David B.




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August 11, 2008

John McCain: A Profile in Cowardice


It should be a source of no small astonishment that at the age of 71, Arizona’s John Sidney McCain should be the Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States.


To date, the “maverick” (whatever that means) senator’s most memorable and meaningful accomplishment has been membership in the “Keating Five,” the coterie of corrupt savings and loan chieftain Charles Keating’s bought-and-paid-for senatorial buddies whose advocacy on his behalf stalled regulatory action against his insolvent financial empire, thus dooming thousands of depositors to the loss of their life savings.


As a treacherous and distasteful denouement to the savings-and-loan wipeout of the 1980s – a debacle of deregulation that cost American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars, not to mention wreaking financial ruin upon communities and consumers from coast to coast – McCain’s senatorial pals effectively whitewashed his role, as well as those of most of his Keating comrades. This act of betrayal and institutional hubris enabled McCain to salvage his undistinguished political career by the skin of his teeth, treating America to an additional 29 years of bad ideas, failed initiatives and continued genuflection before his corporate paymasters.


The Keating whitewash was the first of numerous successive efforts to help John McCain hide from the truth, erasing unflattering details of his life, career and personality that might compromise his ability to serve as an effective senatorial foot soldier for the lunatic right. Like so many other significant details of McCain’s life, his Keating coddling has been largely (and conveniently) forgotten. McCain’s amnesia is highly selective: His website retains crystalline memories with regard to his military days, devoting six of nine vapid paragraphs in its “about” section to the ancient and irrelevant subject of McCain At War (including, of course, yet another pedantic and self-serving regurgitation of his POW experiences).


Missing: Any mention of McCain’s first wife or his children from his first marriage, for starters. Perhaps it’s not surprising, since he dumped first wife Carol for her younger, richer clone once a car accident had rendered her wheelchair-bound and less photogenic – no longer the picture-perfect Stepford spouse expected for an up-and-coming Republican politician.


Of course, dumping a spouse is one thing, but effectively erasing her from history is another. As of early August, McCain’s Wikipedia entry has been edited by his loyal sycophants to scrub all mention of Carol McCain or her “maverick”-sired children. As McCain would have it, official history will render Carol McCain an “unperson” in Orwell terms, neatly lifted from photographic records and historical accounts. Never mind that she not only stood by him during his years of captivity, but worked tirelessly for his release. Her existence in his life and in his personal narrative is a threat to the carefully-cultivated public image of McCain as a stalwart man of principle, and thus must be vanquished.


Apart from his family’s military history and the rote recitations of his supposed valor in captivity in Vietnam, there is little in McCain’s past that he seems to be particularly proud of. Keating, Carol McCain, reported mistresses, sexist slurs publicly uttered against his second wife, Senate floor temper tantrums, his votes against the MLK Day holiday, his campaign’s flaunting of his own campaign finance reform legislation – so many things to fear, so many things to bury, to scrub, to hide in order to maintain that all-important public image as the steadfast warrior, the straight-talking statesman, the war hero, the noble public servant.


What can be said of a man who seems to fear nothing so much as his own personal history, his own life choices, his own record of achievement (or lack thereof)? By his present-day words and deeds, one can only infer that John Sidney McCain lives in continual fear that his soap-bubble public persona will ultimately burst, laying bare the mewling, pandering, small little man at its core for all the world to see.


Hence the continual ad-hominem attacks on his opponents, both by the principal and his surrogates, hence the continual careful crafting of the public image on any television show – from Meet The Press to Saturday Night Live – that will afford him airtime, hence the barrage of juvenile attack ads likening his opponent to everyone from Moses to Britney Spears. John McCain knows that the best way to defend his soap bubble is to remain forever on the offense, and in the best tradition of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, he has shown himself willing to stop at nothing.


Even considering that his party is the same bastion of vision and principle that bestowed the likes of Warren G. Harding, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush upon the world, the McCain nomination seems rather like a step down for the GOP. Atwateresque tactics or no, there is a thread of spinelessness running through the core of the McCain campaign, and its centerpiece is at least smart enough not to believe in his own carefully-crafted mythology.


John McCain knows himself, who he really is – and he’s scared to death that someday others may find out too. Say what you will about Nixon et al. Vile though they may have been, gutlessness was never among their core characteristics. But as John McCain races to placate the religious right that he earlier dismissed, as he dashes to embrace the offshore drilling that he previously opposed in order to satisfy big oil, as he flails to release as many negative ads and viral videos as he can in order to squarely focus public attention on his opponent rather than himself, McCain reveals himself as a man who will by turns bluster, placate, appease or attack rather than find a principle – or a persona – on which to make his stand. As the wind shifts, McCain twists with it, trying to stay one step ahead of discovery.


This is a man who is fearful of his past, fearful of his demons, fearful of his shadow. His courage in the military arena is coupled with rank cowardice in the personal and political milieu – he could stand up to the Viet Cong, but never to Amoco or the Moral Majority – let alone face life with anything less than an all-limbs-intact trophy wife. John McCain is Sinclair Lewis’s Babbit personified, a fear-driven conformist whose public striving reads like compensation for deep, incurable personal failing of which he is all too painfully aware. Damaged goods.


And not much of a candidate.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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