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McCain & the Class of '82

Rich Galen

Friday July 28, 2017

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  • I stayed up late Thursday night (into early Friday morning) to watch the vote in the U.S. Senate on Obamacare. I don't usually do those things. My C-SPAN meter never runs very high. I depend on electronic versions of the major dailies, the morning cable shows, and Twitter to catch me up.

  • But, something told me this was going to be special. And it was.

  • You know by now that the effort to pass what became known as "The Skinny Bill" in the Senate with the sole purpose of getting a discussion document into a Conference Committee with the House failed when Republican Senators Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and John McCain (Arizona) voted Nay.

  • Collins and Murkowski were not at issue. Vice President Mike Pence was driven to the Senate in the early hours to sit in chair and break the 50-50 tie.

  • He wasn't needed.

  • McCain didn't, as far as I could tell, answer to his name the first time it was called in alphabetical order. Like the leader at a major golf championship who is permitted to take the last putt no matter if his ball is "away" or not, McCain waited, walked up to the front of the Senate Chamber, held out his right hand, and flipped his thumb down.

  • Deal. Done.

  • In the background you could hear a cheer going up from the Democratic side of the floor. And you could see Minority Leader Chuck Schumer waving it down.

  • I've known John McCain since he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1982. That was Ronald Reagan's first mid-term. I was the Public Affairs Director at the Republican Congressional Committee. And we lost 27 seats.

  • It was not a good year for the House GOP.

  • There is a saying about the West Point Class of 1915. It is called "The Class the Stars Fell On" because out of it came
    - Two five-star Generals
    - Two four-stars
    - Seven three-stars
    - 24 two-stars
    - 24 one-star

  • Also, one President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

  • The Congressional class of 1982 which included McCain wasn't quite as glamourous, but among the other freshmen who took their seats in January of 1983 were Tom Ridge and John Kasich.

  • Of those three they produced:
    - Two Vietnam War vets (Ridge & McCain)
    - Two Governors (Kasich and Ridge)
    - Two Presidential Candidates (McCain and Kasich)
    - One Cabinet Secretary - the first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (Ridge)

  • John McCain's military service is, of course, well known. Less so is the fact that Tom Ridge was the first enlisted Vietnam War vet to be elected to Congress. John Kasich was born in 1952 and so a little young for the early days of the war and was in college when he was old enough.

  • As I watched the proceedings, I thought about these three men.

  • All of them see the world - politically and otherwise - a little differently than many of their successors do now.

  • In 1983 the party split in the House was 243 Democrats to 192 Republicans. Almost the exact mirror of today's 241 Republicans and 194 Democrats.

  • I remember the feelings of frustration with not being able to get much done with that small a minority. Yet, McCain, Kasich and Ridge persevered.

  • McCain ran successfully for the U.S. Senate. Ridge for Governor of Pennsylvania. Kasich rose to be chairman of the House Budget Committee and now Governor of Ohio.

  • In 1989 McCain, along with Senators John Glenn (D-Oh), Alan Cranston (D-Ca), Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz), and Don Riegel (D-Mi) were accused of interfering with an major investigation into a scandal surrounding the Savings and Loan Crisis.

  • McCain and Glenn were cleared of any wrongdoing, but I can remember him walking into the office of then-Republican Whip Newt Gingrich just off the House floor and whispering: "No one has ever questioned my integrity. I don't know how to handle this."

  • He and Newt took off for a long walk through the Capitol building.

  • Through thick and thin. Through votes and positions that have been widly popular and thoroughly detested by both political parties, no one has seriously questioned John McCain's integrity again.

  • Go to a ballgame at Nationals Park with Tom Ridge and you would believe he could be elected Governor again tomorrow. John Kasich, even through the brutal primaries last year, was a voice of calm and reason.

  • As Ridge has said many times, "You run to win. But, you win to govern; not to win again next time."

  • That class of '82. We need them again today.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the election of 1982 - a lot of other high-performers came to Congress after that election. Also to the Keating Five scandal.

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