Friday, July 28, 2017

Heroes and Villains

Senator John McCain's week is already becoming legendary.  Diagnosed with brain cancer, he made a dramatic reappearance in the Senate, and was the deciding vote to take up the Republican unhealthcare bills.  He promptly made a speech castigating the secret, cynical and increasingly corrupt process led by Mitch McConnell and maintained by his fellow Republicans.

 He reminded them that matters of this weight and complexity require the regular committee process and open discussion, and that matters that involve virtually every American and a significant chunk of the economy require at least an attempt at bipartisan legislation.  Then he stunned his colleagues by being the deciding vote that brought down the last Republican unhealthcare plan, and ended this particular long nightmare for the time being.

McCain's first vote should not have been a surprise.  When asked earlier if he would vote to take up the bill he replied "I always do."  That's part of the regular order of how Senate business is conducted.  His vote against the plan mostly supported what he said in his speech, which Andrew Sullivan considers was significant in itself:

"And I wonder if historians will one day look back and see Senator John McCain’s speech last Tuesday as some kind of turning point. Diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer, McCain nonetheless returned to give one of the best-scripted speeches of his career. Excoriating the chaotic process by which repeal of the ACA was being forced through the Senate, McCain reminded his fellows that they are the president’s equals in the government of this country and not his subordinates. He appealed for a bipartisan fix for a national problem, and for a return to regular order. He spoke for a mere 15 minutes, but they remain worth watching several days later. He seemed for a few moments like an actual voice of authority in a capital where all such authority has withered into mere positioning or cowardice. And in the early hours of Friday morning, McCain appropriately provided the critical vote to kill the skinny repeal of the ACA. It was, in some ways, his finest hour."

(Parenthetically, I find myself agreeing with Sullivan, the former conservative, not only on the Republicans but on excesses of the left, particularly the stifling of free speech, and on Democratic failures.  His column from two weeks ago merits serious consideration.)

But lost in all the attention on McCain was the courage of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who defied actual and meaningful threats from the Sec. of Interior and backed by the apprentice dictator in the White House, threatening to screw the state of Alaska if she didn't play ball on unhealthcare.  It was no small threat.  Interior essentially runs more than half the state.

Murkowski, who in 2010 fell in the primary to a far right fellow Republican but spectacularly won on a write-in vote, cast an essential no vote on unhealthcare anyway, when fellow Republican Senators who knew better took the coward's way out.

It's significant that the threat got big play in Alaska itself, and worth noting that administration outrages make the local press, too, in areas where the apprentice dictator looks for his constituency, as in Long Island Newday's coverage of the a.d.'s encouraging police brutality.

He also made a lot of waves in middle America with his bizarre speech to a gathering of Boy Scouts, where scouting and its traditions are as close to sacred as anything secular.  The Borowitz satire that the Girls Scouts obtained a restraining order preventing the a.d. from coming within 300 feet of their gatherings, had the unfortunate ring of an actual news story.  As did the tweet he imagined the a.d. issuing in response:“Failing Girl Scouts bad (or sick) guys,” Trump wrote. “Mints, cookies terrible. Sad!

As for villains in this unhealthcare saga there are at least 49, but the most pernicious needs to be named: Mitch McConnell, who now holds the record for the most evil perpetrated by an American over the past nine years.  Even without formidable ongoing competition in the White House, let's hope he's done his worst.

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