Why John McCain Mattered

Today’s Agenda

Why John McCain Mattered

Remembering John McCain

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Whatever you felt about John McCain’s politics, you can’t deny his monumental impact on American public life – unless you’re President Donald Trump.

Michael Bloomberg remembers McCain’s “determination to do what he believed was right, even if it carried a political cost – as it so often did.” The Bloomberg LP founder’s recent Rice University commencement speech warned of “an epidemic of dishonesty” in our politics – the cure for which is more independence and courage in the mold of John McCain. Now we’ll have to accomplish that without the living example of the original. Read the whole thing.

Al Hunt says McCain joins Ted Kennedy as “one of the two most important American politicians over the last 70 years who never made it to the Oval Office. … He was the senator no one could ignore.” His influence wasn’t always positive; his hawkish foreign-policy bent encouraged the destructive morass of an Iraq War he later regretted. And his elevation of Sarah Palin foreshadowed a Trump presidency that seemed to alarm him. But his accomplishments were many, from the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance act to his legacy as a lodestar for bipartisan comity, Al writes. Read the whole thing.

It is particularly telling, writes Jonathan Bernstein, that McCain’s Senate colleagues were so fond of him that they are proposing to rename the Russell Senate Office Building the McCain Senate Office Building. It’s not that he wasn’t partisan, Jonathan writes, but that he “at least symbolically and often substantively, stands for an effort to construct a model for a partisanship that doesn’t settle for the easy way forward.”  

One person who seemed to really, really not like McCain is Trump. His White House at first denied the war hero even the most basic honor of keeping flags at half-staff (after much criticism, it lowered its flag in the afternoon). This followed Trump’s reported refusal to release a statement praising McCain. This is petty and embarrassing, but it’s also the latest way Trump is failing as president, Jonathan Bernstein also writes. For one thing, it’s the president’s job to honor a national figure like McCain, even if he personally dislikes him. Second, the fact that his staffers immediately leaked just how petty Trump is exemplifies how little control he has over his own White House. Read the whole thing.

Bonus McCain reading: Russia needed an opponent like John McCain. – Leonid Bershidsky

Musk’s Going-Private Song Is Over, But the Malady Lingers On

Like a meteor streaking across the sky, Elon Musk’s flirtation with taking Tesla Inc. private was spectacular but brief. It began with a display of contempt for Tesla’s board and shareholders and ended Friday night with still more contempt, writes Liam Denning. Of course, Musk loyalists will probably stick with him, Liam writes, and now they can do so by simply continuing to own stock.

It’s now clear Musk had no funding and no plan for taking Tesla private, when he originally claimed he had both. Matt Levine gives Musk credit for recognizing the futility of the whole exercise – but notes the legal problems he created aren’t going away.

Trump’s Worst Legal Nightmare

Not all of Trump’s ballooning legal troubles arise from the office of special counsel Robert Mueller. Working independently – and with better job security – the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York brought the charges last week against former Trump fixer Michael Cohen and got the cooperation of Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, notes Noah Feldman. This is a huge problem for Trump, arguably bigger than the Mueller probe: “Once the Southern District gets its jaws onto a string of crimes, it doesn’t let go.” Read the whole thing.

Last week’s legal bombshells weren’t quite loud enough to wake up a sleeping Congress. This is an abdication of the legislature’s constitutional responsibilities, Bloomberg’s editors write. “Between impeaching an errant president and making increasingly implausible excuses for him lies a vast political terrain that, to date, remains stubbornly unexplored by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.” Read the whole thing.

Bonus editorial: Regulators seem to be taking an all-or-nothing approach to Crispr-edited foods: Europe plans to crack down on them aggressively, while the U.S. plans to let them onto tables with no restrictions. Both should be more flexible.

China’s Dilemma

Trump today announced a tentative trade peace with Mexico, but he’s still very much at trade war with China. He and his advisers think economic pain will force China to concede quickly, but they don’t seem to understand how they have made it impossible for China’s Xi Jinping to cut a deal, writes Michael Schuman. “Any major concessions could look like appeasement to Washington’s bullying – and an unacceptable blow to Xi’s prestige.”

China’s economy has struggled lately, but that’s at least partly because of government efforts to avert a debt crisis, writes Andrew Polk. The government is now opening the economic spigots back up – but it will only be enough to limit the damage, not to spur a new boom, writes Polk. One lever China is pushing is public-private partnerships for infrastructure spending, reversing an earlier clampdown, notes Shuli Ren. But investor wariness may leave these “partnerships” with mostly public money, Shuli writes.

Bonus China reading:  China’s consumer tech-spending growth is booming – but this comes at a rising cost. – Tim Culpan

Reading the Fed’s Tea Leaves

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and other U.S. central bankers spoke at their annual retreat at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, last week. Fed watchers parsed their words for clues about the future path of interest rates. Tim Duy’s takeaway is that the Fed seems to want to hike rates until something breaks, which he warns is a real possibility. Mohamed El-Erian comes away with the impression that the Fed is dedicated to hiking at least twice more this year and maybe two more times next year – but he also thinks the Fed could be quickly convinced to stop, maybe even at just one rate hike.

Chart Attack

There’s a good reason Apple doesn’t sell low-budget smartphones, writes Shira Ovide – though it’s easy to wonder how much farther into the stratosphere prices can sustainably go. 

Why John McCain Mattered

The natural-gas market should be panicking, but it isn’t; Liam Denning has some theories as to why. 

Why John McCain Mattered

An aging, shrinking Japanese population could be the perfect testing ground for innovative fertility-boosting measures, writes Noah Smith.

Why John McCain Mattered

Quick Hits

Brick-and-mortar retail seems to be figuring out how to survive Amazon. – Sarah Halzack

Want Vladimir Putin gone? Be careful what you wish for: What follows him could be trouble. – Mark Whitehouse

Medicare-for-all would be too expensive. – Karl W. Smith 

Jeremy Corbyn’s worldview is deeply troubling. – Eli Lake 

The GOP’s 2018 strategy  isn’t bragging about the economy; it’s running on anti-immigrant demagoguery instead. – Al Hunt 

A brief history of why U.S. corporate boards don’t include workers. – Justin Fox

No, Big Tech doesn’t have a liberal bias. – Barry Ritholtz


New York and Connecticut taxpayers still have ways around SALT deduction limits. John McCain’s Hanoi prison is now a luxury hotel.


The comedy-movie business is terrible lately.

The greatest source of ocean trash is not plastic straws but cigarette butts.

Earth has fewer species than we think.

Maybe your sleep problem isn’t really a problem.

Our hatred of pigeons is misguided but understandable.

Thirty-six photos of daily life in Maine.

Note: Special thanks to the brilliant team players Shira Ovide and Toby Harshaw, who handled last week’s newsletters and weekend blasts, respectively. Mark Gongloff’s reign of replacement-level writing resumes this week. Please send ocean trash, suggestions and kicker ideas to him at mgongloff1@bloomberg.net.


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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Mark Gongloff is an editor with Bloomberg Opinion. He previously was a managing editor of Fortune.com, ran the Huffington Post's business and technology coverage, and was a columnist, reporter and editor for the Wall Street Journal.

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