John McCain: A Lost Soul?


I’ve been arguing with myself about the best word to characterize the career and, more importantly, character of the late Senator John McCain. The one that immediately came to mind is that which describes many if not all criminals, namely “depraved”. But I don’t think that’s quite right for the following reason.

Of course, McCain is in a minority in having not only gotten away with his crimes but even in having been celebrated for them. We all know that hundreds of thousands of African American youths are rotting in prison for much less.

But putting that aside, there is a larger principle at stake: those committing heinous and violent acts while acting in part on their own volition are also a product and reflection of a profoundly debased society one which celebrates thuggishness and brutality. When McCain jokes about “bombing Iran“, passionately advocates destroying civilian infrastructure in the former Yugoslavia or harangues his senatorial colleagues for lacking “resolve” in lining up with the catastrophic invasion of Iraq it is easy to write him off as the right does those engaging in retail violence in inner city neighborhoods.

That said, the principle is the same. We need a world which not only provides a place for the socially and economically disadvantaged but also channels the energies of those like McCain with unparalleled advantages away from the revolting exercises in militarism and mass murder which defined his career. Part of our anger directed towards him seems to me a reflection of our own inability to create this kind of society.

One more note on this which is that while I originally rejected my friend Carl Gee’s defense of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez‘s encomia to McCain, I think he has a point in that unlike other hard liners, McCain broke ranks with them on certain crucial issues, most notably, torture. That indicates that he was not altogether a lost soul. Ocasio is, of course, a devout Catholic and is all about saving lost souls so I’m willing to accept that’s where her reaction derived from.

It occurs to me that the left has something to learn from this aspect of the church. There are no lost souls. And insofar as they are we are collectively responsible for them.

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2 thoughts on “John McCain: A Lost Soul?”

  1. Carl Gee says:

    I wouldn’t say that I have exactly defended their encomia to McCain. I’ve said that it would have been more ideal to delineate the destructive effects of his policies, while at the same time noting, as appropriate, that his sincerity in embracing those disastrous positions marked him as someone who was approachable through a process of argument and compromise.

    Their encomia may have been an attempt to not burn bridges with similar such politicians who they will need to influence in the Congress. Still, I think their praise ideally should have been qualified in the manner I have just described.

    As for redeeming lost souls, yes, I am all for it, when it is possible without enabling their further destructive activity. I really don’t know whether McCain was redeemable, but he did seem to care about at least the appearance of consistency and principle. And so, even without redeeming him, there was some kind of there there, with which one could negotiate with the hope of attaining an improved outcome.

    1. John Halle says:

      Thanks. Maybe “explanation” is a better characterization than defense. Also worth mentioning, as Krugman did today, McCain’s breaking ranks to vote to pass the ACA. Terrible legislation yes, but better than nothing. So as you say, a there there and possibly a foundation to build on which to build “the golden bridge for the retreating enemy.”

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