McCain spoke elo­quently. If only Amer­ica lis­tens

The Star Democrat - - OPINION - © 2017 Chicago Tri­bune Dis­trib­uted by Tri­bune Con­tent Agency, LLC

Gruff and tough Sen. John McCain, 11 days re­moved from brain can­cer surgery, re­turned to Capi­tol Hill Tues­day in time to turn a feck­less Repub­li­can ex­er­cise in dam­age con­trol into an in­spir­ing mo­ment of states­man­ship in the ser­vice of Amer­i­can demo­cratic ideals.

Boy, did this 80-year-old war­rior of the Sen­ate and naval hero get the tone and tim­ing right. His ap­peal to col­leagues in re­marks from the Sen­ate floor fo­cused on the need to defy par­ti­san­ship when elected of­fi­cials have se­ri­ous work to do. The Amer­i­can peo­ple will never get the gov­ern­ment they need, and the coun­try will never ad­vance, he ar­gued, if all politi­cians care about is stomp­ing their ri­vals.

“Stop lis­ten­ing to the bom­bas­tic loud­mouths on the ra­dio, tele­vi­sion and in­ter­net,” the Ari­zona Repub­li­can im­plored. “To hell with them. They don’t want any­thing done for the pub­lic good. Our in­ca­pac­ity is their liveli­hood. Let’s trust each other. Let’s re­turn to reg­u­lar or­der,” he said, re­fer­ring to the tra­di­tional, col­le­gial ap­proach to Sen­ate busi­ness. “We’ve been spin­ning our wheels on too many im­por­tant is­sues be­cause we keep try­ing to find a way to win with­out help from across the aisle.”

Bravo! Such a shame, of course, that McCain’s speech was riv­et­ing in part be­cause he’s a sick man. But pol­i­tics is the­ater, and his wounded ap­pear­ance, with a sur­gi­cal scar above his left eye, added ex­tra­or­di­nary grav­ity to what was al­ready a day that cried out for some­one to shout “Enough with pol­i­tics as blood sport!”

McCain flew to Wash­ing­ton from Ari­zona to sup­port a dodgy pro­ce­dural vote on the also-dodgy fu­ture of Oba­macare. Af­ter a 51-50 vote, with Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence break­ing the tie, Sen­ate Repub­li­cans now can open de­bate on a mess of a re­peal-and-re­place bill that Democrats won’t touch and many Repub­li­cans don’t like.

The GOP push to end Oba­macare is a dreary, frus­trat­ing ex­am­ple of pol­i­tics at the ex­pense of rea­son and co­op­er­a­tion. The Sen­ate vote was in­sen­si­tive to the plight of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who need ac­cess to health in­sur­ance yet have no idea what kind of bill Repub­li­cans have up their sleeve. GOP lead­ers won’t say: Bet­ter to work be­hind closed doors to limit the po­lit­i­cal fall­out.

McCain said he doesn’t know if he’ll ul­ti­mately sup­port a health care bill. His point was that the Sen­ate’s ap­proach to craft­ing re­peal-and-re­place re­flects ter­ri­bly on a de­lib­er­a­tive body that should be able to take on tough leg­is­la­tion to­gether. In­stead, co­op­er­a­tion has fallen out of fash­ion, even on mon­u­men­tal leg­is­la­tion. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama signed the Af­ford­able Care Act with­out any sup­port from Repub­li­cans, and now Repub­li­cans would undo Oba­macare with­out Demo­cratic in­put.

Through his­tory, McCain said, se­na­tors of dif­fer­ent par­ties held con­trast­ing views, yet they man­aged to work col­lab­o­ra­tively. What’s changed is to­day’s em­pha­sis on notch­ing vic­to­ries in­stead of de­liv­er­ing re­sults.

“In­cre­men­tal progress, com­pro­mises that each side crit­i­cized but also ac­cept, just plain mud­dling through to chip away at prob­lems and keep our en­e­mies from do­ing their worst isn’t glam­orous or ex­cit­ing,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like a po­lit­i­cal tri­umph. But it’s usu­ally the most we can ex­pect from our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment, op­er­at­ing in a coun­try as di­verse, and quar­rel­some and free as ours. Con­sid­er­ing the in­jus­tice and cru­el­ties in­flicted by au­to­cratic gov­ern­ments and how cor­rupt­ible hu­man na­ture can be, the prob­lem-solv­ing our sys­tem does make pos­si­ble, the fit­ful progress it pro­duces, and the lib­erty and jus­tice it pre­serves is a mag­nif­i­cent achieve­ment.”

We have no il­lu­sion that McCain’s speech, how­ever long it’s re­mem­bered, will change Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal cul­ture. But it should.

Reprinted from the Chicago Tri­bune.

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