We can reject our destiny and personhood through violence which is self-hatred, through self-maintenance at all costs, through hedonistic escape from committed love.... We refuse to accept ourselves as lovable creatures, who are not and need not be God.
Source: Following Christ in a Consumer Society John Francis Kavanaugh as seen on Inward/Outward.org,
When John McCain won enough delegates to claim the Republican nomination for president, like a lot of people, I heaved a sigh of relief: he was the least objectionable Republican, and in fact I, also like a lot of people, felt like the country would be okay, that whoever won wouldn’t be a disaster. While he was too conservative, really, for my tastes, I couldn’t imagine that he would be a disaster. And, also like a lot of people, I kind of liked him. Or the him I thought he was.
Now it’s like he’s become someone else entirely. But he can’t have. And he hasn’t. You can’t predict how people will react to particular circumstances, but who they are: that doesn’t really change, barring some kind of brain trauma (including the dementia of age). We are, at the core, fairly consistently ourselves. We may become more or less caring, more or less conservative, more or less anxious or depressed, but we don’t change into someone else.
So the someone else McCain seems to
have become is really the same old John McCain only worse.
So the someone else McCain seems to have become is really the same old John McCain only worse.
The good: He is a man with an iron will and great courage and endurance. He has championed some good causes. He professes a of literature and history.
The rest: He is heavily invested in being a hero and believes he should be ours. He is his own best authority. And he knows he’s what’s good for the rest of us. He views life as a series of battles, if not wars. He does not see himself as distinct from the country he talks of defending. His wars are not only with foreign countries but against people whom he perceives attacking not simply the country but himself and his honor. He lives much of his life reactively, always on the alert against such attacks.
Possibly the only time his perceptions completely fit reality was during his time as a POW in North Vietnam, and this is the only time he was a true hero. Being a POW who survives doesn't make for a hero; it makes for a survivor which is not to minimize suffering or horror. But McCain was a hero because, in spite of the hideous punishment visited upon him, he rallied his fellow prisoners, gave them courage, struggled to hold onto his values and stuck it to his captors repeatedly in spite of the terrible consequences. He was full of life, he could not be extinguished.
McCain’s role models are romantic heroes: people who brave real danger, who stand up to the rest of the world and don’t give in. They are people who take up a cause and fight for it against all odds and all opposition, are willing to endure punishment, who see through the fakery and stupidity and venality of other leaders, of “the way things have always been done.” The more the world is against a hero, McCain seems to think, the nobler the hero is.
McCain often cites Teddy Roosevelt as one of his heroes as well as his model president. Some writers have pointed out that there are major differences in the political beliefs and actions of the two men. But I would argue that it is Teddy Roosevelt the hero, not the politician, Roosevelt the Rough Rider and Trust Buster that McCain so admires. I am not sure he is even aware that Roosevelt fought the very sort of people now under attack for bringing about our current financial woes, people whom, until recently at least, McCain supported. Here is Wikipedia’s summation of who Teddy Roosevelt was: professional historian, naturalist, explorer, hunter, author and soldier…most famous for his personality: his energy, his vast range of interests and achievements, his model of masculinity, and his "cowboy" personality.
Another McCain favorite is Robert Jordan, the fictional hero of Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the book he says he likes best. (You could write a pretty good paper on John McCain in the context of this hero and this novel alone.)
The setting of the novel is Spain at the end of the Spanish Revolution of the 1930’s. Jordan is fighting with the rebels, the defenders of democracy, pretty much a lost cause. Jordan grows disillusioned with them as he sees their corruption, their sloppiness, their sometimes lack of devotion to the cause, their lack of seriousness, their cruelty. He finds he has to decide whom he can trust not on the basis of whether or not they are all on the same side, but on the basis his own experience with each one of them. In war, he concludes, there are only two kinds of people: those you can trust and those you can’t.
Even for him, even fighting on the side of good, involves what he can recognize as dishonorable behavior. "If a thing was right fundamentally, the lying was not supposed to matter. There was a lot of lying though. He did not care for the lying at first. He hated it. Then later he had come to like it. It was part of being an insider but it was a very corrupting business." So McCain is in good company in his lying and his shady dealings. If he even admits to himself that’s what he does, he can say that heroes do it as part of putting “country first.”
Just as Jordan knew that the people he defended were anything but perfect, McCain learned well that those whom he was brought up by and trained to defend weren’t, either. The authority he flouted was often clearly worthy of scorn. The rules and rituals at the Naval Academy was pretty strange fare for training a man to be an honorable, brave, self-sacrificing officer. During the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara, et. al., were deserving of McCain’s heavy criticism for their management of the war. The Republican Party of today in which he is embedded is riddled with examples of the unapologetic mockery of what most would consider honorable behavior. Yet this is what he is bound to be loyal to, to fight for: a country and its customs worthy of being mocked., but worthy of defending, too.
