With the recent passing of Republican Senator John McCain, there have been many recollections, tributes, and the like. It goes without saying that his wartime service was exemplary. But he was also a politician–and I don’t mean that as a slur. To the extent he directly affected people’s lives, for better or for worse, it was largely as a politician, not a war hero. And nothing, I think, encapsulates McCain the politician more than campaign finance reform.
Before we get to that, it’s worth remembering that McCain was human and fallible, and one of his great mistakes was being one of the Keating Five, a corruption scandal that came to light in 1989. It was bad for McCain–there is no way to spin his way out of what happened. Had the Keating Five scandal happened in the era of Twitter and the internet, he probably wouldn’t have survived (nor would have Democratic Senator John Glenn–yes, that John Glenn).
I think this was one of the reasons he successfully championed a very good piece of campaign finance reform legislation, known as McCain-Feingold (Feingold was a Democratic senator) in 2002; it wasn’t perfect, but it did some very good things. And this is where complexity and confusion enters the picture.
The same Senator McCain who championed McCain-Feingold also supported conservative judges who would ultimately gut his signature piece of legislation. He wasn’t stupid, and had talented staff: he had to know that these judges would do this. I’m not sure what to make of that.