Boomer opinion: We live in a land made of ideals

In our adult lives as baby boomers, we have watched, often powerlessly, as American politics have taken a divisive fork in the road, with society sometimes following. BoomerCafé co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs has covered that over the years as a journalist, and writes today of one man who is trying harder than ever now to reverse that course.

It must be nice to be John McCain. Not because he’s battling brain cancer. Not because he bears the scars of a POW. And not because he brooks the barbs of his own party’s president. But it must be nice to feel liberated. To break from political patterns and say what you think must be said, damn the president and damn the consequences.

Senator John McCain

That would explain why Arizona’s senior senator recently told an audience at a ceremony honoring him in Philadelphia, “We live in a land made of ideals … We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did.”

Senator McCain, like former president George W. Bush just a few days later, never mentioned the name of the president in his sermon about the sorry state of U.S. policies and politics, but we all know who was on the receiving end of his oration about America. As if the man was even listening.

Personally, I never met McCain before I covered part of his run for President. I’d known only three things about him. He was a genuine American war hero, he was a solid conservative, and he had a sturdy streak of independence.

United States Senate

Then came the campaign in 2008. It was the first time I’d ever seen the man face-to-face. He was a nice guy. One day when I was set up to interview him, McCain asked almost as many questions about me as I asked about him.

He won the nomination but lost the election. And the nice guy turned bitter. For the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, if Obama said yes, McCain said no. If Obama said day, McCain said night.

I didn’t lose my respect for the senator’s painful and courageous military service, but I lost my respect for his long-daunted streak of independence. He seemed driven only by one thing: revenge against his triumphant antagonist.

Greg Dobbs

That was then. This is now. John McCain has earned respect again. Big time. Not just because of his dramatic thumbs-down vote in late July on the repeal of Obamacare, when he bolted from his party’s line and complied with his conscience. But because of what he said on the Senate floor shortly before that vote, lamenting the intensifying state of stalemate in Washington: “Our deliberations can still be important and useful, but I think we’d all agree they haven’t been overburdened by greatness lately.” After 30 years in the Senate, it was John McCain at his finest, because it held messages for all of us, although none more than McCain’s colleagues, on both sides of the aisle.

Then Arizona’s senior senator elaborated in an op-ed in The Washington Post. Once again, it was the best of McCain. Once again, he sent a message to his peers: “We are proving inadequate not only to our most difficult problems but also to routine duties. Our national political campaigns never stop. We seem convinced that majorities exist to impose their will with few concessions and that minorities exist to prevent the party in power from doing anything important. That’s not how we were meant to govern… We can fight like hell for our ideas to prevail. But we have to respect each other or at least respect the fact that we need each other.”

Watching the inertia in Washington for many years now and sometimes covering it, I can only wonder, how can anyone argue with that? How can anyone believe that conflict over political principles is more productive than consensus on our country’s core concerns? The experience of his years, and perhaps the reality of his cancer, have made McCain wiser. “Both sides have let this happen,” McCain told his beloved Senate. “Let’s leave the history of who shot first to the historians. I suspect they’ll find we all conspired in our decline.”

And then he showed how big a man he truly has become. “Sometimes, I’ve let my passion rule my reason… Sometimes, I wanted to win more for the sake of winning than to achieve a contested policy.”

It is a long time since the American Congress has been overburdened with benevolent rhetoric and humble thinking and noble men.

It is high time to turn that around. John McCain has done his part. Now it’s up to everyone else.


  1. U.S. Senator Jeff Flake in today’s Washington Post:
    “I have been so worried about the state of our disunion that I recently wrote a book called “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle.” I meant for the book to be a defense of principle at a time when principle is in a state of collapse. In it, I traced the transformation of my party from a party of ideas to a party in thrall to a charismatic figure peddling empty populist slogans. I tried to make the case for the sometimes excruciating work of arguing and compromise.
    This was part of the reason I wanted to go to the Senate — because its institutional strictures require you to cross the aisle and do what is best for the country. Because what is best for the country is for neither party’s base to fully get what it wants but rather for the factions that make up our parties to be compelled to talk until we have a policy solution to our problems. To listen to the rhetoric of the extremes of both parties, one could be forgiven for believing that we are each other’s enemies, that we are at war with ourselves.
    But more is now required of us than to put down our thoughts in writing. As our political culture seems every day to plumb new depths of indecency, we must stand up and speak out. Especially those of us who hold elective office.
    To that end, and to remove all considerations of what is normally considered to be safe politically, I have decided that my time in the Senate will end when my term ends in early January 2019. For the next 14 months, relieved of the strictures of politics, I will be guided only by the dictates of conscience.
    It’s time we all say: Enough.”

  2. While I appreciate your experience and insights, Greg, it seems to me that progressives forgive too easily, trust without verifying, and dream rather look at reality.

    The Koch brothers and the like have spent over 20 years funding fake research organizations, funding political candidates from local to federal, funding fake news, funding educational chairs and more all to spread their ideology and to take over our government. They support the NRA.

    Their candidates have defunded every progressive program that helped young children, the disabled, students, seniors and more. Their candidates have robbed our Treasury of trillions of dollars and destroyed the middle class.

    The Koch brothers used sophisticated brainwashing techniques to sway millions of good Americans into believing their lies. I know because for 30+ years I watched this process and saw friends and family drink their kool-aid. I argued, I used examples. The response: Oh, they wouldn´t do that. But, somehow they never recognized that yes, they did do that.

    I spoke out, no one listened. I wrote letters and got gobbledygook back. For 30+ years, the Democrats did little to stop this assault.

    McCain and Flake are Koch and NRA funded candidates and voted on all the legislation that destroyed America.

    I am not ready to forgive.

    1. Koch funds the Republicans, and Soros funds the Democrats. (The NRA is an also-ran when it comes to $$ spent in political contributions) Billions, on both sides, spent on politics and power that could be used for much better purposes. Obama and his pen and phone did much damage too; Affordable Care is anything but. Forgiveness is needed, just not forgetfulness. America is not yet destroyed, unless you give up; we have come back from worse.

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