Messy, non black-and-white lives make for very confusing obituaries when a person dies.
We so easily want to place people into neat categories: Good guy, bad guy. Hero, or villain. Genius, or idiot. Nuance doesn’t play so well in 2018, when everyone must have a take on something immediately.
The life of John McCain, which ended Sunday at 81, does not categorize easily. There is so much that happened to him, or that he made happen, and if you take just that side of it, you can decide for yourself if McCain was a hero, or someone not worthy of admiration.
Me, I think he’s both. Let’s start with the good of John McCain: He was a war hero; he survived 5.5 years of captivity as a prisoner of war, refusing to be let go early because of his famous Navy family and suffering unspeakable horrors. He also had a distinguished career as a Senator, helping write the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws which have been obliterated over the past 20 years.
In 2000 he should’ve been and could’ve been the Republican presidential nominee, but George W. Bush and Karl Rove did some unspeakable things to McCain in S. Carolina, and so he lost, but he captured the imagination of millions of voters who believed he was a “different” kind of politician.
He ran a poor, mostly civil campaign for President of the United States in 2008, and in the last two years battled brain cancer bravely, and battled (in spots) the evil of Donald Trump.
And now the other side: He was a major figure in the Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980s, and possibly should’ve seen jail time. He inflicted Sarah Palin on the world, and you absolutely can draw a straight line from that dim-witted fool being named as a VP nominee in 2008 to the intelligence-deprived Americans who put a failed business exec turned TV star into the damn White House.
McCain, for all his bluster, was much more conservative in his voting record than Democrats pretended he was, and for all his anti-Trump blather, he still voted to pass tax cuts that were horrendous to the middle class, and he still refused to stand up to Trump legislatively and give him more losses that he deserved. There was a lot to like about John McCain, and a lot to dislike about him.
As one of my favorite writers, Bruce Arthur, said on Twitter Sunday, McCain lived “a big, messy, significant life.”
He was many things, to many people. But I do believe his heart was usually in the right place, and he thought what he was doing was right.
I’ll leave you with this, that stuck out at me Sunday: John McCain lost the Republican nomination for President to George W. Bush, and he lost the presidential election to Barack Obama. He has asked both men to deliver the eulogies at his funeral.
**Next up, it’s a holy day in my life today as my annual two week bacchanalia of fun, freelance writing and so much great tennis begins with the start of the U.S. Open.
Qualifying week last week was awesome as usual, but now, the real party starts: 128 men, 128 women, all as of 11 a.m. this morning with an equal shot to win the last major of the year.
I have no idea who will win the women’s title; many are picking Serena Williams but I just can’t see it; she’s still playing her way back into match shape. I could see Sloane Stephens repeating, I could see Angie Kerber taking the title, too. But I’m sure I’ll regret this but I’m going with American Madison Keys to finally make her big breakthrough and take home her first Slam.
On the men’s side, of course my heart says a certain Swiss gentleman will win, but he’s got a tough draw once we get to the second week. I’d love to see Novak Djokovic follow up on his Wimbledon win with a title, but not sure he’s all the way back yet.
So I’m picking Nadal, boring though it is to go with the top seed.
Whoever wins, I guarantee one thing: It’s going to be a fantastic tournament. Couldn’t find a really good preview or hype video for the upcoming Open, so I thought I’d play my favorite Roger Federer shot of all time, from the 2009 semis. Unbelievable.
**Finally today, a few words about the great Neil Simon, the playwright who died Sunday at 91. Maybe, along with Arthur Miller, the greatest American theater writer ever, Simon wrote so many classics, including “The Odd Couple,” “The Goodbye Girl” and “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” He was a television and film writer as well, and he was so, so damn funny.
“The Odd Couple” alone was such a classic it’s been made into movies, TV shows and been imitated forever; the slob who lives with the neat freak is a staple of popular culture.
Simon was the recipient of four Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, the Kennedy Center honors (1995), four Writers Guild of America Awards, an American Comedy Awards Lifetime Achievement honor and, in 1983, he even had a Broadway theater named after him when the Alvin was rechristened the Neil Simon Theatre. (pretty great honor when you’re, you know, still alive.)
What a remarkable life he led.