Pontifications: Honoring John McCain

By Scott Hamilton

May 28, 2018, © Leeham News: Today is Memorial Day in the USA, the holiday which honors US Armed Forces who died in active military service.

It seems fitting today to think about US Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is dying of the same brain cancer that took the life of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Devoting his life to public service

McCain devoted more than 60 years of his 81 years to public service. The third John McCain—his father and grandfather of the same name were Admirals in the US Navy–McCain was shot down in 1967 during the Vietnam War and spent five years in a prison camp, tortured during his captivity.

John McCain. Photo via Google images.

His inability to raise his arms above the shoulders is a result of one aspect of the torture. He refused to be released by his captives ahead of other POWs, an offer made by the Vietnamese because he was the son of an Admiral.

Famously irascible, his war experience shaped his life. McCain steadfastly opposed President George W. Bush’s “enhanced interrogation” authorization, which infamously used waterboarding as one technique.

(US military were subjected to waterboarding in World War II by the Japanese. The US government labeled this torture and a war crime.)

McCain continued to oppose President Trump’s endorsement of torture. He opposed confirmation of Gina Haspel as director of the CIA this month because of her oversight of enhanced interrogation techniques during the Iraq war.

Conservative views

McCain held reliably conservative views throughout his long career in the US Congress. There were many positions with which I disagreed, but I admired his often, if inconsistent, “maverick” approach to politics. Unfortunately, he sometimes practiced situational maverick politics, pandering to the far right in 2008 to win the Republican presidential nomination.

McCain was a thorn in the side of many presidents, both Democrat and Republican.

Taking on the Pentagon

McCain didn’t hesitate to take on the Pentagon for what he viewed as poor policies and wasteful spending.

This is how I come to deviate from LNC’s general practice of avoiding politics. McCain proved to be a thorn in the side of The Boeing Co.

After 9/11, Boeing struck a deal with the Pentagon to lease 100 aerial refueling tankers to the US Air Force. The airplane was then called the KC-767, and McCain thought the deal smacked of corporate welfare and taxpayer rip-off.

Through McCain’s protests and daylighting, the Pentagon procurement officer who approved the deal, and who later went to work for Boeing, went to jail. So did the then-CFO of Boeing. Phil Condit, the CEO at the time, resigned in disgrace.

The lease deal was canceled and a new procurement process begun. This time, instead of a sole-source procurement, competition emerged between Boeing and a combination of Northrop Grumman and EADS, as the parent of Airbus Commercial Aircraft was then known. The KC-767 was pitted against the KC-330, which was based on the A330-200.

McCain’s quest for rooting out what he saw as corruption in the tanker procurement process was tainted when it turned out some of his staff formerly worked for EADS, but this was a minor embarrassment compared to that suffered by Boeing during the lease deal scrutiny.

It was a bitter competition. To the shock of many, including me, the USAF awarded the deal to Northrop. Boeing protested, the award was overturned, and Boeing won the next round with a low-ball bid for its tanker, which is now called the KC-46A. Boeing has written off nearly $4bn and is nearly two years late delivering the airplane.

Honoring the man

McCain hasn’t been seen around Congress for months and he hasn’t been in public view of any kind, either.

One can’t be in public service for more than six decades without stumbles here and there. But any objective assessment of McCain’s career clearly concludes that his served his country with honor and integrity.

His cranky demeanor, his maverick approach and calling a spade a spade will be sorely missed in a political environment where truth and honor are in short supply.

21 Comments on “Pontifications: Honoring John McCain

  1. Fully agree, I followed John McCain for years. A man of principles taking on everybody when he feels fundamentals are compromised.

    During elections he took Palin as VP, to everyones surprise. I cannot imagine this was his own idea, more a strategic move covering populist right. But then during an election rally, he corrected a crazy crowd telling them “No, Obama isn’t Arab, he is a decent family man, a citizen I happen to disagree with on fundamental issues.” Not what the crowd wanted to hear. A fresh sea wind compared to the current guy.

