This breakdown of The Vote is hypnotically entertaining, even if (like me) you had already studied the footage like an art history major preparing for a final. Every detail — down to little Marco chewing gum — is perfect.
Given the understandable and in some cases salutary felt need to push back against McCain since delivering the final vote will gives him a disproportionate amount of attention/credit, I think it’s worth making some distinctions. I agree entirely with Josh Holland and Sarah Jones that it’s inappropriate to (unironically) call McCain a hero for the vote. He’s not. Nor, for that matter, are the legislators with much better track records. If there are any heroes in this process, it’s the don’t-call-them-ordinary people who laid their bodies on the line. Protecting major progressive achievements is an inherently collective enterprise, just like passing them — so many moving parts have to fit it always seems like a miracle in retrospect, and it’s never about one person. (This why I’ve never liked calling the ACA “Obamacare” — it writes everybody else out of the story. I think we’d all realize it would be gross to call the Voting Rights Act “LBJRights.”) While we’re here, let me give a shout out to each and every New Hampshiran who could have listened to “Voting for CORPORATE DEMOCRATS is for SQUARES, man” horseshit but instead came out to vote for Maggie Hassan, delivering a 1,000 vote margin that very well may have saved health insurance for more than 20 million people.
But on Twitter I’ve seen a fair amount of people wanting to deny McCain credit for his vote because it was cast for the wrong reasons, of whatever. This is not merely wrong, but actively pernicious. The minor reason is that theater criticism of politicians is a massive bullshit dump, and often the just-so stories don’t really hold up on inspection. One story is that McCain is just a bully paying Trump back for insulting him and/or McConnell for working to kill his signature legislative achievement. The problem with this is that it can’t explain why McCain has been a good Republican solider until now. You can say he wanted to wait until it would be maximally painful, but he could not have known that he would be in position to deliver the death blow to TrumpCare. If, say, Dean Heller had any interest in employment as a United States Senator after 2018, McCain’s vote would have been irrelevant. McCain’s vote was presumably some combination of personal grudges, commitment to the Senate as an institution, terminal illness focusing his concentration on the monstrousness of the bill, and numerous other factors it’s pointless to try to weigh precisely.
But the major reason is that it just doesn’t matter. The material effects of his vote are exactly the same no matter what his motivations are, and the precise ratio of expediency to principle is beside the point. Indeed, the focus on motives rather than actions is exactly the fallacy that gave McCain his unjustified reputation in the first place. I don’t care about why he voted no on HCFA for the same reason I don’t care whether he “really” supports the anti-abortion and anti-LBGT legislation he reliably votes for — because it doesn’t matter. Actions count, motives don’t.
Is McCain a hero for his vote? He’s not. Should we emphasize the 48 Dems who defended the ACA without lying about it and the 2 women in the Republican conference who had their necks out for longer so McCain doesn’t get disproportionate credit? Absolutely. But all 51 votes were necessary to kill this thing, and McCain’s counted the same as everyone else’s. It doesn’t matter why he did it. It matters that he did.