John McCain took time out of cancer treatment to vote against poor Americans accessing healthcare – he is no hero

People in my own life are fretting over whether they’ll be able to get their medicine on Medicaid, keep the insurance they got under Obamacare, or even continue to be able to afford their cancer treatment. John McCain doesn’t have to worry about any of that

Skylar Baker-Jordan
Wednesday 26 July 2017 15:24
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John McCain returned to the Senate for a crucial vote on health insurance
John McCain returned to the Senate for a crucial vote on health insurance

One of my fondest political memories on either side of the Atlantic is watching John McCain tell a bigoted woman who called then Senator Barack Obama an “Arab,” saying “no ma’am, he’s an honourable man,” and that they just disagree. Leaving aside the fact that he didn’t correct her that “Arab” isn’t a pejorative, he stood up for his opponent against a racist attack – and demonstrated a civility that sorely lacks in politics today.

It was a sharp contrast to the response on Twitter yesterday. Senator McCain, ailing from brain cancer, interrupted his treatment and flew across the country to vote to strip healthcare from millions of Americans. He received a standing ovation at the Capitol, but the response online was brutal. Many people openly hoped the cancer kills him. Predictably, folks on both sides of the aisle condemned this personal attack on an American war hero who famously refused release from a POW camp unless his comrades were also released.

Hoping that cancer kills McCain is crass, shocking and of course unjustifiable – but anger is understandable when the man just voted to strip health insurance from millions of his fellow citizens whilst he himself receives world-class treatment on the taxpayer dime. People are angry, and with good reason. The Congressional Budget Office scored the latest iteration of the Republicans’ plan and found it would leave 22 million people uninsured and roll back Medicaid expansion whilst cutting funding to state healthcare exchanges. This is what John McCain flew back to vote for.

To be accurate, the vote on Tuesday was only to open debate, and Senator McCain said his vote in no way guaranteed he would vote for the final bill. But the Republicans have shown they plan to gut Obamacare and send millions of Americans to an early grave by taking away what limited healthcare they have. People in my own life are fretting over whether they’ll be able to get their medicine on Medicaid, keep the insurance they got under Obamacare, or even continue to be able to afford their cancer treatment. John McCain doesn’t have to worry about any of that.

While so much of policy feels abstract and remote, healthcare is very different. There is a human face to it that cannot be ignored. People might not understand exactly how tax reform or financial regulations will affect their day-to-day lives, but they know that taking away their health insurance is going to hurt them. That’s why you see so much righteous anger from people who feel as though they are literally fighting for their lives.

America is the only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee healthcare as a right of its people. Obamacare isn’t a perfect law, and as a socialist, it didn’t go nearly as far as I think it should (no public option, for example). But it was a step in the right direction.

John McCain returns to Senate and tears into Republicans 'All we've done is make Obamacare more popular'

The Republican proposals are all several steps backwards and vary in their cruelty from spiteful to murderous. This is what John McCain, himself receiving the best healthcare taxpayer money can buy, flew back to Washington in order vote on – a debate on whether Republicans are just going to be mean to poor people or if they’re going to try to kill them.

That’s what has so many people – myself included – disgusted with his vote. It highlights the sheer injustice of the GOP’s healthcare policies, and of American healthcare in general. The average American will never have coverage as good as John McCain gets. No, we must pay hundreds of dollars a month for the privilege of being able to pay thousands of dollars instead of tens of thousands of dollars should we get sick. That this man has the gall to leave the hospital bed we’re paying for to come vote to make us pay even more is galling, and that’s why so many of us are angry.

John McCain served his country admirably in Vietnam and has been a beacon of civil political discourse for decades. There are many things to admire about the man. But his vote yesterday is most certainly not one of them, and when lives are at stake, the time for civil discourse may well be over.

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