When news broke about John McCain’s cancer, political leaders from both major parties weighed in with words of praise and support—even former president Obama.
But here is my first thought: McCain will receive world-class medical care without any real fear of financial ruin because of his health crisis, but this fact is because he is extremely wealthy (much of that accumulated while being a career politician), not because he is a veteran, not because he is an American.
When Al Franken spoke about his middle-class roots and his wife’s struggle to rise out of poverty, Democrats began to post and praise Franken as the Great Hope of the party.
But here are my first thoughts: Franken’s white nostalgia for the good old days erases the very harsh realities for blacks, who did not have the same hope and promises Franken’s family and his wife’s family did (similar to McCain’s current fortune). While the good old days noted by Franken did include some identifiable opportunities gone today, Franken’s and his wife’s stories are significantly buoyed by their white privilege (conveniently omitted in his oratory).
McCain and Franken, I believe, represent both the best each major party has to offer and everything that is wrong with political leaders in the U.S.
McCain has worked his entire political life as a Republican to maintain the inequities of class and race that now benefit him in a very public and tragic way. McCain, in fact, was to be a major piece of Republican efforts to dump people off health insurance and to reduce the tattered safety nets needed by children, the poor, the elderly, and his fellow veterans.
Franken is the classic white progressive Martin Luther King Jr. warned about during the Civil Rights era. He speaks to rugged individualism and glosses past race because both strategies bolster his political capital.
The public in the U.S. is left victim to a vapid and soulless political sparring match between Republicans and Democrats, although neither party really cares about providing for all Americans the sorts of essential promises that every person deserves.
As one volatile example, we remain trapped in the abortion debate—as if that debate is about abortion, which it isn’t.
Throughout the history of the U.S. wealthy women have always had access to safe abortions; and regardless of the law, wealthy women will always maintain access to reproductive rights, safe and world-class healthcare for them and their children.
Roe v. Wade was narrowly about abortion, but broadly about expanding to all women in the U.S. the same rights already afforded the wealthy—just as we are witnessing in McCain’s cancer challenge.
I struggle to have the sort of compassion for McCain and praise for Franken that others are expressing because, in context, these men are—even as the best of their parties—the problems, not the solutions, to a more equitable country.
What if each of these men extended their own great fortune, much not even earned, to all Americans simply for being human? What if both of these men had worked and would now work to insure that especially the most vulnerable among are extended the promise that their human dignity will be preserved against poverty, disaster, and failing health?
What if they admitted the American Dream has never yet been achieved, even in their narratives about the good old days? What if they honestly sought ways to make that dream a reality soon?
What if enough Americans stopped playing petty and self-defeating political games so that our leaders had no choice but to do the right thing?
Yes, what if?