This John Lewis vs John McCain thing… something about it bothers me. And not just the idea that it’s somehow equally reprehensible for one guy to do something racist and another guy to point out that Guy #1 did something racist. There’s something deeper at work here.

Consider how strange it is for John McCain to be considered a hero to whom all of us owe a measure of deference but not for John Lewis to be accorded a greater honor. That’s not meant to be a knock on McCain: his service to the country truly is beyond reproach, an inspiration. But no matter how you feel about McCain or about Vietnam, it’s hard to deny that nothing McCain or any other Vietnam veteran did materially provided any American with greater freedom or prosperity or access to justice.

By contrast, John Lewis’s leadership in the civil rights movement provided tens of millions of Americans, across generations, with greater freedom, prosperity and access to justice. In fact, when you think about it, is there another living American who has done more for more of his fellow Americans than John Lewis? Why should McCain be held in higher esteem than Lewis? Why should anyone?

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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