McCain’s and Robert Jordan’s reactions to what they have to do in war mark them as very different from each other.As McCain, and I suspect most who are in war can, Jordan knows and practices the coldness necessary to be able to continue fighting. He can resist reacting to tragedy. “Such things happen in war,” he says. But Jordan has self-doubts and has to work at continuing as a soldier. He knows he takes a human life when he kills. He has doubts about the rightness of his actions. McCain seems close to impervious. I wonder if he is aware of this difference with his hero and what he would say about it.
Before he was a POW, McCain was a bomber pilot based on the USS Forestal. As Robert Timberg describes it,in "John McCain: American Encounter," there were, as well as fear, “exhilaration and excitement” in flying bombing missions. "McCain [flew] carrier-based combat missions that rarely lasted more than hour from takeoff to landing, sixty minutes of gut-wrenching, scrotum-shrinking frenzy. Then [he was] back….cooling out with [his] buddies, telling war stories, lying about women."
One day, as he sat in his plane loaded with bombs, rockets and hundreds of gallons of fuel on a deck crammed with similarly loaded planes, a Zuni rocket accidentally launched, resulting in total disaster. Flames and exploding bombs and bursting aircraft maimed, mutilated, burned hundreds of sailors, killing 134. Although caught in the midst of it, McCain survived relatively unscathed. At first he saw the connection between the horror on the Forrestal and the devastation he visited upon the Vietnamese with his bombs and said he wasn't at all sure he wanted to keep inflicting it. He wondered, too, as he did after other close calls and after being a POW, if God had spared him for a reason, a not uncommon reaction among survivors. But McCain seems to have answered no higher calling. In the break after the Forrestal tragedy and before he was reassigned, he took his wife and kids to Cannes where the kids saw the sights, and McCain and wife “enjoyed the nightlife.”
Later, when he was shot down over Hanoi, he was bombing the center of the city. Even if his mission was to hit infrastructure, he was surely and knowingly blowing up civilians as he had done in his twenty two previous missions, apparently without a second thought. In fact, he expressed puzzlement at the violent rage one of his rescuers/attackers let loose on him.
McCain seems curiously detached. It’s not that he can’t intellectually recognize suffering, but rather that he can see it and then leave it. He is capable of apologizing for some of his own misdeeds, but the apologies seem superficial, aimed at fixing a blemish in his own character rather than making amends to someone else. He seems to lack empathy. His hero, Robert Jordan is different: Jordan perceives that he inflicts damage on others and he also can empathize deeply. In combat, McCain sees his enemies as cardboard stereotypes. At least in certain contexts non-combat situations, McCain’s sees people who don’t agree with him the same way.
His famous anger explodes when he perceives that he has been insulted, that his honor has been impugned, that his position is threatened. He must feel these as if they were emotional gun shots to his psyche. The media are littered with examples of McCain’s explosions and they and his general air of superiority diminished his popularity as time went on. His charm was no longer so effective as it had been at covering his flaws. Timberg gives a good summary of some reactions to McCain by people not in his thrall. He says, "Although his standing had grown, there had developed by then an undercurrent of dislike for McCain in some quarters on capital hill and elsewhere. The animus, morover seemed to go beyond philosophical conflicts, relating to what some saw as a self-righteous quality, others as a refusal to even consider the possibility that he might have been off-base. ‘John’s problem is that he takes [differences] not as an attack on an issue but as an attack on him.’ Said….David Keene in late 1997. “
Often McCain sets up a pattern in his life (and the lives of others) that reflects a man who sees himself as the hero standing up against the enemy. He takes on the job of criticizing – lambasting, mocking, taunting, subverting – authority. He gathers a gang of supporters around him who tend to be worshipful, who find him charming and who, without even thinking, excuse his behavior, whether it be hovering around the line of legal as it did in Annapolis, or whether it be an explosion of temper, or whether it be subverting superiors when he thinks he is right. The members of the media used to be such a gang of worshippers and he worked hard to keep them that way. But when they started questioning him, he turned on them. Today, he is embedded in a campaign staff and accompanied by a vice presidential nominee who are his yesmen to the extent that he doesn’t appear to know that his standing and that of Palin is falling. Mark Salter is a one-man worshipful gang. One might even see his cross-party-lines legislative work in the same light. Whatever your affiliation, if you agree with him, you're his friend. (It’s important to note here that he hasn’t consistently defended his initially praiseworthy positions which led him to make these alliances, but has abandoned them. Noteworthy examples: campaign financing, torture, Bush tax cuts, Roe v. Wade)
McCain can change positions quite dramatically, and sometimes for good
cause. When Bill Clinton moved to open
up relations with Vietnam, McCain supported him. But he seems to expect others to change with
him, and if they don’t he can be furious. When he sat on the Senate Select Committee on MIAs/POWs where he worked to close the
books on military still not found, he actually turned on the MIA/POW families. He drove one woman to tears for what he perceived
as her insulting him and others During the same hearings, he warmly embraced the man who had been in charge
of his captors in Viet Nam and was similarly able to visit the sites of his
imprisonment with equanimity and humor. His former POW/MIA alllies started wondering out loud if he was a "Manchurian candidate."
