McCain’s legacy:

PBS’ “Front­line” of­fers a look tonight.

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Bill Goodykoontz Columnist Ari­zona Repub­lic USA TO­DAY NET­WORK Reach Goodykoontz at bill.goodykoontz@ ari­zonare­pub­lic.com.

“McCain,” the episode of the PBS se­ries “Front­line,” frames the se­nior se­na­tor from Ari­zona in the con­text of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. What isn’t these days? There’s noth­ing shock­ing or par­tic­u­larly rev­e­la­tory about the episode, cer­tainly not for any­one fa­mil­iar with Sen. John McCain’s ca­reer. But it’s a pretty com­pre­hen­sive look — as com­pre­hen­sive as any­thing can be in a lit­tle less than an hour — of­fer­ing praise for his self­styled mav­er­ick rep­u­ta­tion while not ig­nor­ing scan­dal and con­tro­versy.

And it puts a siz­able amount of the re­spon­si­bil­ity — some would call it blame — for the cur­rent state of the Repub­li­can Party squarely on his shoul­ders for one rea­son: choos­ing Sarah Palin as his run­ning mate when he ran for pres­i­dent in 2008. It’s char­ac­ter­ized as a strate­gic de­ci­sion, a needed ap­peal to the ultra-con­ser­va­tives that were be­com­ing the GOP base, that got away from him.

Di­rec­tor and pro­ducer Michael Kirk be­gins the episode, which airs tonight, with McCain casting the de­ci­sive vote to stop Trump’s at­tempt to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act, or “Oba­macare.” It was a le­git­i­mately dra­matic mo­ment, with McCain, who had been di­ag­nosed with a deadly form of brain can­cer days be­fore, strid­ing silently to the front of the Sen­ate and casting a thumb­s­down vote. (One thing I hadn’t seen — or, more ac­cu­rately heard: iso­lated au­dio catches gasps from McCain’s col­leagues as he walks back to his seat.)

That sets the tone, with McCain por­trayed as a man who does his own thing. Some­times that helps him. Some­times it doesn’t.

Kirk re­vis­its McCain’s cap­ture and im­pris­on­ment in Viet­nam af­ter his fighter jet was shot down, and in­cludes footage of McCain tear­fully ex­plain­ing, while ly­ing in bed se­verely wounded, what hap­pened, and telling his wife he hoped to see her again. We also hear McCain’s voice as he fi­nally agrees, af­ter bru­tal, con­tin­u­ing tor­ture, to read a “con­fes­sion” — an act that trou­bled him greatly. Yet we also hear of his re­fusal to be re­leased ahead of pris­on­ers who were there longer than he was. There is no ques­tion of his re­solve or his hero­ism.

Ex­cept, of course, on the part of Trump, who dur­ing his cam­paign for pres­i­dent fa­mously said of McCain, “He’s a war hero be­cause he was cap­tured. I like peo­ple that weren’t cap­tured, OK?”

Kirk in­cludes video footage of Trump say­ing this, and it’s more strik­ing than just read­ing the words. In the con­text of the video, Trump senses that the crowd is taken aback, but he won’t back down. It’s a rep­re­sen­ta­tive mo­ment.

The episode delves into McCain’s en­try into pub­lic life. He came back a war hero, and the mil­i­tary show­cased him.

Politics seemed like the next log­i­cal step. He was elected to Congress and then the Sen­ate.

McCain came up through a Wash­ing­ton that re­lied on more-bi­par­ti­san ef­forts to get things done. Now, get­ting things done seems less im­por­tant than strut­ting your par­ti­san bona fides.

Will that, how­ever un­wit­tingly, be part of McCain’s legacy? The an­swer is com­plex, like McCain’s ca­reer. “McCain” can’t an­swer it fully, but it’s a worth­while start to the con­ver­sa­tion.

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