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John McCain: Loss of One, Toll for All
[ Issue 164 Page 13 ] Tuesday, September 25, 2018, 17:12:41 Jae Hwan Jeong Head of Society Division jeong7331@kaist.ac.kr

What some of the members of American society have chosen to celebrate in the past may have been detrimental to the character of the concourse. Given the freedom to choose who and what they wish to venerate, people may vary there in and there out. But sometimes they ought to commemorate something as a community, especially in throes of individuals that have helped shape and mold the United States into a more respectable state than before. John McCain passed away on August 25, and this segment of the publication wishes to acknowledge the passages of his life that cause his name to be attributed a sense of deference in the contemporary context. Within the plethora of his accomplishments, we believe that the following moments from among his career’s many phantasmagoric reflections are worth highlighting.

   
Senator John McCain (1936 ~ 2018)

McCain Feingold Act

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), also known as the McCain Feingold Act, was a bill passed to regulate the finances of political campaigns. At the time, McCain and cosponsor Russ Feingold were regarded by their colleagues as progressive Democrats who held marginalized power, and who were more inclined towards idealism than the pragmatic wheeler-dealers in the Senate. The bill garnered little interest from both the Democrats and the Republicans, but the Democrats ended up voting for the bill on principle whilst the majority of the Republican party members opposed it. The backdrop to the development of the bill differs drastically from today’s political atmosphere, in that just after the turn of the millenium there were few grassroots movements behind political reforms, and so legislative realizations were uniquely imbued with the passion and skills of their governmental advocates.

Although, in regards to its context, the bill is suspected to have risen from the Enron Scandal of 2001, in which an energy company was guilty of fraudulent accountancy, the McCain Feingold Act is better understood as an effort to eradicate the misuse of funds designated for party-building. Ever since the 1996 and 1998 elections, both major American parties have sought better methods to utilize campaign funds to win elections.

The act was a symbol of McCain as a maverick, who would stand his ground no matter the surrounding turmoil — later, McCain would often hold onto his role as the leading Republican figure in campaign finance. The hardships of unassisted lobbying may not be easily perceived by political onlookers, but they become more obvious once we take a closer look into how Senators operate. Senators often try to “own” an issue through expertise in specific details, sponsoring relevant legislation, and chairing the related subcommittee. Although McCain didn’t have strong grip on the matter of campaign reforms, he did not yield the leadership to others. Despite attempts at resistance, no campaign reforms or lobbying could take place outside McCain’s interventions. He successfully cornered the market of bipartisanship, and such reforms could not occur without the bipartisan support.

Bipartisan Gang of Fourteen

Back in 2004, conservative Republicans were revving up for a battle to prevent the Democrats from blocking President Bush’s judicial nomination to the US high courts. Presidential judicial appointments can be granted upon the consent and advice of the Senate, but the Democrats had planned to filibuster that authoritative grant. Bill Fister, who was the Senate majority leader and a supporter of President Bush, insisted on the utilization of a parliamentary tool to end the filibuster and all other political stonewalling of future judicial nominees. Democrats, in turn, responded by threatening to use other procedural tactics to tie up the Republicans during the execution of their agenda. The problem with the standoff seemed apparent: the “nuclear option” that would end the filibusters would nullify the tradition of protecting opposition within Congress.

But there was a third force, known as the Gang of Fourteen, that intervened to mediate the conflict was led by John McCain himself, along with thirteen other moderate Republicans and Democrats. After arduous discussions within the group, both sides of the political agenda conceded to meet in the middle ground. The Republicans within the Gang of Fourteen agreed to relieve their stranglehold on the prohibition of filibusters on judicial nominees while the Democrats agreed to allow the progress of some judicial appointments, reserving any future use of “extraordinary circumstances”. Although counterintuitive, the proposed solution suggested the need for new and better ambiguity in place of the old one for improvement. The bipartisan revolt was revolutionary and vastly necessary in regards to leveling the political landscape of the Congress, at that time dominated by a single party. The Gang of Fourteen was able to curb a serious meltdown in the Congress by uniting a central body of astute politicians who would ponder important decisions for the country’s sake rather than their own political benefit John McCain exemplified the efficacy of centrism at the right time.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The recent documentary by HBO that spotlights John McCain’s life quotes a sermon by John Donne. Donne argues that because we are all part of mankind, we therefore are at loss upon any one’s death: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” This statement is indicative of the common ground that must be shared by all. John McCain specifically had stories of his youth that may be less well-known and perhaps offer a human flavor to the long career more commonly discussed. McCain grew up in a distinguished military family, but did not thrive academically or distinguish himself in his hometown Annapolis. By all accounts, he partied on a daily basis and graduated near bottom of the Class of ’58. One may ask: what gets a man from that point to his current status? The same fundamental question has been raised in the minds of young voters who seem to not care for politics at all. The frequently referenced “McCain Story”, as told by David Foster Wallace for Rolling Stone in 2000, is worth quoting at length:

In October of ’67 McCain was himself still a Young Voter and flying his 23rd Vietnam combat mission [when] his A-4 Skyhawk plane got shot down over Hanoi and he had to eject, which broke both McCain’s arms and one leg. He landed hard right in the middle of downtown Hanoi, where the crowd just about killed him. Finally [he was] taken to the infamous Hỏa Lò prison … He was delirious with pain for weeks, and the other prisoners of war (POWs) were sure he would die; and then after a few months like that, [he was brought] to the prison commandant’s office and offered [release]. They had found out that McCain’s father was a top-ranking naval officer in the U.S. Armed Forces and … wanted the PR coup of mercifully releasing his son. McCain, 100 pounds and barely able to stand, refused. The U.S. military’s Code of Conduct for Prisoners of War said that POWs had to be released in the order they were captured, and McCain refused to violate the Code. And so then he spent four more years like this, much of the time in a [dark] closet-sized box called a “punishment cell”. Imagine how loudly your most basic, primal self-interest would have cried out to you in that moment. Would you have refused to go? You simply can’t know for sure.

But, see, we do know how this man reacted. That he chose to spend four more years there, in a dark box, alone, rather than violate a Code. Maybe he was nuts. But the point is that … we know, for a proven fact, that he’s capable of devotion to something other, more, than his own self-interest.

Senator McCain’s more recent battle with brain cancer underscored his resilience —he continued on the crusade for the causes he believed in. The “McCain Story” and his renowned accomplishments present a maverick, but also a moderate, painting an individual who continuously kept both eyes on issues that mattered to his nation.

 

Jae Hwan Jeong Head of Society Division Archives  
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