Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s base erupted last night after she praised the late John McCain’s “decency.” She tweeted:
John McCain’s legacy represents an unparalleled example of human decency and American service. As an intern, I learned a lot about the power of humanity in government through his deep friendship with Sen. Kennedy. He meant so much, to so many. My prayers are with his family.
There’s a heaping pile of “wtfs” and trash GIFs in here, but the intermittent critiques mainly pinpoint her choice to praise McCain’s political record rather than offering a simple condolence. “I still support you, and I’m sure most of the people criticizing you also do as well, but it is disappointing for you to lay praise on such an awful man. You could have just sympathized for his family, said nothing etc.,” one follower tweeted. Others accuse her of pandering and drifting from her own hardline principles, while defenders and conservatives jumped in to attack the critics for vitriol.
McCain’s record does represent the views Ocasio-Cortez has defined herself, and the fight she’s leading, against–does that fight pause for R.I.P.s?
John McCain was, by mid-20th century ideations of American imperialism, a war hero. By resilience, he was an objective hero; as we know from the endlessly repeated narrative, McCain spent five and a half years in a Vietnamese POW camp where prisoners were forced to defecate themselves and were hung from a meat hook on the ceiling to the point at which they couldn’t breathe. He endured two years of solitary confinement. When his captors found out he was the son of an admiral, he declined early release on principle, making him, truly, one in a million people who would do that. He was also on his 23rd bombing mission, prepared to kill people, potential civilians included, when he was shot down.
McCain advocated time and again for American military intervention abroad; he voted to invade Iraq; he voted for the war in Afghanistan; he once parodied the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann,” singing “Bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran.” He voted, essentially, to use gargantuan military force against the poor. He said in 2000 that he would “hate the gooks”—racist slang for Vietnamese people, quite prevalent among American G.I.s during the Vietnam war—“as long as I live.”
He was known for his across-the-aisle friendships and famously defended Barack Obama as a “decent person” at his own campaign town hall. (It should be noted that Bernie Sanders’s tribute is near-identical to Ocasio-Cortez’s.) In McCain’s 2008 concession speech, he recognized that the election represented historic progress for race relations in America. He’d also voted against Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He gave away holy Apache land to miners in a shady last-minute addition to a defense spending bill.
He helped save tens of thousands of lives by voting against the ACA repeal but left those people in suspense until the last minute, telling the media to “watch the show” and later voted for the Republican tax bill which eliminated the ACA’s enforcement mechanism, the individual mandate; he also voted in line with Trump’s positions 83% of the time. Before the 2000 presidential campaign, he had said that he opposed abortion in cases except for rape, incest, and saving the life of a mother; he later hedged, clarifying that he recognized the outsized dangers of illegal abortions; and as recent as 2015, he cosponsored a bill to de-fund Planned Parenthood.
He was the federal government’s role model for principles over politics, but he repeatedly toed the party line, including legitimizing Sarah Palin, source of the phrase “lamestream media,” as a capable vice president. He reportedly once called his wife a “trollop” and a “cunt” in front of campaign staff. He voted for raising minimum wage when attached to a war spending and business tax breaks but against Democrats’ attempts to raise the minimum wage 19 times. It was reported in 2008 that one out of six of his presidential campaign fundraisers were lobbyists.
Update 8/27, 8:30 a.m.: This post has been updated to contextualize McCain’s racist comments.