18 November 2018
Known for his principled stand on major issues, John McCain commands huge respect from both Republicans and Democrats in the US. Photo: Reuters
Known for his principled stand on major issues, John McCain commands huge respect from both Republicans and Democrats in the US. Photo: Reuters

John McCain will remain a fighter until his last breath

Seasoned Republican senator from Arizona and former presidential candidate John McCain was diagnosed with brain cancer recently, prompting him to undergo a surgery.

Late last month, McCain was given a standing ovation by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers as the 80-year-old took a few hours off from the hospital and returned to the Senate, bearing a fresh scar on his head due to the brain surgery, to cast his vote on a Obamacare repeal bill put forward by his party.

Dubbed the “Maverick”, McCain is undoubtedly a legendary and larger-than-life personality in US politics who has been known for his defiance, self-assertiveness and in-your-face character over the past several decades.

As a matter of fact, McCain is often regarded by his Republican colleagues as sort of a wild card because he often refuses to toe the party line on major issues.

There is no shortage of examples in the past in which he broke ranks and took sides with the Democrats on key bills, ignoring the ire of his partymates.

For instance, between 2001 and 2006, among all the votes cast by McCain on bills in Senate, only 79 percent of them were cast in accordance with the official GOP line, far lower than the average 93 percent record of other Republican senators.

In fact McCain himself has often stressed that lawmakers should transcend partisanship and work together to serve the best interests of the American public.

Over the years he did translate his convictions into action by making every effort whenever possible to bridge the gap between the Republicans and the Democrats and facilitate consensus building in the Capitol.

McCain’s ability to command respect even among his Democratic opponents can perhaps be largely be attributed to his unique record as a “war hero”.

During the 60s McCain fought in Vietnam as a naval pilot. In 1967 he was captured by the North Vietnamese after his aircraft had been shot down, and spent the following six years in captivity as a POW, during which he was constantly tortured and interrogated by his enemy.

However, despite the ordeal and suffering, McCain didn’t succumb, and finally made it home alive in 1973. The wounds he sustained during the war have left him with lifelong physical disabilities.

McCain’s war record as well as the unwavering patriotism and integrity he manifested even when facing death have earned him unrivalled respect and popularity among US veterans, many of whom see him as the embodiment of the American spirit.

During his election campaign Donald Trump once came under heavy fire from veterans for ridiculing McCain’s past as a POW, and had to take back his words immediately to allay their anger because veterans were among his most steadfast supporters.

Despite being among the staunchest opponents of Trump within the Republican Party, McCain does have one thing in common with the president: they are both strongly opposed to Obamacare and want to scrap it.

Intriguingly, however, McCain eventually voted against the Obamacare repeal bill proposed by his party.

The fact that he voted “no” to the bill could have raised a lot of eyebrows among his partymates, but there are actually substantial grounds behind his seemingly mind-blogging decision: while the GOP was determined to kill Obamacare, it failed to put forward any viable alternative to the existing system.

In particular, the Republicans were unable to come up with a better idea than Obamacare on how to strike a reasonable balance between the interests of the public and those of insurance companies.

Given that, McCain believed his fellow Americans could be worse off without the Obamacare although it is so problem-ridden, and hence his nay to the repeal bill.

Now, even though President Trump and many GOP supporters were dismayed at McCain’s move, they are going easy on the sick and elderly senator.

It is said that most brain surgeons who have examined McCain aren’t optimistic about his condition. According to media reports in the US which cited cases of other patients with similar condition, it is estimated that McCain may only have 18 more months to live.

However, as a renowned Vietnam War veteran with extraordinary physical and mental toughness, he just might be able to live longer than that. Yet the chance of him being able to live long enough to run for another term of office as senator is almost zero.

As far as Trump is concerned, perhaps he is going to remember McCain in the days ahead as a worthy adversary who has, much to the president’s surprise, proven even more formidable after his cancer diagnosis than before.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 9

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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