San Diego State University political science professor Jonathan Graubart is annoyed at all the good tidings sent to Senator John McCain (R-AZ) since last week’s announcement that the senator was suffering from a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. The shocking McCain announcement unleashed a flood of good wishes directed to the ailing senator from both sides of the political aisle.
Graubart wrote on Facebook explaining that his “annoyance” was based on his opinion that McCain is “a war criminal and, more to the point. Someone who as a politician has championed horrifying actions and been lousy on state commitment to public health.” And that “it reinforces the notion that some lives are more important than others.”
I find myself annoyed at the groundswell of good wishes for John McCain after his diagnosis of glioblastoma and have been thinking through why. A great line from Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem comes to mind regarding the valuing of elite lives over ordinary lives:
“There are more than a few people, especially among the cultural elite, who still publicly regret the fact that Germany sent Einstein packing, without realizing that it was a much greater crime to kill little Hans Cohn from around the corner, even though he was no genius.”
This analogy should not be interpreted too strictly. McCain is certainly no Einstein and I don’t mean just on brains. Einstein had very appealing humanist instincts, as a socialist, antiwar, anti-imperialist, and anti-statist Zionist. McCain is a war criminal and, more to the point. someone who as a politician has championed horrifying actions and been lousy on state commitment to public health. So dying or not, he’s a risible public figure (I have no idea what he is like on the personal level and don’t care).
But ultimately what troubles me is the urge to send such well wishes to an utter stranger as it reinforces the notion that some lives are more important than others. There are lots of people with glioblastoma and who have died from it (including my mother twenty years ago). I would much rather read random good wishes to contemporary little Hans Cohns than to politicians.
I agree with Professor Graubart that “contemporary little Hans Cohns” and his late mother’s life are just as important as that of John McCain. However, the point that he is missing is that McCain’s life has touched more people than the fictional Hans, or his mom.
John McCain is a hero who because he was defending America, spent five and a half years in a North Vietnamese POW camp. While in the POW camp, he was offered the chance to leave before other prisoners because his father was a Navy Admiral. But he refused to be moved to the front of the line. The wounds he suffered while being shot down and the lack of treatment in the POW camp have left him with lifelong physical disabilities (for example he cannot raise his arms above his shoulders). The wounds he suffered while being shot down and the lack of treatment in the POW camp have left him with lifelong physical disabilities (for example he cannot raise his arms above his shoulders).
Graubart’s Facebook post has garnered a mixed reaction on campus…