August recess doesn't mean playtime — focus on healthcare
© Greg Nash

As lawmakers departed for August recess, they are left with a lot to think about, especially when it comes to explaining the status of healthcare to their constituents. Thankfully, lawmakers have a role model who they can look to in guiding them through this process: John McCain.

According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, McCain is one of the only Senators a majority of eligible voters view favorably. By contrast, according to a recent Gallup poll, Congress as a whole only has a 20 percent approval rating.

Maverick, you just did an incredibly brave thing

Last week, moments after the Senator from Arizona voted no to the “skinny repeal” of ObamaCare, he issued a statement that it is time for a fresh start, and a bipartisan fresh start at that. To some, it initially appeared ironic that Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaNeil Young updates song 'Lookin' for a Leader' opposing Trump, endorsing Biden Bellwether counties show trouble for Trump Trump may be DACA participants' best hope, but will Democrats play ball? MORE’s 2008 nemesis is the one who cast the deciding vote to preserve his legacy. As was artfully noted by Vanity Fair, ObamaCare repeal died in the Senate because McCain twisted the knife.


But, that’s why McCain has earned the nickname “the maverick” during his tenure in the Senate. As many political pundits have observed, the maverick is back and, riding the wave of a dramatic return to Washington after surgery and a brain cancer diagnosis, his timing could not have been better.

Of course, McCain is not the only Republican senator who voted no, and some have argued that Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump backs another T stimulus, urges governors to reopen schools Romney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention Senators will have access to intelligence on Russian bounties on US troops MORE (R-Ala.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic Unity Taskforce unveils party platform recommendations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump backs another T stimulus, urges governors to reopen schools MORE (R-Maine) should receive more credit for saving ObamaCare. The difference, however, is that it was well-known that Collins and Murkowski would vote no ahead of time, and Americans don’t get nearly as excited about certainty as they do by suspense.

Americans love a good wild west story, complete with its sense of adventure, pursuit of justice, and dissident protagonist. As described by literary critic Michael G. Williams, “The lion’s share of these characters are unconventional heroes struggling to survive in an uncivilized setting.”

McCain successfully delivered on all of these elements for the electorate, especially being an unconventional hero in an uncivilized setting.

With the momentum of his wild west style fame, McCain and his colleagues in the Senate should spend August recess working not just on healthcare policy, but on how to rebrand the favorably regarded portions of our nation’s current healthcare law.  

What’s in a name?

When it comes healthcare, it turns out that the answer is a lot.

As Juliet of the star-crossed Shakespearean duo Romeo and Juliet famously soliloquized, “That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.”

Yet, that’s not the case with healthcare.

A recent poll by Morning Consult shows that a sizable number of Americans did not know that ObamaCare and the Affordable Care Act are the same law. And, a previous poll by CNN showed that more Americans opposed the healthcare law when the name Obama was attached to it than when it was called by its official name. Similarly, those in the poll tended to respond more favorably to individual provisions of the law, for example, the pre-existing conditions mandate, than the law presented as a whole.

In other words, the law smelled sweeter when it was referred to in a politically neutral manner than it did when a politically-charged nickname was attached.

Although democrats have taken great pride and republicans great prejudice in referring to the legislation as ObamaCare, the ultimate takeaway here is that people feel more strongly about politics than they do about primary care.

After all, there’s a reason that Medicare, which was never called JohnsonCare, has existed since 1966 with very little efforts to repeal or replace it.

Thus, in moving forward on healthcare policy, we must depend on experienced legislators who are willing to return to regular order and bipartisan deal making like McCain.

From lion to wildcat

The irony of McCain’s decisive vote on healthcare has not been lost on the media in light of his recent diagnosis of glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer.

Moreover, as noted by the New York Times, the circumstances are “eerily similar” to the last time an influential member of the Senate, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, received the same diagnosis – contentious healthcare debates, a senior senator with a dominant personality suddenly confronted with his own mortality, and the ability of that senior senator to cement a lengthy political legacy long after losing a Presidential run that once seemed like destiny.  

Yet, if Kennedy was the lion of the Senate, McCain, true to his western style Arizonan-roots, is more of a wildcat.

In his 15-minute, impassioned speech on the Senate floor last week, McCain held the spotlight in a way few politicians of the modern era have but most have wished for.  He reminded his colleagues that the hyper-partisan and acrimonious politics of the last few months were counter-productive, and that it was time to return to the days of compromise and decency.

In addition to being one of the most memorable moments of his own career, McCain’s speech may very well be remembered in years to come as the moment when the Republican party regained its sanity.  

The moment is similar to the inevitable plot twist in an old western when the protagonist prevails over the evil villain.

When asked about the status of his vote just prior to placing it, McCain informed reporters to “watch the show.

In watching and reading about the comic tragedy of healthcare in America over the last decade, our citizens have been treated to Kennedy as the protagonist of the first act of ObamaCare, and McCain as the rogue anti-hero of its finale.  

Trump, who many have clearly cast as the villain in this somewhat clichéd story arc, may prefer “people who weren’t captured,” but the American people have spoken, and they still prefer a protagonist and a politician with integrity.

Rory E. Riley-Topping has dedicated her career to ensuring accountability within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to care for our nation’s veterans. She is the principal at Riley-Topping Consulting and has served in a legal capacity for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, the National Veterans Legal Services Program, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and can be reached on Twitter @RileyTopping.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.