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John McCain, 1936-2018

I voted for John McCain for president in 2000.

I had moved from Greenwich Village up to Inwood, in Manhattan, a few months earlier. I had been registered to vote in the Village, and I think I voted for McCain in the primary, although I can't swear to that memory. (And fat lot of good it did him, anyway; he dropped out after that.) But my new registration reflecting my new address wasn't yet in the book on that November election day.

However, I had my voter ID card which had arrived ahead of the presidential election, and yes, it showed me as a registered Republican. Which I'd been ever since I'd turned 18 and became old enough to vote. I didn't have a lot of primaries to vote in when I lived in Greenwich Village, as you may imagine. But I'd voted in plenty of general elections, nearly every year, so I was familiar with New York's old "lever" voting machines: you pull the lever to vote (in my first few years, I think it still closed the curtain behind you, but by the late 1990s, the curtains just stayed shut and the lever only activated the recording tape to register your votes).

I couldn't use the lever voting machines, since I wasn't yet in their rollbook, so the poll workers gave me a provisional ballot to fill out. And, lo! There was an opportunity to write in a candidate, which I'd never seen before of course when one only had little switches next to the names to twist and thereby exercise your franchise.

So I wrote in "John McCain." I also, I should note, voted for Hillary Clinton for senator. I didn't have nearly the problems with her as I did with her husband, and even then I thought it was sexist to ascribe everything that had bugged me about him to her, even though I knew they were the biggest power couple in politics since Franklin and Eleanor.

(Since then, New York has gone to paper ballots, basically the same as my provisional ballot had been, so every race has an opportunity for write-ins.)

I had been dithering between Gore, Bush, or leaving that race blank right up to walking into the polling place. I'd liked Bush's father and felt he'd gotten a bad rap from his own party by bowing to economic reality and allowing a tax increase. But I couldn't stand the idea of someone like George W. Bush — an unserious frat boy with a cynical army of Karl Rove and Rupert Murdoch types supporting him — in office. However, and I'm now ashamed to admit it, I also couldn't take Al Gore for more than a few minutes. There weren't any issues I disagreed with him on; I was already well on my way to being a Democrat on nearly every platform plank than I was a moderate Republican, whatever that meant even by then (and it means nothing now, since there aren't really any). And, actually, he did play a key role in creating the Internet, which I knew because, uh, I had been working in digital communications since late 1987 — more than 4 years before "the Gore Bill" turned the ARPANET and the NSFnet into the Internet.

So really, I had no reason to vote against Al Gore except: a) I had never voted for a Democrat for president before, and wasn't sure he was the one worth starting for; b) my vote wasn't going to affect that he would take New York by a landslide over Bush, so anyone else I might choose would merely be a single tic for anyone else other than Gore; and the main reason, c) I just couldn't stand four years of his pedantic and condescending tone.

I know. Rather petty of me, but seriously: the guy was stiff as a board (as was well-reported), and he came across as arrogant and smug and would probably be the first person to point out to me that those are basically synonyms of each other.

And it is really (b) that I comfort myself with today. If I'd been a resident of Florida who'd voted for Ralph Nader rather than sully my purity with Al Gore, I think I would have to donate blood every month at a VA hospital for the rest of my life to try to atone for enabling such carnage as ensued. As it was, New York went for Gore in a big way 60% to Bush's 35%, so my write-in of John McCain was mostly my way of lodging a protest against Bush and the way he'd campaigned, especially against McCain. That would be the last time I voted for a Republican for president, and I didn't even vote for the one that was actually on the ballot.

It was 9/11 and the Iraq War that turned me officially into a Democrat. I remember listening to Bruce Springsteen's recording of "We Shall Overcome" on my way to vote in 2004 for John Kerry. Although I'd always been a Bruce fan, remembering my mindset that election shows just how mad I'd become and how far more closely I'd aligned myself with the Democratic Party — far more than I had ever aligned myself with the Republican Party, honestly.

By 2008, I was thrilled by, and thrilled to vote for, Barack Obama. I would have voted for Hillary if she'd won the nomination — I voted for him, my husband (then boyfriend) voted for her, but we'd both have been fine with either. What I knew I couldn't do, because the party had changed so drastically, was vote for a Republican. I couldn't even vote for McCain, whom I'd admired, but who had destroyed any opinion I'd had of him as a "maverick" who did what was right rather than what was politically, cynically adept. And I saw picking Sarah Palin as deeply cynical, because it was just a sop to the red meat in the red states. If he'd picked Joe Lieberman, I'm not sure if I would have been that much more thrilled, just because Joe Lieberman had turned out to be so-not-a-Democrat in his later years in the Senate. But as much as I wanted Obama to win, I probably would have felt somewhat assured had McCain beaten him. Surely, surely, once he was president, he wouldn't have let Rupert Murdoch and Rush Limbaugh dictate his policies and actions, given how much he came to regret many of the very same ones that lost him my vote in the first place.

We'll never know, of course. But I don't think at all "what might have happened" if he had beat Barack Obama; mostly because I'm glad that election, at least, turned out the way it did. But I do still think about 2000 and what might have been the case if McCain had been the nominee that year instead of W. As a foreign policy and security hawk even before he ran for office, would he have tracked down Osama bin Laden (already on our most-wanted lists) before he could pull off 9/11? At the very least, would he have lied to get us into war in Iraq? I seriously doubt it, although I do believe (now...maybe) even Bush was going with the information others selectively gave him to convince him to do this, as was Colin Powell, and McCain (and Hillary) fell for the same trick as senators.

As many have remarked, we could use 99 more John McCains in the Senate. His colleagues Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell look even more pathetic by comparison now that we are remembering the whole arc of McCain's life. And it's not even worth noting the discrepancy between his integrity and character versus what's at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

We shall not see his kind again in our lifetimes, I fear. Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe someone with the flexibility of a circus contortionist will undertake at least to imitate that rigidity that McCain gained through enemy torture. For whomever that Republican senator is (or better, senators are), glory may await.

But don't hold your breath for it.

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