11 October 2008

The Tragic Quest of John McCain

Sometimes it must just suck to be Senator McCain, and I suspect he knows this. Have you ever imagined the degree of self-loathing he has to struggle with? Here's a Navy aristocrat, son and grandson of admirals, whose career crashes and burns over Vietnam. What's left is broken by his captors, on his own admission. He lived in shame at hearing his confession broadcast in his prison, and in fear of the wider world hearing it. In later life he tried to compensate by striving to reconcile the U.S. and Vietnam, only to be frustrated by people determined to discover prisoners remaining in the latter country, and when he airs his frustration, he finds himself accused of conspiratorial, treasonous dealings with the Vietnamese. Likewise, embarrassed by his involvement in the "Keating Five" scandal, he strove to redeem himself in the public mind by becoming the scourge of "money in politics," only to make himself hated by many in his chosen party. Humiliated by his defeat at the hands of Bush and Rove, he had to curry favor with them to have another chance at the nomination of his chosen party. He had to swallow his pride and seek endorsements from people he despised, all while the radio talkers howled against him. Determined to play the maverick, he was denied his fondest desire to tap Senator Lieberman as his running mate. To compensate, he played the progressive by choosing a woman to run behind him, only to see her upstage him and instantly win the love that the movement still withheld from him. He made a statesmanlike acceptance speech and got polite applause while the raptures Gov. Palin received still echoed in the hall. Now he is losing to someone he clearly sees as an upstart, and finds himself blamed by association for Bush's failures. Against what seem to be his own impulses, he is egged on to go negative, to play Joe McCarthy, by his own supposed supporters. But he must wonder what or whom those people actually support. On October 10, he rebelled against his programming and saw the true face of his party.

After the rally, an enterprising web reporter caught up to the old woman, so we saw her true face as well. The link will give you a transcript of the interview to make up for the bad sound quality.

Many inside the Republican party or among the "movement" conservatives have never felt that McCain was one of them, and they are probably right. The man may be a warmonger, but apart from that is closer to being a centrist. He has been a "maverick" in the past and might prove one again as President, but this has always been as much a matter of ego as one of principle. He would probably rather be judged by his character and his actions rather than according to brand-name loyalty, but bowing to the American Bipolarchy was the shortcut to power for someone starting out in a new state with a new family. McCain's tragedy, if you would distinguish his story with that label, is that he chose his associates who now so plainly disgust him, probably because he felt he had no choice. Maverick he may be, but he had no more courage than 97 of his Senatorial peers, all of whom wear partisan livery. What would it mean to be a maverick, after all, outside the structure of the Bipolarchy? He needs that structure to define himself negatively against it; otherwise he'd be just another Senator. If a true "team of mavericks" ran the country, there wouldn't be a party system. The concept of a "party of mavericks" is absurd, and Republicans know this. They indulge Palin in this whimsy because she can do no wrong in their eyes, while reserving their secret contempt for McCain. Only now it's not so secret.

You can say that they were booing Senator Obama, not McCain, but the crowd's mood was one of resentment at having their fun spoilt. What McCain may not have realized, or didn't want to believe, was that his people want to hate. They take pleasure in their own fear. It flatters them to think of themselves as targets of conspiratorial designs. If they feel threatened, that must mean they matter, or, better, that they are objects of someone's envy. I suspect that this mentality is alien to McCain, but he chose to cater to it in order to claim political power. Maybe he thought he could tame it, and maybe he still thinks so. After all, the crowd ultimately cheered when he chided that crazy woman. But that day in Minnesota he looked a man having a terrible revelation. He looked suddenly sick of his whole campaign, but he can't stop now. The quest goes on.

1 comment:

crhymethinc said...

According to recent polls, Obama is leading 51% to 46%. I guess the other 3% either haven't decided or are going with one of the alternatives. Still, that's good news, considering the same pollsters showed them even in their last poll.

Maybe Hanoi John is finally realizing what a despicable, hateful lot working class Republicans are.