Getting inside John McCain: squaring the “Hero” and his “greatest moral failure”.

John and Carol McCain 1965

John and Carol McCain 1965

Following on from my earlier “John McCain” post:

The 2000 Bush-Rove smear of John McCain: I could not (would not?….anyway, DID not…) forgive Bush-Rove for their outrageous and disgusting 2000 smear of McCain. Some things cannot be passed over.

And it was well-known that McCain was deeply angered by it, and reportedly did not and would not speak to Bush for years. This –by general assent– was only right and proper, and he had most people’s sympathy.

But then comes a shameful McCain reversal –his pathetic and spineless SUCK UP to Bush, in 2004 I believe it was.

There he was on the stage campaigning for the calumnious Bush, and, in full view of the camera, shamefully allows Bush to hug him and kiss him on the forehead!
It was such a betrayal!

In the often debasing world of politics, this for me was the very worst kind of debasement: I could not imagine anything more shameful for Bush –or for McCain.

I said to myself: John McCain –how COULD you!

And I also said to myself: So, John McCain….I take it you are running for president in 2008. This is the deal you have made with Bush and the establishment –support me now, says Bush, if you want my support, not my active opposition, in 2008.

That public kiss on the forehead–from the man who smeared you, and who arguably stole the presidency from you– was the shameful branding of the “maverick” The fake-maverick!

As I said: this was a betrayal. This kiss was a Judas-kiss.

Too strong, some of you say?

Clearly, I don’t agree. For me, that was the point at which the real McCain disappeared, and the McCain who would do anything to win popped up. It was the unmasking of McCain the Fake.
It was indeed shameful.

Yes, there are many fakes in our world of politics. But the greatest fakes of all –I really believe– are the ones who fake being real!
Let’s call them what they are –The Real Fakes! The Fakes Who Fake Being Real!

I’m sorry, John McCain, but in that kiss you revealed yourself –no Hero, no Maverick.

What drove you? Blind ambition? We hear that as far back as Vietnam that you were telling your fellow prisoners in Hanoi that one day you would be President –an ambition which you pursued in your later life at great cost to your principles
(Clearly, ambition is not a disqualifier, to be sure. But –in the political world at least, especially when the stakes are so high, surely ambition must be held up to intense scrutiny. That Do-Anything-To-Win Ambition, that blind, compulsive ambition, does not serve us well; has not served us well. It should be seen as a character flaw, not a positive.
And we haven’t proved all that effective in probing ambition as a potential character flaw.)

To return to the idea of the Fakes-Who-Fake-Being-Real.

We’ve had something of a parade of Fakes recently. Two who I found especially troubling, indeed shocking (–and even embarrassing) this year were Democrats Eliot Spitzer, Governor of New York, and John Edwards the Democratic contender.

(Note: Both Democrats, you will notice: I do strongly believe that to properly discuss these matters, we need as much personal integrity as we can muster. We should consider ourselves –indeed, should require ourselves– to be above being partisan. To be compulsively partisan –that is, always and predictably on one side of the argument– is, I believe, to be without integrity, particularly intellectual integrity.)

Frankly, I could not believe it when Eliot Spitzer’s shockingly immature behavior was revealed. The arrogance! The stupidity! The immaturity! ( And the deception!)

I had been a great supporter of Eliot Spitzer. I thought he was just the sort of person we needed in high office!

Don’t we require some maturity on the part of our representatives. (Or, at least, shouldn’t we?)

And Edwards: oddly enough, though I had always been an admirer of John Edwards’s platform, I had been aware, and even troubled, for quite some time, that I myself did not feel drawn to him as a person. (Now, of course, I can hardly bear to look at the guy.)

What a disappointment he turned out to be! To me his deceit seems almost pathalogical. We will not pretend to be naive about the nature of the urges and appetites involved here, and indeed the so- called “extenuating circumstances” that some people extended to Edwards (and that Edwards apparently extended to himself –witness his minimizing remark about Elizabeth’s cancer going into remission ; what was he doing? celebrating the good news with his infidelity?)

