill would finally be enacted into law some eight years later in 2002, when then Republican President George Bush signed it.
This eight year setback didn’t seem to deter McCain. He once again worked with Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy to effectuate immigration reform and bring about legalization in 2005. This bi-partisan bill was never voted on.
Another bill on immigration reform was brought up for a vote in 2006 but failed in the House. In 2007, then President Bush tried to assist McCain in passing an immigration reform bill but it failed twice in the senate. Even a Republican President who had helped McCain before in 2002 by signing his bill into law could not save his bill this time. It had been another bi-partisan defeat for McCain.
In 2013, Senator McCain once again found himself a part of a bi-partisan team called the “Gang of Eight” made up of eight Republican and Democratic Senators in favor of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. It is yet to be seen what the outcome of this bill will be and if John McCain will finally be successful in his bi-partisan efforts.
The maverick stands alone?
McCain has been known for being a “maverick”, someone who is unafraid to challenge the policies of his own party or of the Democratic Party if he is in disagreement with them. While he seems to be proud of the title that he has been given, he doesn’t necessarily value this trait in others in his own political party.
Showing his maverick style in 1999, McCain campaigned for president in “a fight to take our government back from the power brokers and special interests, and return it to the people and the noble cause of freedom it was created to serve”. He went on to lose the campaign to George Bush and later ran a “smear” campaign against Bush, accusing him of lying and comparing him to Bill Clinton.
John also took on the tobacco industry in 1998 in a proposed bill supported by the Clinton Administration but opposed by Republicans and the tobacco industry. He further opposed military operations in Somalia and as mentioned earlier, he broke rank with his own party and opposed President Ronald Reagan’s policy regarding the military use in Lebanon.
Following his failed presidential campaign in 1999 against candidate George W. Bush, McCain was outspoken against Republican President Bush’s tax-cuts in 2001 and 2003, HMO reform, climate change, and gun legislation. McCain finally endorsed President Bush’s tax-cuts in 2006 and was subsequently endorsed by President Bush as a presidential candidate in 2007. Some may have questioned whether his endorsement for the tax-cuts was given to ensure Bush’s support for McCain’s presidential candidacy in 2007. This is only speculation. McCain stated that his support of the Bush tax-cuts was due to his concern that without a tax-cut a resulting tax increase would occur.
In addition, McCain voiced concerns in 2003 with former Republican Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s handling of the Iraq War and in 2004, publicly challenged him by expressing concern that he had lost confidence in Rumsfeld.
McCain has also at times, used his maverick persona to agree with a sitting president, when that agreement was in direction opposition to the viewpoint of his own to his political party. In 1993 and 1994, he broke rank and voted to confirm two US Supreme Court nominees of Democratic President Bill Clinton.
John McCain appeared to side with the current Democratic President, Barack Hussein Obama on a number of issues, after losing the election to him in 2008. In fact, it has been reported that Obama consulted with McCain on a variety of matters which was something rarely seen between a president-elect and a defeated presidential candidate. Earlier this year, McCain met with the president in a private dinner along with other Republican leaders to discuss matters of importance to the president.
McCain, however, did oppose the president’s 2009 Stimulus package and voted against Obama’s Supreme Court nomination which was contrary to his earlier stance that it was a president’s call under the constitution.
It would appear that while McCain touts himself as a maverick and appreciates those values in himself, he does not necessarily look upon other mavericks with favor. McCain has openly criticized Republican Senator Ted Cruz for his recent filibuster against the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). One would have thought that McCain would have appreciated someone like himself who wasn’t afraid to thwart the system if he believed that it was for the betterment of others.
He also further criticized those in the Republican Party when he said “we are dividing the Republican Party rather than attacking the Democrats” when he spoke about some Republicans’ open opposition to ObamaCare.
The actions of Senator Ted Cruz seem similar to those advocated by John McCain when he announced at the beginning of his presidential campaign in 2007 that, “I’m not running for President to be somebody, but to do something; to do the hard but necessary things not the easy and needless things”. He further stated during this campaign, that should Obama win, his proposed policies of “socialism” would hurt the American small business. Regardless of his opinion during the campaign, Senator McCain remains against continued Republican opposition to ObamaCare.
What can we expect in the future from McCain?
So, what can we conclude from researching John McCain’s personal and professional life. What seems clear is that McCain is an avid supporter of the military and will always fight for legislation that will benefit the military. He has been consistent in this stance throughout his life, his career in the military, and his service in the US Congress.
What also appears well-defined is that he is adamant about participating in bi-partisan legislative actions even though they have mostly proven unsuccessful for him. Although, he has been criticized by many Republicans for his perspective, as well, he has remained undaunted in pursuing this course of action.
What has proven less clear is how McCain will vote on any particular issue other than those concerning the military. He has proven that he is just as willing to vote for or against his own political party based upon his convictions and may contradict a former position that he has once held.
Furthermore, McCain’s ethics have not been called into question since the late 1990s and by all reports are not currently in doubt.
Finally, McCain has not exhibited a fondness for those in his own political party that may be touted as having a maverick spirit much like his own. He has mostly spoken out against them in order to resolve bi-partisan discord. Although, some may view him as being a traitor to his own political party at times, it is more likely that he is being an independent challenger of beliefs that he is opposed to rather than intentionally trying to damage his own party. By all appearances, McCain continues to follow his own philosophies and course of action rather than give in to political pressures from either side of the aisle.
“Obama Dinner With Republicans Includes John McCain, Kelly Ayotte”
“John McCain criticizes Ted Cruz’s filibuster antics”
Susan Knowles is a licensed marriage and family therapist, former family law attorney, and author of a book of political fiction, “Freedom’s Fight: A Call To Remember,” available at Amazon.