The kvelling over Senator John McCain shows how low the bar has fallen recently. We know why, but if we’re going to grade politicians on a curve, let’s not just look at the past two years. “Greatest American hero of the past 50 years,” a man of “honor and integrity,” “a maverick” . . . Are we talking about the same person? I believe in speaking respectfully of the dead when one possibly can, and remaining silent when one can’t, with rare exceptions (for example, when someone finally puts a stake through Kissinger’s heart, I’ll spit on his grave). So I am fine with respectful words for a complex, flawed person. These showers of praise go beyond that. They make bold claims about the meaning of honor, integrity, and independence that drag those fine qualities through the mud, and insult far greater heroes of our time.

Surely there are public servants of more integrity and honor than the Keating Five; I know, that’s barely a scandal by today’s measure, or maybe we just can’t recall any history more than five years back, but his “poor judgment” ruined many lives. Surely decency requires choosing better than Sarah Palin to be a heartbeat from the presidency. While people of integrity can differ about public policy, my heroes don’t get a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee or a 17% from the NAACP. The people who inspire me care more about leaving a livable environment for the next generation than guaranteeing profits for today’s businesses. I admire mavericks, but it takes more than one or two issues and one prominent vote to earn the title. (Okay, three issues. The best thing I know about McCain gets little attention: he shifted from being an implacable foe of gun control to a moderate supporter.) Yes, his vote last year rescued the Affordable Care Act; but if we resist the availability heuristic in which the most recent event gets undue prominence, we see a long career of making health care less accessible to most of us.

Even the most exalted politician leaves a trail of bad decisions, and even the best people do a lot of harmful things. I hope I will be remembered as a decent person, even though I am often unkind, selfish, apathetic . . . But for a public servant to receive such glowing praise as I’ve seen since yesterday, the preponderance of his deeds should glow, and McCain’s just don’t. Not for African-Americans, LGBTQ people, immigrants, poor people, or those who care about any of the above.

I like the way Obama put it, that at his best McCain showed us what it means to put the greater good above one’s own. That is true, and the best I can say.

P.S. If you aren’t familiar with the strictly non-partisan resource Vote Smart, check it out. For a citizen of the United States who wants to make informed choices, it’s an indispensable tools.

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