Monday, November 10, 2008

John McCain

"I cannot count the number of times he repeated his mantra, a catchphrase that has never left me: 'We don’t do that.' He stuck to the plural. In a voice neither loud nor soft, he pronounced what he and his refused to do. Four words fusing into one: Wedontdothat." - Gunter Grass

"I want the Presidency in the best way—not the worst way. The American people deserve to be treated with respect by those who seek to lead the nation. And I promise you: you will have my respect until my last day on earth. The greatest blessing of my life was to have been born an American, and I will never . . . dishonor the nation I love or myself by letting ambition overcome principle. Never. Never. Never." - John McCain after 2000 South Carolina primary

We received a definition of the "real America" without asking for one. Voters were told to question who "the real Barack Obama" was before they'd thought to ask. The candidate who warned against an inauthentic America electing an inauthentic American, lost. Now we are left to wonder, who is the real John McCain?

David Grann provided a profile of McCain 2000 and McCain 2008 in the November 17 issue of The New Yorker. Grann suggests, to borrow from Dick Cheney, that McCain "work[ed], sort of, the dark side," as he tried to secure the presidency. Tim Dickinson, in his Rolling Stone piece "Make Believe Maverick," paints a McCain who only ever used the force for evil. John McCain is neither a purely evil man who commanded a, now abandoned, silver tongue; nor is he a fallen angel.

"And out of good still to find means of evil"

The problem with John McCain is our need to understand him through an archetype. It is no mistake Grann's article is titled "The Fall" evoking Lucifer, banished to Hell; or that Dickinson's Rolling Stone piece twists McCain into a Cody Jarrett villain ready to bring the world down as long as he's on top of it when it falls. But between the syncophants and the carpers is David Foster Wallace's profile on the McCain 2000 primary campaign - "The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys And The Shrub":

"...the likeliest reason why so many of us care so little about politics is that modern politicians make us sad, hurt us in ways that are hard even to name, much less to talk about. It's way easier to roll your eyes and not give a shit.... [But] the grateful press on the Trail transmit — maybe even exaggerate — McCain's humanity to their huge audience, the electorate, which electorate in turn seems so paroxysmically thankful for a presidential candidate somewhat in the ballpark of a real human being that it has to make you stop and think about how starved voters are for just some minimal level of genuineness in the men who want to 'lead' and 'inspire' them."

We wanted it both ways; the extraordinary, honorable knight out fighting his lonesome battles for us - losing as well as winning, but always fighting for us - and the man we could joke, chat with at the end of the day. John McCain offered this to us in 2000 and he lost. George W. Bush and Karl Rove's despicable smears are always credited with losing McCain the South Carolina primary in 2000, but it seems no one cares to note that there were actual, human voters punching the ballots, swayed by those robocalls and flyers.

The truth is you can't have it both ways. Your knight can't also be your drinking buddy. He is not superhuman, but he must remain above you, apart from the voter-folk because in success or failure he has to shoulder the load. That is why Barack Obama won this election. Most Americans probably wouldn't want to go out drinking with him - he'd have one beer and call it a night - and he clearly can't bowl. But he is strong enough to let successes go by without glorying in them, and when failures come he will bear their burden. We don't want to blame a friend. But a hero can take it.

It was our reckless decision to elect our drinking buddy in 2000 and hand him the keys at the end of the night, too. We recognized our mistake. It was John McCain's inability to note the sea-change, and try to win the 2000 election all over again, that doomed his campaign.

You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

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