Thursday, June 16, 2011

McCain Makes a Stand Again

Opposing the Right-Wing Media Takes Courage

“These are questions that every member of Congress needs to think about long and hard, but especially my Republican colleagues.” –Sen. John McCain.

In what has been a stifling atmosphere since the present Congress convened in January, I appreciate any breath of fresh air that stirs the lockstep Republican miasma. Once again, Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, has provided a bit of a breeze.

He made the above comment this morning in reference to participation of the United States in NATO‘s military operation in Libya. Our role in the action has been limited to missile and drone strikes and the like, and we have put no troops on the ground there. Yesterday the Obama Administration made the assertion that because our involvement was limited in this way, it doesn’t require congressional approval under the War Powers Act of 1973.

That act requires the president to inform Congress within 48 hours after committing forces, and limits military actions to 60 days, with a 30-day withdrawal period, unless war is declared or Congress authorizes more time.

Sen. McCain was not supporting the White House in its assertion that what we are doing in Libya is exempt from this restriction, but he did make a strong case in favor of the action itself.

Lots of GOP members of Congress have criticized President Obama for supporting the NATO mission, and there is Democratic opposition as well. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, has announced that he is suing the president for violating the War Powers Act.

But many of the Republicans who are now chastising Obama for his decision were among the most vocal, before he acted, in calling on him to do something for the poor, oppressed people in Libya. Such legislators make it clear that it is the president himself they really oppose, and they appear to be quite oblivious to the hypocrisy of their reversed positions.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about our participation in Libya; I think most of us do. I see a valid point in the argument that Congress needs to authorize further action. I am not going to imitate the lockstep Republicans and defend the administration at all costs. I think Kucinich’s lawsuit is an appropriate way to determine the scope of the War Powers Act and its restraint on executive power. In this case, especially, the law is not clear.

What I found refreshing in McCain’s speech this morning was his exhortation to fellow lawmakers to consider involvement in Libya itself, not just the fact that it was ordered by a president from the opposing party.

“Many of us remember well the way that some of our friends on the other side of the aisle savaged President Bush over the Iraq war, how they sought to do everything in their power to tie his hands and pull America out of that conflict…” he said. “We were right to condemn this behavior then, and we would be wrong to practice it now ourselves simply because a leader of the opposite party occupies the White House.”

Wow! And there’s more:

“Republicans need to ask themselves whether they want to be part of a group who are earning the grateful thanks of a murderous tyrant or trying to limit an American president’s ability to force that tyrant to leave power.”

For the second time in less than a month, McCain has spoken out against the politically correct GOP dogma. The first time was his condemnation of the assertion that torture of U.S. prisoners had helped track down Osama bin Laden. This time he stood in opposition to the most basic Republican tenet: anything President Obama does is wrong.

In between those two events we saw what happened to Newt Gingrich when he called the Ryan plan to dismantle Medicare “right wing social engineering.” The Faux-Limbaugh echo chamber almost blew a 50-amp fuse on that one, and Newt couldn’t backtrack, recant, apologize, or temporize quickly enough.

McCain escaped unscathed the first time; it’s hard to second-guess a man who was in captivity for years when he gives his opinion about torture. Will he get by with it this time?

I think so. He’s not running for president this time around, so his candidacy can’t be shot down, and he still commands a lot of respect from rank-and-file Republicans and independents who supported him in 2008. He was re-elected to his Senate seat just last year, so he can afford to speak out.

And usually McCain can be counted on to toe the party line. He’s careful about choosing the issues on which he differs from it. But that gives even more weight to his words when does decide to play the “maverick.”

I think both of his stances are courageous in the face of the bulldozer tactics of the right-wing media. I am reminded of the excesses of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Everyone was so frightened of communists, or of being accused of being one, that McCarthy was able to trample the rights of many innocent people and pervert the protections of the Bill of Rights as he crusaded against them. Finally, some courageous Republicans stood up to him and he quickly crumbled.

Faux News and the Limbaugh clones are just as vicious, and just as wrong, as Joseph McCarthy was. It is heartening to see at least some resistance to their excesses.

Keep it up, Sen. McCain!

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