…In so many ways — throughout his life and now in his death — John McCain is an optical illusion. Look at the drawing one way, and it’s a haggard old lady. Shift your gaze and it’s a beautiful young girl.
If you liked McCain, his smile was broad and inviting, like you were in on a private joke with the guy. But if he wasn’t your favorite, that smile was a smirk, or even a sneer.
McCain, who died Saturday at age 81, was widely viewed as a maverick — and an opportunist…
He was a tireless champion of campaign finance reform who made enemies with his establishment-bucking efforts. Or he was the shyster trying to rehabilitate himself after his starring role as a member of the Keating Five, an aggressive candidate who never did stop taking millions of dollars in campaign contributions from special interests.
And then there was his complicated relationship with our state.
John McCain lived in many places after Vietnam, but for the last 36 years he called Arizona home, and represented the state in Congress — from 1982 to 1986 as a representative, and then from ‘86 to his death as a member of the United States Senate.
McCain embraced Arizona, adopting the pretty landscape of central Phoenix and Cornville, posting photos of red-rock hikes, but doing very little during his tenure to support the state. In fact, his stand against “pork-barrel politics” at a time when his colleagues in Congress were busy lining their own states’ pockets with infrastructure cost Arizona dearly while increasing McCain’s popularity as a refreshingly honest leader who turned down handouts.
In a lot of ways, it didn’t matter what state he lived in. John McCain was America’s senator, not Arizona’s, a transplant (or a carpetbagger — again, it depends on your perspective) who adopted the state as his own…
I covered McCain for this paper during the ’90s, as the local spotlight went national. The Arizona media – for which he’d never had much use – watched as the senator glad-handed Washington and New York reporters, boarding the Straight Talk Express in 2000, bound for the presidency. That job was not to be his – not in 2008, either — and in the ensuing years even the national media seemed to grow a little tired of McCain’s maverick/opportunist stands.
And then in summer 2017, beloved John McCain was back, with a diagnosis of brain cancer and – it seemed – a desire to set the record straight by saving the day. His dramatic thumbs-down on the floor of the U.S. Senate effectively ended Donald Trump’s efforts to gut health care reform (for the moment, anyway) and served as a big, satisfying “fuck you” to the president. McCain decried Trump’s pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio and his decision to dismantle DACA, criticizing the president at every turn.