How could somebody ALLOW themselves to do what he did? Especially when they pretend to high office? Just consider: if things had worked out only slightly differently, Edwards would have ended up being nominated and then –upon being outed– HANDING the 2008 Presidency to Bush 3.)

How did we miss it? How did he deceive us? (You will, I hope, forgive me if I tell you that The National Enquirer is not my idea of a “usually reliable source”, even if in this case there really was a wolf….)

Yes, we generally hesitate to pry into someone’s personal life, and we should. But we have to be clear on the real issues. And, in Edward’s case, the issue was –for me– the contradiction in his behavior of ‘privately’ cheating on Elizabeth (her breast-cancer did seem to make his betrayal worse) while proclaiming that he was the one we could really trust. He was for the little guy.

As you may have noticed, I am experiencing a certain difficulty in articulating my point here, largely –I think– because I am invoking cultural/societal standards that our culture/society is in the middle of re-examining and/or redefining –if only by default!

Again, back to John McCain.

We have just been through hearing at the Republican Convention about John McCain the Hero –his five and a half years of torture at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors, his courageous resistance to them, his honorable (far, far above the call of duty) refusal to accept favors from his captors regarding an early release.

My big question: did they overdo it? Or is it something that can’t be repeated too often? Something that NEEDS to be repeated again and again?
The point has been made: what about all his other POW colleagues? Weren’t they all together in this? Weren’t they –just as equally– all heroes?

We have very few American Heroes from the Vietnam War –considering the long duration of it, and the enormous loss of American lives.
There is always, of course, John Kerry, who actually did an act of undeniable bravery by turning around his Swiftboat in the Mekong to rescue his man who had fallen in the water and was under fierce fire from the enemy. ( And let me interject here: let us not forget –we all saw how much Kerry’s heroism was “admired” by his Republican opponents in the 2004 election. They all –what was the obligatory insincerity?– “honored his service to our country”, before they ripped poor Kerry to shreds.)
The point was made recently (by General Wesley Clarke, I believe it was) that McCain was not so much a hero, because he had been shot down. Presumably Clarke was attempting to make a distinction between the “active”-bravery of Kerry’s decision to go back to try to save his colleague, and McCain’s being more “passive” –he did not, after all, decide to be shot-down.

To my mind, regardless of the relevance of Clarke’s active/passive distinction –and I think there is some substance to his point– and whether we are comfortable comparing the heroisms of McCain and Kerry –comparisons, most of us would probably agree, are probably odious in this instance– there can be little doubt that, by all accounts, John McCain behaved with considerable bravery in the face of his long prison ordeal.
And –considering the shifting “loyalties”– these things can become very complicated. Let us not forget that some of McCain’s Republican Primary opponents suggested that his experience in the Hanoi prison had “driven him nuts”. And McCain himself has tried to explain some “contradictory” behavior of his in prison, as him feeling guilty and setting out to antagonize his guards so that they would torture him.
There seemed to have been more than a whiff of sado-masochism involved here –if not in the prison in Hanoi, then certainly in the convention hall in St. Paul. And possibly in both.

It seems that the phrase “the fog of war” was invented to blur details and responsibilities for just such occasions.

And there is another dynamic that is very much in play in considering what appears to be the rather complicated psychology of John McCain. He has on many occasions shown himself quite prepared to dangle his ordeal of “Five and a half Years of Torture” like a trump card to win his point in a variety of situations involving lesser (draft-dodging, Woodstock-indulging, lily-livered etc. etc.) mortals. And to very much enjoy the dangling.
And, further, it may well be that it was his intention at the Republican Convention to make uncomfortable that august and famous club of draft-dodgers headed by George Bush himself.
(Payback is mine, saith the Lord.)

John McCain came home in 1973; he shook hands with Richard Nixon (there is a notable photograph of him in crutches, white-haired, looking utterly emaciated). After an interim, he made his way into the world of politics; he married and moved to Arizona, where he became a member of Congress in 1982, and four years later, a Senator, and where he has been ever since.

His particular narrative starts with the privileged beginnings of being grandson and son to famous and highly regarded Admirals. It goes on to him being hailed as a Hero of the Vietnam War, and coming home after he is released from the Hanoi Prison. And then goes on to a career of public service in Washington in service to his adopted state of Arizona.