    Every government needs guys like McCain & Powell, sticking to principles. Watchful of their credibility not being exploited by opportunists that can’t stand in their shadows.

  2. On top of above comments I as a french deeply admired Mr McCain highness for his adresse to Mr Obama when he became president of the USA. .. very very différent of today style

  3. The US has produced its share of remarkable politicians. McCain is certainly not without flaws, but nor is he without many virtues, for which is deservedly recognised.

  4. I have nothing but the highest regards for McCain, who has Scott has quite rightly stated, has served his country with Honour and dignity. Present day politicians would have a tough time to walk in his shadow. Whilst I was starting as a trainee pilot on Vulcan bombers, McCain was serving 5 years in a Vietnamese POW camp. That is a reality check in itself. Well done Scott for writing this article, it is not about politics, but the flag you pin on your chest everyday you wake up.

  5. McCain is reviled for his pettiness on the right today, and it’s notable that this isn’t Veterans Day, it’s Memorial Day to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in battle.

    McCain, who shouldn’t have been in tactical aircraft given his horrible record at the USNA, wrecked five planes due to his terrible airmanship, and was injured ejecting under fire because he didn’t follow proper procedure. It should be noted that his career as A military officer was actually quite poor, on and off duty, as he even has admitted. He won’t be missed in the Senate, and only now as a consistent traitor to anything conservative/GOP supported is he being lionized by the establishment media types who portrayed him as an evil bloodthirsty warmongerer when he was running for POTUS.

    • You really, really should check your facts and not let your partisan politics rule instead. McCain lost one plane due to ‘pilot error’; the rest were mechanical failure and notably when he was almost killed when another plane fired a rocket when it was on the flight deck causing the disastrous fire on the USN Forrestal. Oh and in that period it was normal for a pilot to ‘lose’ a plane or two or even three during an USN carrier career. No one knows whether his injuries when ejecting were caused by error or by the Vietnamese after landing – since they performed no serious medical treatment on him ideas as to causes are purely speculative. Being Canadian I will not comment on your presumptions on his politics – it would not be polite to do so.

      • Lest we forget, the national/leftist media’s chronicling of his disastrous flight career is still available.


        He was a terrible, reckless aviator, up until the moment he was shot down, and provided tremendous intel to the North Vietnamese about American combat flight planning.

        As for the needless involvement of the Trump deferments, we could surely discuss Clinton (and Hillary in Bosnia under sniper fire)/Obama military bravery too, but it would be equally as pointless on memorial day as John McCain.

        His irresponsibility, and reputation in the Navy can’t be disregarded/dismissed. http://www.pythiapress.com/wartales/McCain-Shootdown.htm

    • Your calling him petty is pretty well the icing on the cake.

      As for his career, I won’t get involved in the judgements on what happened and why.
      But it should be noted that he, despite his connections, wanted to serve in combat, unlike certain others who got multiple college draft deferrals and then managed to get out of it all completely because of “bone spurs” that were apparently minor and miraculously went away on their own.
      Lest we forget, he turned down an opportunity to get out of a living hell 5 years earlier than he did because he did not want special privileges. I can think of a certain individual who would be proud to have been able to make a deal to get out of such a scenario asap.

    • I think this behavior is what is weakening America these days. Facts and decency are out with guys like John McCain. Hired no names saturating the masses with half truths / BS full of carefully hidden disclaimers. The ROW is increasingly ignoring, only Kim wants to talk. The enemy is within. Practice what mom told you.

    • Oh, please, let’s just cut to the chase!

      1.) Whatever Senator McCain’s errors may have been while serving his – our – country during Vietnam that led to his capture, and torture, by enemy forces, the fact remains, he put his life on the line during for a controversial and unpopular war that did not enjoy broad based support among politicians or the general population itself;

      2.) Oh, and of course, HE SERVED his country instead of weaseling out with faked bone spurs diagnosed by a doctor he and his family probably paid off handsomely that the current occupant of the White House used successfully to dodge the draft.