For McCain, the notion of honor is central to his image of himself as hero. He said that at Annapolis “we learned to dread dishonor above all other temptations.” But he besmirches his own honor at times. It was expedient for him, as a Republican, to vote for the impeachment of Bill Clinton for lying about Monica Lewinsky. He had been on good terms with Clinton, his friend in the negotiations to recognize Vietnam. But when it came to Clinton's impeachment McCain framed the issue as as a betrayal of honor. He gave an utterly self-righteous, self-serving and pompous speech in which he said, among other things, “I do not hold the president to the same standard that I hold military officers to. I hold him to a higher standard. Although I may admit to failures in private life, I have at all times, and to the best of my ability kept faith with every oath I have sworn to this country. I cannot--not in deference to public opinion, or for political considerations, or for the sake of comity and friendship--I cannot agree to expect less from the president."
Notice how McCain makes it all about himself. Notice, too, that he has never even whispered the slightest suggestion that perhaps members of the Bush Administration have not lived up to the standards McCain supposedly holds them to, at least not until this campaign for president.
Honor is of course in the eyes of McCain.
Actions other people would consider dishonorable he regards as
honorable: his sneaky subversion of the expressed positions of his superiors in
a Congressional battle over a new carrier, for example.
In fact McCain has often led anything but a highly honorable life, from
letting friends at Annapolis take the rap for his misdeeds to his partying
before he went to Vietnam to sleeping around after he had lost interest in his
first wife but was still married to her, to hanging out with the rich and
glamorous to the extent that his behavior was questioned in the Keating Five
scandal (where it is thought his office if not he leaked information to save him) to current involvement with the
Indian gaming industry.
In choosing a political career, McCain never returned to the notion of having been saved for a purpose. Not that he should have. But what is noteworthy at least in Timberger's book is that he never really talked about the idea of service when he decided to run for Congress from Arizona (where he was a carpetbagger). Rather, his experience as the Navy liaison to the Senate seemed to excite his ambition.
And why does he want to be president? “I didn’t decide to run for president to start a national crusade for the political reforms I believed in or to run a campaign as if it were some grand act of patriotism. In truth, I wanted to be president because it had become my ambition to be president. . . . In truth, I’d had the ambition for a long time.” McCain's main cause is McCain.
The contrast between McCain and Robert Jordan is now complete. Hemingway painted Jordan as increasingly compassionate, loving, Christlike. McCain, impulsive, his anger barely under control, continues to act the heroic soldier, both in real wars and in politics. He sees the country threatened from all sides; he sees himself threatened from all sides. He would tend to use aggressive weapons in both cases. Ultimately, "For Whom the Bell Tolls" was passionately antiwar. McCain sees and fights wars all around him.
I know that many politicians are corruptible, human, sometimes pretty sleazy, just like the rest of us. I vote for some of them knowing this is how they are. I hope most of them have a line they won't cross. The ones I am really wary of, though, are those who can't bear to see flaws in themselves, let alone have others point them out, those whose first concern is protecting their own "honor," those who feel entitled to the office they are running for and perceive political opponents as enemies. These politicians can't imagine they'd ever reach a line they shouldn't cross. They are capable of justifying to themselves everything they do. People like this, people like John McCain,should not be president. We just came through almost eight years of someone like this. We can't afford more.
By the way, he suspended the big announcement festivities planned for his 2000 presidential run when three Americans were captured by the Serbs during the war in Kosovo. “It is not appropriate to launch a political campaign,” he said, since the nation was at war. That campaign suspension was praised to the skies. And it got him tons of favorable publicity. I wonder if he had this success in mind when he called off his campaign last week because of the financial crisis.
UPDATE: Rolling Stone has a long and damning article on McCain here. I think I was too gentle.