Goodman: A patriot leaves us, when we need patriots the most

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), then the Republican presidential nominee, arrives onstage for a campaign event in Scranton, Pa., on Sept. 22, 2008.
(Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

Of course John McCain would leave words of inspiration.

At this moment in American history when the nation is riven into increasingly warring camps, the heroic former POW, Arizona senator and almost-president said this in his recently published book, The Restless Wave:

“Before I leave, I’d like to see our politics begin to return to the purposes and practices that distinguish our history from the history of other nations. I would like to see us recover our sense that we are more alike than different. We are citizens of a republic made of shared ideals forged in a new world to replace the tribal enmities that tormented the old one….

“Whether we think each other right or wrong in our views on the issues of the day, we owe each other our respect, as long as our character merits respect, and as long as we share, for all our differences, for all the rancorous debates that enliven and sometimes demean our politics, a mutual devotion to the ideals our nation was conceived to uphold, that all are created equal, and liberty and equal justice are the natural rights of all….

“I want to urge Americans, for as long as I can, to remember that this shared devotion to human rights is our truest heritage and our most important loyalty.”

I didn’t agree with McCain on political positions. But I thought the world of him as a man. And I cherished how he practiced his patriotism.

He grew up with a heightened sense of duty, the son and grandson of U.S. Navy admirals. He bore torture as a POW. Yet after the war he sought common ground with the Vietnamese people and with American dissenters, like his fellow senator, John Kerry, who spoke out as a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War while McCain was a captive.

In the Senate, he evolved from uncompromising conservative to a man who looked beyond labels and caricatures to become close friends with liberal lion Ted Kennedy (who died of the same brain cancer exactly nine years before McCain’s passing on Aug. 25) and ally with Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform.

During his 2008 bid for the presidency, he famously defended his opponent Barack Obama when a woman at a campaign event called him “an Arab.”

“No, ma’am,” McCain interrupted. “He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

That moment said volumes about McCain’s character. And it shows how far, 10 years later, his Republican Party has veered from that generosity of spirit. Now the party’s leader does all he can to inflame white-identity anxiety and fan fears of the “other.”

Last year he interrupted his treatments for glioblastoma to make that dramatic appearance on the Senate floor and give thumbs-down, literally, on the Republicans’ attempted repeal of Obamacare. With a doctor’s scar prominent over his left eyebrow, he addressed his colleagues and, just for a moment, restored a long-lost dignity to the U.S. Congress.

“I hope we can again rely on humility,” he said, “on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us.

“Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the internet. To hell with them. They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.”

In mourning McCain, I’ll be mourning not just a man but a sensibility. A man who exemplified the highest calling of citizenship is gone. Let the rest of us follow his lead.

Goodman: GOP’s split on Trump forgotten when it comes to coddling financial firms

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., left, and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., right, neither running for reelection, have lashed President Donald Trump with scorching criticism. Here they are in 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

 

Disarray? What disarray?

Yesterday, political reporters and pundits were panting over the bare-knuckled, full-throated criticisms of President Donald J. Trump by two Republican senators: Bob Corker, of Tennessee, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Jeff Flake, the junior senator from Arizona whose political idol is conservative icon Barry Goldwater.

It was unprecedented to have two Republican stalwarts lambaste a Republican president in such dire terms, especially on the same day.

Corker: Trump has “great difficulty with the truth” and “the debasement of the nation is what he’ll be remembered most for.”

Flake: “Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is, when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.”

This all points, the pundits said, to a great schism between the Trumpists who hold the party regulars in fear, and the liberated few who have been freed to speak against the unclothed emperor because they have opted out of re-election.

And yes, it does speak to a great split between those willing to denounce the danger of Donald Trump’s “reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior,” as Flake called it, and the many toadies who may shudder in private but who shut up in public for the greater cause of passing big tax breaks for the wealthy.

But just hours after Corker and Flake enunciated these noble and necessary statements, they joined with 48 of their fellow Republicans for a nighttime debate and vote to repeal a banking rule that would let consumers band together to sue their bank or credit card company to resolve financial disputes.

Or as it’s also called, GOP business as usual.

A vote from Vice President Mike Pence shortly after 10 p.m. broke a 50-50 tie to strike down the new rule, a major effort by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help consumers fight back against god-awful practices of financial institutions. The bureau is the watchdog created by Congress after the 2008 economic crisis.

One more legacy of the Obama years gets reversed.

The New York Times explains:

The rule, five years in the making, would have dealt a serious blow to financial firms, potentially exposing them to a flood of costly lawsuits over questionable business practices.

For decades, credit card companies and banks have inserted arbitration clauses into the fine print of financial contracts to circumvent the courts and bar people from pooling their resources in class-action lawsuits. By forcing people into private arbitration, the clauses effectively take away one of the few tools that individuals have to fight predatory and deceptive business practices. Arbitration clauses have derailed claims of financial gouging, discrimination in car sales and unfair fees.

The new rule written by the consumer bureau, which was set to take effect in 2019, would have restored the right of individuals to sue in court. It was part of a spate of actions by the bureau, which has cracked down on debt collectors, the student loan industry and payday lenders.

The vote was a big gift to that credit card company that’s hitting you with hidden charges. As the Washington Post put it:

The rules would have cost the industry billions of dollars, according to some estimates. With the Senate’s vote, Wall Street is beginning to reap the benefits of the Trump administration focus on rolling back regulations it says are strangling the economy.

Richard Cordray  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

“Tonight’s vote is a giant setback for every consumer in this country,” Richard Cordray, the director of the consumer bureau, said in a statement. “As a result, companies like Wells Fargo and Equifax remain free to break the law without fear of legal blowback from their customers.”

The only two Republicans to join Democrats in voting against the measure were Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Kennedy of Louisiana.

Every other GOP member of the Senate, however they feel about Trump, fell in step when given the chance to coddle Wall Street. That includes Sen. John McCain, who made thinly veiled criticisms of Trump in a speech on Oct. 16 that warned against “half-baked, spurious nationalism.”

John McCain (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

 

You can be sure they’ll do the same thing when it comes to serving up big tax cuts to corporations and rich individuals (unless the so-far-unseen tax legislation contains details unacceptable to some members, as happened with health care).

The Consumers Union and several veterans groups, including the American Legion, lobbied to keep the rule. As well they should have, because class-action lawsuits are a way of putting a spotlight on misdeeds by businesses that would otherwise get little attention. They also allow groups of people to reclaim small amounts of money they otherwise wouldn’t have the time or money to go after.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader in the Senate, is not the most articulate of politicians. But he hit the nail on the head as the Senate neared its vote:

“Once again, we’re helping the powerful against the powerless.”