John McCain: A Political Maverick in His Own Words

In a storied career as a Senator, McCain has been more than willing to buck the party line.

August 25, 2018 9:12 pm
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) passed away on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) passed away on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NurPhoto via Getty Images

On Saturday, Senator John McCain, the Navy hero who survived nearly 2,000 days as a prisoner of war to become one of the most important American political figures of the last half-century, died.

He was 81.

RealClearLife thought it’d be fitting to acknowledge the outspoken Arizonan by winding up 21 party-line-bucking quotes that demonstrate why McCain was known as the Maverick of the GOP during a Senate career that began in January 1987.

We’ll let the Maverick take the reins from here:

1. On what a maverick really is: “You know, I’ve been called a maverick; someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment and sometimes it’s not. What it really means is I understand who I work for. I don’t work for a party. I don’t work for a special interest. I don’t work for myself. I work for you.”

2. On who should receive tax cuts: “I don’t think Bill Gates needs a tax cut. I think you and your parents do.”

3. On the need for immigration reform: “I defend with no reservation our proposal to offer the people who harvest our crops, tend our gardens, work in our restaurants, care for our children and clean our homes a chance to be legal citizens of this country. They will have to earn it. They must come out from the shadows, pay their penalties, fees and taxes, stay employed, obey our laws, learn our language and history, and go to the back of the line and wait years for the privilege of being an American.”

4. On climate change: “Instead of idly debating the precise extent of global warming or the precise timeline of global warming, we need to deal with the central facts of rising temperatures, rising waters and all the endless troubles that global warming will bring. We stand warned by serious and credible scientists across the world that time is short and the dangers are great.”

5. On President Donald Trump refusing to acknowledge Russian interference in the 2016 election during a joint press conference with Vladimir Putin: “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are — a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they are not waiting totally in vain.”

6. On the need to find a bipartisan solution to America’s healthcare problem: “We’re getting nothing done. All we’ve really done this year is confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Our healthcare insurance system is a mess. We all know it, those who support Obamacare and those who oppose it. Something has to be done. We Republicans have looked for a way to end it and replace it with something else without paying a terrible political price. We haven’t found it yet, and I’m not sure we will. All we’ve managed to do is make more popular a policy that wasn’t very popular when we started trying to get rid of it.”

7. On class warfare: “I have never engaged in class warfare. I am very much in favor of tax cuts for middle-income and lower-income Americans. I’m deeply concerned about a kind of class warfare that’s going on right now. It’s unfortunate. There’s a growing gap between the haves and have-nots in America, and that gap is growing, and it’s unfortunately divided up along ethnic lines.”

8. On revoking his support for Trump following the Access Hollywood tape leak: “I thought it important I respect the fact that Donald Trump won a majority of the delegates by the rules our party set. I thought I owed his supporters that deference. But Donald Trump’s behavior this week, concluding with the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy.”

9. On the use of torture on prisoners: “I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering.”

10. On war: “War is awful. When nations seek to settle their differences by force of arms a million tragedies ensue. Nothing, not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality.”

11. On America’s need for a conscience: “We are not a perfect nation.  We did not act on reports of the Holocaust.  We ignored the slaughter in Rwanda until it was too late.  We have not made enough of an effort to stop the atrocities in Sudan and Burma and elsewhere.  For too long, we refused to respect the full civil rights and dignity of Americans whose skin color was a shade darker than others.  We mistreated enemies in our custody.  But with each failure, our conscience is stung, and we resolve to do better.   Each time, we say, never again, and fall short of that vow again.  But whatever our flaws, whatever dangers we face, however sharp our debates, we must remain a country with a conscience.  And we must feel ashamed when we ignore its demands.”

12. On Russia: “I have no illusions or worry about the long-term future of Russia. Russia is now a gas station masquerading as a country.”

13. On the need for trade with Mexico to be expanded: “I am encouraged by the path Arizona is on, but we must do more to support creative solutions that will help us to expand trade opportunities with Mexico. By cultivating public-private partnerships to build better infrastructure and removing obstacles that hinder trade opportunities, Arizona can create more robust economic development policies that will benefit both small and large businesses, create more jobs, and drive greater economic prosperity for hardworking citizens of the Grand Canyon State. After all, if we don’t make it easy to do business in Arizona, I am sure Texas will be more than happy to oblige.”

14. On the need for a free press: “We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital. If you want to preserve,  if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”

15.  On the need for campaign finance reform: “Today, a deep and coarsening cynicism is growing among Americans. The appearance of corruption and, tragically, real corruption survive in the political process because of the existence of unlimited, unregulated money. Those of us privileged to hold public office have only ourselves to blame. The defining feature of how we gain and hold our offices is not lost on the American people. They understand that the special interests that contribute huge amounts of cash to both political parties don’t expect just good government in return for their generosity. They expect a return for their stockholders and their members-and they get it, usually at the expense of average citizens. It is clearly time to reform the campaign laws again. That is what the American people want and deserve.”

16. On losing the election to President Obama: “This is a historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight. I’ve always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Senator Obama believes that, too. But we both recognize that though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation’s reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound. Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country.

17. On the need for government transparency: “The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless. They must know when the values that define our nation are intentionally disregarded by our security policies, even those policies that are conducted in secret.”

18. On Trump’s 2016 attacks on Khizr and Ghazala Khan: “It is time for Donald Trump to set the example for our country and the future of the Republican Party. While our Party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us. I’d like to say to Mr. and Mrs. Khan: Thank you for immigrating to America. We’re a better country because of you. And you are certainly right; your son was the best of America, and the memory of his sacrifice will make us a better nation — and he will never be forgotten.”

19. On what Trump actually believes: “I’m not sure what to make of President Trump’s convictions,” he writes. “He threatened to deliberately kill the spouses and children of terrorists, implying that an atrocity of that magnitude would show the world America’s toughness. His lack of empathy for refugees, innocent, persecuted, desperate men, women, and children is disturbing. The way he speaks about them is appalling, as if welfare or terrorism were the only purposes they could have in coming to our country. His reaction to unflattering news stories, calling them ‘fake news,’ whether they’re credible or not, is copied by autocrats who want to discredit and control a free press. … Flattery secures his friendship, criticism his enmity.”

20. On loving America: “I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn’t my own man anymore. I was my country’s.”

21. On being a maverick: “I never considered myself a maverick. I consider myself a person who serves the people of Arizona to the best of his abilities.”

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