Last week, America received terrible news: Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has been diagnosed with brain cancer. The news shocked those on both sides of the political spectrum and made many of us feel warm fuzzies about the war hero and long-time public servant, even though he doesn’t necessarily represent our values. It’s understandable. McCain has frequently stood up to Donald Trump. He was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War and endured unimaginable torture. He respected President Obama during the 2008 presidential election, even shutting down his far-right supporters who called Obama an unAmerican, closeted Muslim. We have even been able to forgive him for introducing Sarah Palin (shudder) to the country.
It’s understandable that we are all feeling some affection for McCain. Shortly after the news of his cancer broke, something else happened: he was suddenly being compared to Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy who passed away in 2009. On the surface, it seems like an obvious comparison, right? Ted died from the same cancer John was diagnosed with. Both men worked together in Congress for years. Both men were bipartisan occasionally on important bills and they were good friends. However, John McCain is no Ted Kennedy.
Don’t get it twisted though, that’s where the comparisons end.
On Monday night, we learned that John McCain is coming back to the Senate for a crucial Republican health care vote, and early indications are that he will be supporting whatever Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell puts forth:
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will return to Washington on Tuesday despite recently diagnosed brain cancer, his office announced Monday evening, just in time for a critical vote on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. That means Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a slightly wider margin for error as the vote to start debate on the health care plan approaches. With McCain out, two Republican defections would have been enough to kill the Obamacare repeal effort. But his return likely gives leadership one more vote in favor of starting debate — McCain has told reporters repeatedly that he would vote to advance the bill, even if he reserved the right to oppose the final product — and could provide a morale boost.
The idea that a man who was just diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and whose medical bills are paid for by the taxpayers, is going to help advance a bill that will rip affordable and comprehensive healthcare away from millions is almost inconceivable. If he does that, it will prove without a doubt, that John McCain is nothing like Kennedy.
A year before Ted Kennedy succumbed to his illness, he too, returned to Congress for a critical health insurance vote, but it was to protect people not to hurt them:
July 9, 2008 — The cancer-stricken Democratic senator Edward Kennedy made a dramatic return to Congress today, providing the boost needed to pass a bill securing healthcare coverage for senior citizens.
Kennedy, 76, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour in May after suffering a seizure at his home on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The youngest brother of John and Robert F Kennedy, a revered figure in US politics, was not expected to return to Washington until September.
But Kennedy made an unexpected appearance on Capitol Hill as Democrats prepared to vote on a plan that shores up Medicare, the country’s government-run programme for senior citizens’ healthcare.
Ted Kennedy worked tirelessly for his entire career to pass an affordable healthcare bill for all Americans and protect the programs already in place for the elderly. In fact, he considered healthcare reform “the cause” of his life:
Again, I have enjoyed the best medical care money (and a good insurance policy) can buy. But quality care shouldn’t depend on your financial resources, or the type of job you have, or the medical condition you face. Every American should be able to get the same treatment that U.S. senators are entitled to. This is the cause of my life. It is a key reason that I defied my illness last summer to speak at the Democratic convention in Denver—to support Barack Obama, but also to make sure, as I said, ‘that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American…will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not just a privilege.’
President Obama often cited Kennedy as inspiration for the Affordable Care Act. And the reality is, there probably would not be an ACA were it not for Kennedy’s ardent support of healthcare reform in this country for four decades. It is not just Obama’s legacy, it’s Ted’s as well and now Republicans, with what will likely be McCain’s support, are seeking to destroy it.
So, yeah, feel the warm fuzzies for McCain. Talk about his military service to our country and thank him for his continued service in Congress, just stop comparing him to Senator Edward Kennedy. Because at the end of the day, McCain can’t hold a candle to him.