After it was announced that John McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma, I’ve had my eye on the responses across the political spectrum. From Barack Obama, to Donald Trump, to Bernie Sanders, and they were all as expected. Thoughts and prayers and warm outpourings of support. However, the further I deviated my attention from the mainstream in either direction, I noticed the more vitriolic and perhaps honest they became. This stark contrast made me reflect, because it appears many people vehemently disagree about this, but does John McCain deserve sympathy?
Jean-Pierre Faye formulated a political theory called the Horseshoe Theory which argues that the extreme left and the extreme right are much closer to each other than either is to the political center. It’s certainly not perfect, it’s heavily contested and often outright rejected, but it’s primarily used to challenge the generally accepted idea of the dichotomous political spectrum of only left and right. In reality, it’s far more complicated, but it was in this context that you could see the similarity in the far left and far right and how they are both similar in their resistance to showing any sympathy for John McCain. For example, Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer pushed the envelope and suggested the following,
That is absolutely brutal, but not surprising considering the source. Spencer’s justification is probably due to the times McCain deviated from party lines several times and undermined Donald Trump. Spencer continued in his rebuke on twitter,
“If only what John McCain represented could die with him. Alas, many “conservatives” who destroy European nations will outlive him.”
Flipping the coin to the other end of the political spectrum some liberals were less aggressive, but also equally squirming at the norm of offering sympathy to McCain due to his past actions around healthcare and war.
“You can be sad a man has a brain tumor but also that man can be a real piece of shit who hurt a lot of people in his political career. Literally a month ago, McCain was being a spineless toady for Trump instead of displaying actual moral turpitude.”
On the surface, it appears that both sides endorse the idea that McCain’s worthiness of sympathy is dependent on his political utility to that side. Even though their political aspirations couldn’t be further apart. That is a big can of worms if true. Which caused me to ponder, is it truly sympathy if it’s just dependent on political positions? We can wander down a rabbit hole deconstructing the underlying motivations of the fringes if we wanted to, but that’s not what I’m trying to dig at here.
Now as unsettling and even disturbing I find both reactions, I can’t help but find the unfettered honesty somewhat refreshing when compared to the mainstream. The same people who claimed only a few months ago that the Republican healthcare bill will kill people (that is assumed McCain will support and might be the deciding vote) are now sending their warm wishes. It’s feels almost as if politics are isolated in a bubble and do not affect the population outside of Washington D.C., but nevertheless we know that what happens there does in fact alter the lives of people outside of it. It was in this moment that I stumbled upon the story of Kevin Pratt and Tashi King.
Kevin Pratt and Tashi King.
In 2010, Kevin Pratt was diagnosed gliobastloma, the very same cancer that John McCain was just diagnosed with. The Phoenix New Times has a story about their struggle.
Catastrophe struck at the worst possible time. Since neither had college degrees nor full-time jobs, neither had insurance. And so, through no fault of their own, Kevin’s cancer ended up plunging the pair into the hell of poverty and all its attendant government programs. The programs have been a blessing. At the emergency room in October, Kevin was signed up for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, the state’s publicly funded health plan. Since the first two surgeries easily ran into the six figures, not counting the hospital stay, that was essential to keeping him alive.
But keeping him enrolled has proved to be something of a full-time job.
In January, AHCCCS administrators sent Kevin and Tashi clumsily worded letters, saying they were both about to be kicked off.
Kevin desperately needed to stay on. He was in the midst of his chemo cycle. Without insurance, his medication alone cost $8,227 — a month. And other than Tashi’s hourly wages at her part-time job, the couple’s only income came from Kevin’s Social Security check. Yet AHCCCS determined that, in the preceding month, Kevin and Tashi had notched $612.25 in earnings. The monthly limit for AHCCCS users? $608 a month.
Tashi and Kevin were $4.25 over the limit.
The whole thing was galling — not just because $612 a month is nothing, and not just because that $4.25 seemed so arbitrary. At that point, health insurance was literally the only thing keeping Kevin alive.
Tashi King, his wife posted the following on Facebook this week.
“We wrote to McCain in 2010 to beg him to help Kevin keep his AHCCCS insurance. McCain sent us a letter back saying it might be best to move out of Arizona because he did not consider health insurance (and thus, access to healthcare itself) a human right.”
Without viewing the letter in question, it is impossible to verify the specific words of John McCain (or if it was just a letter from his office), but much of Kevin and Tashi’s story is documented elsewhere. (here and here)
Kevin Pratt died on September 11th, 2012, just a month after turning 28 years old.
Holding the Deciding Vote
Now you can see the irony, it’s as subtle as a 5 alarm fire. John McCain will be benefiting from healthcare that he refuses to support for his own constituents even when they specifically suffer from the rare brain tumor that he does. Furthermore, Mitch McConnell is specifically delaying the vote because it’s starting to appear as though the GOP is dependent on McCain’s vote. Kevin Pratt is one person, but there are multitudes of other people I know personally who would lose their healthcare if the AHCA was passed. The newer “repeal only version” is even worse. It’s estimated by the CBO to cause 32 million people to lose insurance and the premiums of those left would increase 100%. To put it short, it would literally be a humanitarian disaster of incomprehensible scale. I work for a healthcare company specializing in dual enrollment (very low income + over 65 or severe disability) and it is quite clear how catastrophic it would be.
This is only healthcare, this isn’t touching on the numerous times McCain has marched us toward unnecessary wars that have destabilized an entire region and led to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths. Even war with Iran was joked about in the 2008 election. I remember, because I voted for him in that election. I often wonder what would have happen if he won. Obviously I’m glossing over the fact that McCain wasn’t alone in his votes, but he might be the deciding one coming up. Now I’m not ignorant of John McCain’s military contribution. Almost everyone in my family has served in the military and I do not take that contribution lightly. However, a lifetime cannot be summed up by a single event.
Speaking Truth to Power
Is John McCain worthy of sympathy? That’s a question everyone will have to answer for themselves, because in the end, it’s theirs and theirs alone to give. And only they will know if it’s honest and not superficially given out in bad faith. But that question should drive us to see that the world is not one painted in black and white and people aren’t dichotomies. There are good and bad decisions that accent the painting of one’s life and we need to confront the fruit of those decisions no matter how good or bad.
A cancer diagnoses of a public figure will often bring politics and news to a halt. Many will say things such as “now is not the time for politics”, but I believe we all have the responsibility to speak truth to power, even when it’s uncomfortable. In fact, especially when it’s uncomfortable. It’s our way of at least shining a spotlight on things that get lost in the noise of the daily news cycle. Most of the time, there are people who want those things lost in the noise.
I, for one, do not find any pleasure at all in someone suffering, cancer has this demented way of sucking all the joy out of life. Changing people you love into people you don’t even recognize. It’s not something I would wish on anyone. Losing a father, a wife, a child in this sort of excruciating way is a nightmare scenario for me. Furthermore, a public figure facing a threat to their existence should remind us all to stop and reflect about our own inevitable mortality that we so often sweep under the rug. It should cause us to contemplate our place in the world filled with so many other people around us.
Remember this though, John McCain will never have to worry about paying for anti-nausea medication while undergoing chemo. He will never have to worry or even choose between food or medical bills. He will never have to dig into the kids college fund, mortgage his home, or even drain his retirement in order to pay for treatment either. However, many of his constituents will. In fact, some might be dead before they are even diagnosed.