Sorry, Tom Brokaw, But Only Republicans Have Lessons to Learn from John McCain

For the last time, both sides don’t do it.

It was sad to watch former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw embarrass himself on Meet the Press this morning, suggesting that both parties have lessons to learn from the legacy of the late Senator John McCain. Brokaw’s response to host Chuck Todd’s question about how McCain became such a “bigger than life” figure embraced the false notion that both Democrats and Republicans have become more hyper-partisan over the years:

Well, I think you achieve that by sailing against the winds that are prevailing. For example, now in both parties they are more ideologues than they are authentic people in terms of looking at a problem not just through the prism of being a Democrat or a Republican, but what is really needed to be done. And John McCain would do that. He was not trapped by his party label. I mean he was very conservative on international affairs, but willing to take a look at domestic programs from a different perspective.

We don’t have that much anymore in politics. You know, I grew up in a time when both parties, they got along even though they had different ideologies, but they had in the Senate they had the giants of the Senate on both sides. And now we have everybody trapped into this kind of ideological box, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. You can’t move out of that box. I think the country is tired of that…

Later, Todd asked Brokaw what current and future Senators can take from McCain, to which Brokaw responded:

That there’s something greater than the party label, that there’s something greater than a kind of ideological, if you will, attachment to whatever the mood of the day is. You have to look at the needs of the country. And the needs of the country are not just the domestic issues, but where we stand internationally. And have the courage, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, to take a stand against what you know is not the best interest of the country, but it happens to be the ideology of whoever’s in the White House at the time. We need more people who will sail against the wind.

Wrong, Tom. What this country needs is Republicans who will sail against the wind, of which there are virtually none these days. McCain didn’t sail against the wind nearly enough during the course of his political career, but when he supported campaign finance reform, immigration reform and action on climate change, he demonstrated a willingness to put “country first”–a concept foreign to today’s Republican Party.

Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann must have been furious when they heard Brokaw’s remarks. Six years ago, they accurately pointed out that political extremism and hyper-partisanship is a Republican-only dynamic. The Democratic Party has not moved–and perhaps structurally cannot move–as far to the left as the Republican Party has moved to the right. Can anyone name the Democratic equivalent of the Republican ideological purges that led to the end of the political careers of Representatives Bob Inglis, Mike Castle and Wayne Gilchrest?

Shortly after the 1996 presidential election, McCain warned his party of the dangers of ignoring the importance of environmental protection, observing:

Republicans should not allow the fringes of the party to set a radical agenda that no more represents the mainstream of Republicans than environmental extremists represent the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Only by faithfully fulfilling our stewardship responsibilities can we expect to remain the majority party.

Far more important, our nation’s continued prosperity hinges on our ability to solve environmental problems and sustain the natural resources on which we all depend.

Of course, McCain’s words were not heeded by his party. The fringes of the GOP became the entire party, and fealty to a radical agenda is now required for continued membership. The same thing simply did not happen to the Democratic Party. Shame on Brokaw for implying otherwise.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.