      While I certainly do not agree with many of Senator McCain’s political views, and find the party he chose to align himself with repugnant (now more than ever) in the way it has played its divide and conquer card with brutal efficiency, not to mention its recent willingness to embrace a credibly alleged pedophile for US Senator (among other things certainly NOT of the high moral character it claims to seek as part of its “Family Values” agenda), at least I can respect Senator McCain for the courage, valor and many sacrifices he made to protect our country and our freedoms as a serviceman, and his dedication to public service throughout his life thereafter.

      All of which is in sharp contrast to our current draft dodging, serial adulterer, pathological lying, and likely soon to be revealed as traitorous pretend “president”.

      *Scott, please accept my apologies in advance if this comment is “too political”. I trust you know that it was written specifically to rebut/reply comments made above that conveniently omits that the current occupant of the White House was a full on draft dodger, and as such, the notion that Senator McCain was a failed soldier, or unqualified/unfit to serve our country could not go unaddressed.

      For sure, there is someone unfit and unqualified for the position he is in, but it’s NOT Senator McCain.

  6. Many years ago, when I used to cover the Senate transportation committee as a junior journalist (and McCain was chair), McCain was always one of the most impressive people in the room. He was supremely prepared, asking the tough questions and not accepting any BS. This is the McCain I want to remember. Not the man who, as you say, pandered to the far right. Not the man whose voting record shows him supporting most of Trump’s problematic and harmful positions. Not the man who would deny women the basic right to bodily autonomy. I want to remember the cocky Maverick, but I wish he had been Maverick enough to be fiscally conservative, socially conscious. Thank you for the interesting post, Scott.

  7. I have great respect for John McCain but I never understood why he did what he did against the Boeing KC-767. His inappropriate actions lead unfortunately to the advance of the Airbus A330MRTT and its unfortunate orders from US allies: United Kingdom, Australia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea to the detriment of home based Boeing tankers.

  8. I knew, of course, that this column would open up a political debate, which LNC tries to avoid.

    The intent here was not to get into Trumpism or any such thing. The intent was to honor a man on Memorial Day who served in a war, spent five years in a POW camp, survived torture and went on to serve his county for a total of more than 60 years.

    I was disappointed with McCain and his 2008 pandering to the far right in order to win the presidential nomination. I disagreed with many of his positions.

    But McCain has served his country in the best spirit of public service. Let’s honor him for this.

    • [Edited as a violation of Reader Comment rules.]

    • Agree, Scott. I strongly disagree with McCain’s party’s politics, many of his stances, and so on, but I do honor the fact that he served honorably and he should be rightly remembered for that.

      And anyone who has any decency should smack Trump for dissing McCain and other POWs and servicemembers, with his only like guys that don’t get captured and his taking of that Purple Heart by saying it’s a lot easier to get it this way when a service member gave it to him instead of earning it on the battlefield.

  9. I think your long standing policy to do your best to avoid politics looks better than ever now….

  10. It is Memorial Day. Let’s honor Senator McCain for what he has done for this country, and let’s avoid the politics. Serving with Honor and Integrity, standing in line to be tortured while he waited his turn to come home. And then to have his teeth, shoulder and bones broken again at the order of a foreign power.
    He took on the Defense establishment when he felt that taxpayers deserved better. Fiscally conservative, Moral and Social Consciousness, Duty to Country, and a Man of Christian and Family values. He has looked back and admitted errors with integrity and reflection. Senator McCain is a Prisoner of War and Veteran that has left a legacy for those citizens who want to practice Truth, Honor and Integrity. That is why I honor him today.

  11. This is a clear illustration of the serious situation of the political climate now in the “good old USA” that a “very, very” large number of people in our Nation can not tolerate a different view than their own without responding with vioment personal attack on the person holding that view. In my eight decades of life I don’t think it has ever been this bad and I fear for the future.

    • Hello Jon,

      Regarding: “a “very, very” large number of people in our Nation can not tolerate a different view than their own without responding with vehement personal attack on the person holding that view. In my eight decades of life I don’t think it has ever been this bad and I fear for the future.”

      I am sad to say that I have to agree 100% with this, except that I am two decades behind you in life.