“I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support,” tweeted Arizona Sen. John McCain in response to Americans’ reactions to his recent diagnosis of brain cancer. “Unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I’ll be back soon, so stand-by!”
In his quest to serve America throughout his career, McCain has made no shortage of both enemies and admirers. Here are 5 things his critics hate about him that Americans love him for.
1) He has an impressive record of military service.
You would think McCain’s war record in Vietnam would count for something. It does for most Americans but not for his critics, who sought to use it as a weapon against him during his presidential campaign in 2000. In fact, some went so far as to claim he was “Swift-Boated” long before Democrat John Kerry was smeared, a term that means tarnishing one’s war record by those who did not serve in war themselves.
Upset over McCain’s growing popularity and win in the New Hampshire primary, his rivals sought to attack him on his war record—something that drew most voters to him. After being shot down in the Vietnam War, his status was POW. As the Huffington Post reports, “In the 2000 South Carolina presidential primary, Bush surrogates circulated stories that McCain’s five years as a POW had made him ‘mentally unstable,’ gave him a ‘loose screw,’ that he ‘committed treason while a POW’ and ‘came home and forgot us.’”
As you can imagine, McCain lost the GOP nomination in 2000, also partly because….
2) He is against racism and anti-Catholic attacks.
In that 2000 South Carolina GOP primary, McCain took on Bob Jones University for its policies against interracial dating and their anti-Catholic positions, something President George W. Bush did not denounce while speaking there.
McCain was attacked for these positions—critics claimed he was anti-Christian and, well, too sympathetic to blacks. Opponents called McCain ‘the fag candidate,’ called his wife a drug addict, said McCain ‘chose to sire children without marriage,’ and that he had ‘a black child.’ McCain’s loss in South Carolina led to his loss in 2000. However…
3) He displays professionalism in campaigning.
Throughout his career, opponents consistently went for below the belt knocks, but McCain did not stoop to their level. Despite gutter tactics used in 2000, McCain took the high road. And in 2008, both in the primary and when he ran against Barack Obama, he displayed perhaps the most issue-oriented, least negative campaign we’ve seen in modern times. Many say the upbeat tone and professionalism of both candidates made the 2008 campaign one of our nation’s best. Gallup polling showed McCain finished the campaign with an approval rating higher than his disapproval rating—a rare occurrence for candidates, especially those who lose. Had there not been George W. Bush’s low approval ratings, the Great Recession and Sarah Palin, who knows what would have happened? Speaking of campaigning…
4) He fights for campaign finance reform.
McCain fought for campaign finance reform—even though it hurt his chances of winning—because it was the right thing to do. His legislation banned soft money (contributions to political parties) and set limits on hard money (which is regulated). Though it passed through Congress and was signed into law by President George W. Bush, it was undone by a few Supreme Court decisions, including Citizens United. But this legislation, better known as “The McCain-Feingold Act” showed…
5) He consistently works in a bipartisan fashion.
McCain worked with Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat already known for promoting a ban on lobbying gifts. But it wasn’t the only time he reached across the aisle for the betterment of the country. He has worked with Democrats on judicial nominations, veterans’ care, health care and many more issues.
So while people, politicians and pundits pour out their deepest sympathies for McCain in his fight against brain cancer, remember when attacks resume on the Arizona senator that Americans will love him for the very reasons some hate him.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.