Because the story of his Heroism has been told over and over again, especially this week –apparently, he and those concerned with running his current 2008 campaign, and winning the Presidency, have decided to tell the whole nation the story of his Heroism. We were spared few details: Fred Thompson in his speech told us about “the boils as big as balls” in McCain’s armpits.

(The southern cast of Fred’s accent -which apparently cannot, or will not, make a recognizable distinction between “OIL” and “ALL”, caused me a little momentary confusion. I remember in the past experiencing difficulty in understanding what Southerners meant by the ALL- Business.)

But –I still had a huge shock in store for me.

It came, right out of left field: a story, mostly assiduously concealed from all and sundry. Or, whenever it did emerge ever so slightly, being apparently oh-so-artfully deflected.

This story concerned the essential details of John McCain’s two marriages. Yes, he was married twice: to Carol in 1965, and to Cindy in 1980.

Those of you who heard (as I did) or saw the recent Saddleback Church interviews by pastor Rick Warren, will recall that, at one stage Pastor Warren asked him, John McCain, what he regarded (a) as his own greatest moral failure, and (b) the moral failure of America.

Here is McCain’s reply:
“My greatest moral failing –and I have been a very imperfect person– is the failure of my first marraige. It’s my greatest moral failure.”

But –that was it. No details.
He quickly passed on, in his very next sentence, to talk about America’s failure to serve “causes greater than our self-interest.”
And then he followed that with what he himself described as “pandering” by praising Pastor Warren’s latest book.

Wait a minute!

John McCain’s “greatest moral failure” was his first marriage?

What could he mean by that? Many of us have “failed marriages”; such failures may indeed represent moral failures of one kind or another. It’s a fairly common feature of life today.
But –“greatest moral failure”? What was McCain referring to?

A little momentary diversion here to make a point: I consider myself something of a student of language, especially of what I will term people’s “language behavior”.
I find it especially fascinating –and revealing– to observe the verbal “structures” that people employ to deny responsibility, to justify their own actions (or in-actions), to excuse themselves.
Since we all have some problem –some of us more than others, no doubt– in owning up to and taking responsibility, we will often observe an apparent unwillingness to delve behind the rationalizations and excuses of the people we like or sympathize with. Indeed, often, a marked reluctance to do so.
Call it the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” syndrome.

Of course, if we don’t like the other person, we are much more likely to delve, to question.
(Which is why it is important to be liked.
Or to ingratiate ourselves.
Or to be propitiative.)

I noticed that John McCain invariably used one particular construction when he referred to taking responsibility for the Iraq war –for all the deaths, both American and Iraqi, and also the enormous drain of our American tax dollars. The blood and the treasure.
McCain invariably used just one phrase: “Of course, there were enough mistakes to go round.”

That’s it! “Enough to go ’round?” It’s quite brilliant! He SEEMS to be owning up to and taking responsibility for his part in the mistakes. But of course he isn’t. There were, he said, simply “enough mistakes to go around”! He admits to getting nothing wrong himself. And in fact he never once pointed a finger at anyone else.

I noticed at the same time (and this presumably could be checked) that George Bush –who himself quite pathologically has NEVER admitted to us to making a single mistake (Bush is by FAR the worst: I think it probably has to do with being Commander-in-Chief; The Decider; Talking to His Real Father)e– briefly took to employing a similar construction.

Bush’s version was: “Mistakes were made.”

Again, by no-one in particular, and certainly not by him. I remember writing about this in an earlier blog, which one might search for.

The AVOIDANCE OF RESPOSIBILITY on the part of George W. Bush and John McCain is, I believe, utterly PATHOLOGICAL.
And it speaks to the essential IMMATURITY of both Bush and McCain.

Which explains the Alice-in-Wonderland nature of McCain’s Acceptance Speech. As wily old Bill Clinton observed: “They want us to reward them for the last 8 years by giving them 4 more.”


In my next posting, I will tell you all what I discovered when I went digging for what John McCain described as his “greatest moral failure”.

A confession that he doesn’t want us to hear? To know about? McCain is telling us: “I’ve been a very imperfect person. Now –no further questions. I want to be President.”

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