McCain knows very well what a threat to the Republic Donald Trump is. His final mission is to say it.
John McCain’s diagnosis of incurable brain cancer rightly sends us back in time—back to stories of his heroism, character, and decency that contrast just a teeny bit with the behavior of a lying, draft-dodging president who once described sexually transmitted diseases as “my personal Vietnam.”
A big question right now in American politics is whether McCain will use that contrast—and the enhanced stature that his diagnosis has brought him—to do a couple of big things with the time he has left. The future of the Russia probe, the health care debate, and the soul of the Republican Party may hang in the balance.
Fifty years ago, on July 29, 1967, Navy Lt. Cmdr. McCain was strapped into his single-seat A-4E Skyhawk attack aircraft, awaiting launch off the carrier USS Forrestal in the Gulf of Tonkin. Suddenly an electrical malfunction caused a rocket to fly across the flight deck and hit a fuel tank a few feet away. McCain escaped the cockpit with only seconds to spare, rolled through the flames and went to help another pilot before the fire detonated a huge bomb, which flung him back 10 feet. The conflagration killed 134 sailors and airmen and injured scores more in the worst blaze aboard a ship since World War II.
This was neither McCain’s first nor his last brush with death. Seven years before, while in training, his AD-6 Skyraider had crashed into Corpus Christi Bay, and he had to squeeze out of the cockpit and swim to the surface. And in 1965, engine failure in his trainer jet forced him to eject over Virginia.
Then, on Oct. 26, 1967, four months after the Forrestal incident, during his 23rd perilous mission over North Vietnam, the wing of his A-4 was blown off by anti-aircraft fire, and he parachuted into a lake in central Hanoi. Badly wounded, he was pulled to shore, where he was kicked and spat on. Thus began a captivity that included repeated torture and long periods of isolation. McCain’s sense of honor led him to refuse a North Vietnamese offer to send him home early and out of turn (for propaganda purposes) because he was the son of an admiral. He remained a POW for five and a half years.
Aggressive brain cancer is a different kind of mortal threat—worse than the serious bout with melanoma McCain survived a few years ago. But he has already given notice that he isn’t going anywhere for now. “Unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I’ll be back soon, so stand-by!” he tweeted on Thursday.
The big question: Stand by for what?
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