Like millions of other Americans, I heard Senator John McCain’s impassioned speech to his colleagues in the United States Senate today, July 25, 2017. It was quite uplifting to watch him enter the Senate Chamber to cast his vote on the healthcare debate after having undergone surgery last week to remove a cancerous tumor from his brain. When I consider the time Senator McCain spent as a prisoner of war and his brave effort to confront the vicious form of cancer that has invaded his brain, I realize that he has forgotten more about patriotism and valor than most of us, including the president who once criticized him, will ever know.
Having established my respect for Senator McCain, I must state that over the years I have found myself in sharp disagreement with him over many issues including the Affordable Care Act, a law he has enabled to be gutted if not repealed through his vote and those of 49 other Republican senators and the Vice-President cast before his speech today.
I applaud the Senator’s call for bipartisan efforts to arrive at a workable replacement for the ACA, and I receive with gratitude his sense of personal and corporate confession for the divisive tone and progress-canceling actions that have imprisoned the Senate for several years. In addition, I deeply appreciate his call for his colleagues to disregard the “bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet.”
However, what I wanted to hear this legendary leader say had to do with the way large numbers of members of his party steadfastly refused to work with then President Obama in crafting the Affordable Care Act. I wanted to hear a straight out confession over the ways he and his colleagues seemed to express no desire for the poor and most vulnerable members of society to have access to health insurance, even as they enjoyed such coverage themselves. I wanted Senator McCain to confess the way his party prioritized the concerns of businesses and their own political viability over the needs of everyday constituents who were left on the sidelines of adequate healthcare because of excessive insurance company premiums and denials over pre-existing conditions.
Senator McCain, I wanted you to confess how your party made its attack against the Affordable Care Act personal in nature, relentlessly identifying the law as “Obamacare” not in honor of President Obama and his historic achievement but as an attempt to stir its base into a politicized and certainly racialized toxic stew of fear and bitterness against him. Confess the ways your party responded to President Obama’s political gains by conspiring to strengthen its support not by the creativity of its ideas but by the craftiness of its ability to enact voter suppression laws designed to weaken if not cancel the voices and votes of African Americans and other people assumed by your party to be supportive of President Obama and the Democratic Party.
To be sure, I am praying for Senator McCain with hopes that he continues to receive the best healthcare possible, and that the aggressive form of cancer in his brain is decisively defeated. Cancer claimed the lives of my mother and each of her siblings. It is an ugly disease that has in one way or another impacted the lives of almost everyone I know. However, my hope for Senator McCain is one that I have for everyone in our great land: that people of all income levels have access to the best healthcare possible.
As successful as the Affordable Care Act has been in enrolling millions of Americans in health insurance plans, it is not a flawless law. However, when it is examined and tweaked by lawmakers who have flawless commitment to the health and well-being of all people, especially the poor, the Affordable Care Act will be avoid becoming part of a party-driven scrapbook of contempt and repeal and will instead become part of a bipartisan honor roll of compassion and respect as crafted by people who value human life and affirm human dignity. When Senator McCain and his colleagues vote yes to compassion and respect for all, political integrity and true progress will be the result.