A Tempered Harpoon is a column on American Politics written by the ’18-’19 Editor in Chief, Chris Park (’19). – Ed.
At the end of one’s tenure, a politician is measured by how well (s)he reconciles the inherent discrepancy between the political imperatives and the principles on which (s)he stood. John McCain wasn’t perfect—nor did he claim to be. His 2008 campaign, especially, disappointed many of his ardent supporters, as he retracted from his criticisms of Bush tax cuts and chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. But time after time, he was an agent that was able to rekindle the increasingly vestigial values in the institutions set up by our democratic system: genuine love for the values on which the United States stands, ability to find common ground, and serve the country over party.
It’s easy to say that a politician is not working for the interests of the country when his vision for the country so diverts from your own. And when a politician in the opposing party crosses the aisle to support your agenda, then that person suddenly becomes a hero. But my deference for John McCain’s legacy is so much more than his decisive no vote on the Senate ACA repeal.
He sponsored the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, even when his own party leadership opposed it. When he easily could have used unfair attacks against Obama for political gains, he came to the defense his opponent. Senator McCain never backed down to criticize President Donald Trump, at risk of political peril, on issues, like torture, that mattered to him. He voted for the motion to open debate for the ACA repeal as he believed in the need for change with healthcare, but opposed the bill when it didn’t meet his standards of productive legislating.
As many of his colleagues attest, he truly believed in what he did. Often times, that meant breaking with the party leadership that was becoming increasingly partisan. He was a commanding figure in the Senate with the unique ability to stand up in the Senate and hold ground with his principles, notably his belief in regular order. I keep and will continue to keep his op-ed taped on my wall as a reminder of the largely absent—but nevertheless re-gainable—spirit of a working democracy. And I will miss him and the voice he added to the national discourse.
The task of carrying on his spirit now rests on our shoulders. Do we continue to lament the increasing polarization of the country but soon give rise to radical ideas, proponents of which are rarely willing to compromise? Or do we hold our elected officials accountable and urge the return to regular order? Speak out so Congress to work together and across the aisle; vote for political leaders relentless in their will to champion the principled ways to best govern these United States of America.
Featured Image: Reuters file/Brian Snyder