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Public Theology: Two Old Men; One Does the Right Thing; the Other One Loses
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Two Old Men; One Does the Right Thing; the Other One Loses
Mitch McConnell learned last night that winning isn't everything. Once in a while someone comes along and does what is right. It might be John McCain's last big public act.

By Ed Knudson

Editor's Note: Even if I focus on John McCain in the following article it does not mean that I believe he is the only important person in the Senate battle over health care. Without the two female senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, voting no the McCain vote would have meant little. At "Common Dreams" there is an article about how the capitol protests by the disability community, including groups like ADAPT, were a huge factor in creating the context for being able to do the right thing. See this article by Jake Johnson called "For Defeat of Trumpcare, Thank Disability Rights Activists, Not John McCain".

Two old men faced off last night in the Senate of the United States. One of them was really desperate. Seventy five years old, he had never handled something this big, whether millions and millions of Americans would have health care or not.

Mitch McConnell, from Kentucky, wanted a win. Even though his state had successfully implemented the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of Barack Obama and was wildly popular as "Kynect", McConnell was willing to throw his constituents under the bus. (Many residents didn't even know Kynect was the name for Obamacare in that state because Republican politicians lied so much about it.) McConnell didn't care about what was right. He wanted a political win for himself, for the Republican Party which had promised for seven years to get rid of Obamacare, and for Donald Trump, who, of course, cares only about one thing, himself.

So, one old man had no empathy for the kids of families with no health insurance, or older folks who had done physical work all their lives for little money who could find no policy they could afford and then their body gives out. Who cares about them? This one old man had no sense of ethics, what might be right or wrong. He just wanted to win so he could prove how big and smart he was. That's the way with a lot of men, they think winning is everything. It's a John Wayne type attitude.

And some women think this way too. I just had a woman in my state tell me that Republicans had been too "gentlemanly" in choosing previous candidates. She wanted a candidate who would talk big and strong, like Trump did with the Boy Scouts recently. That for her was a big, strong speech. That's the kind of talk, of course, that takes place in countries with authoritarian leaders. And this woman didn't care that Trump is an acknowledged sexual predator. Ethics? What is that? This is the man put up in front of the youth of the country and he stands there and brags about winning. That's all that counts.

Well, he lost last night. McConnell lost. Trump lost. There was another old man who did something not to win, not for loyalty to party, not for himself. John McCain voted "no" because it was "The right thing to do" he told reporters. The right thing.

The word "right" is an ethical term. When used in this way it refers not just to one's own self. So many claim to be "libertarian" today but if they really thought about it, I think many of those people would hesitate to affirm what the word means. It means making decisions always for me, myself, and I, myself as an individual. Libertarians think people always act out of self interest alone. They don't think human beings are social in any way. It is as if social institutions don't exist. Other people don't exist.

Yes, it might mean "winning" but winning means one is thinking about all those other people who will give praise to the "winner". Even winning requires an understanding of the social process to make sense of it. No, libertarianism as a philosophy has little to do with ethics or even rationality. Charles Koch is a libertarian and because he has a lot of money to buy the minds of intellectuals and academics, there are too many today who spout libertarian nonsense. Libertarianism is a philosophy developed by rich people to justify their richness over against others.

That's why those Republicans in the Senate are in so much trouble today. Most of them have gone along with the Koch brothers and their many funding agencies and want to reduce taxes on the rich. These Republicans have signed documents making an oath they they will never raise taxes.

But the American people don't want selfish libertarianism. They know that most rich folks may well be rich because they were not always doing what is right. Regular, ordinary folks want a little compassion, not mean selfishness. And finally people want someone to know what is right and good to do whether they win or not.

That's what John McCain did, old John McCain, eighty years old. He voted no last night on the McConnell plan to keep alive the effort to kill the ACA, along with Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who were already known to oppose the Republican health care approach. It would take a third vote to stop McConnell and Trump and McCain did it because it was the right thing to do.

The word "right" refers not just to self but to others, to other people living in the world. Other people, with minds and hearts and bodies, other people who are neighbors or friends or family or even strangers. What I do affects them too, thought John McCain. In fact, there are the people in my state, and all the other states. How I vote will affect them so I am not going to do what I am told by authorities like the president, I am not going to do that which is just good for my own group of Republicans, I am not just going to help my group win, I am going to do what is right for everyone else.

Wow. The way McCain said that to reporters when he was asked why he had voted that way. So simple. Because it was the right thing to do.

Now, there is something else, of course, that may have focused the mind of John McCain. He had to fly back from Arizona for this vote. He just had surgery above his left eye and they found an aggressive form of brain cancer, the same kind as killed Ted Kennedy a few years ago. He will be going home for treatment. He may never return. This may have been his last public act.

He did not want that last act, if it is, to be selfish, to be merely to win, to follow the herd. McCain has wanted to be his own man throughout his career. As a politician, he has not been able to always do so. But he showed a lot of class in his campaign for president against Barack Obama. And what does "showing class" mean? It means doing what is right.

The other old man, the one from Kentucky, he's the one who would not even begin to work with or cooperate with the first black president, the president who worked with lots of other groups involved with health care, including Republicans, to come up with the ACA in the first place. He's the one who would not let Republicans be involved in voting for the ACA, even though they had been successful in proposing amendments to it in committee. Old man McConnell should be sent back to the farm. He lost last night.

John McCain wasn't trying to win. He just wanted to do what is right. Good for him.

This article was stimulated partly from reading a piece by Alana Horowitz Satlin.

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Date Added: 7/28/2017 Date Revised: 7/28/2017 7:37:41 PM

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