Monday, December 19, 2005
McCain: The Hero as Opportunist
Nothing that has gone into making one a hero extends immunity over other facets of faulty judgment and bad character. Rudy Giuliani, who tamed New York and cleaned up Times Square, behaved with coolness and courage on 9/11 in the face of crisis, still carries within his psyche the madcap who married first his cousin (before discovering their relationship) during his tenure, then an ex-TV anchor-woman who starred in The Vagina Monologues before finally living with and marrying a third. Character doesnt trump aberrant behavior. Notwithstanding, Giuliani has the dash and excitement to make a first-rate presidential candidate (and possibly a terrific president). Given that the president must often show creativity in response to danger and leap over bureaucracy with a single bound, must risk scorn to protect the nation (as Bush has demonstrated), there is little doubt that Giuliani has the wherewithal to do thatif. If he could adopt a social view that would appeal to the most significant element of the Republican base. Whether he will is anyones guess.
Given needed social policy adjustment, Giuliani would have little or no trouble being accepted by the GOPs dominant conservative base. Even now with notable policy imperfections, Giuliani has become an icon for the right. He returned the cesspool on the Hudson to a reasonable facsimile of orderbucking everything the cyclonic liberal winds in his city could throw at him. There is little doubt that his views on the judiciary are conservative (he selected and processed judges as associate AG under Reagan). There is every reason to expect that his views on fighting terrorism are intense and identical to Bushs. He is more conservative than Bush on some things: his mayoral action showing that he believes that the arts that accept public funds must have respect for public civilityor sacrifice the funds (on which Bush has been silent). In fact, in a head-to-head match with Hillary Clinton, even if he were not to change his social stance, conservatives would have no trouble in making their choice.
Not so with John McCain. McCains bravery as a prisoner-of-war is well known and hugely celebrated: in particular his rejection of the offer to be freed before his colleagues due to his being the son of an admiral. But this exemplary action should not be considered, by itself, a recommendation for the presidency: after all, Americans loved George Patton in World War II but would not have relished putting him in the presidency after they discovered he believed that he had an earlier life as a member of Julius Caesars legions, nor Sergeant York. Not so well known is the details in the book The Nightingales Song by Robert Timberg [Simon & Schuster: 1995], an award-winning journalist, Naval Academy graduate, Marine veteran of Vietnam who was The Baltimore Suns White House correspondent during the Reagan years. Timbergs book shows how, after returning from Vietnam, McCain ditched his wife for one presumptive reason that since she was seriously injured in an automobile accident while he was away changing her drastically from the Long, Tall Sally he dreamed of as a captive, turning into a woman shorter, older and crippled. Carol McCain maintains that the divorce had more with John at age 40 wanting to be 25 again. Whatever. McCain says she has a right to be bitter whatever that means: what is incontrovertible is that he felt he did not love her anymore. The book is balanced but portions can be seen as a raking condemnation of McCain, written long before there was a hint of McCain as a presidential candidate.
Some presidential campaigns concerning war heroes have a way of bringing them crashing back to earth. Admiral George Dewey, the hero of Manila Bay, was destined to be the consummate hero in the style of Washington, Jackson and Grant only to goof it up by announcing his amazingly ill-considered view of the presidency: as one who would merely enforce the laws already put on the books, so no big deal. McCain has gotten away with much and the time is fast coming when he will be held to account. He was, after all, one of the Keating Five. To rectify that, he became an overnight reformer and co-author of the McCain Feingold bill which throttles First Amendment liberties. There is very little of the moderate anything in John McCain: in Washington hes known as an insatiable media freak with a yen to be loved by liberals. The arrogant young fly-jockey in Timbergs book who crashed frequently including on a carrier due to his carelessness, has become the Senator who doesnt care much about the nuances of legislation that endangers American security, so long as he gets face-time on TV. Hes amazingly non-judgmental on issues which gain him attention. The other day he railed at Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Why? Because Stevens wrote into an appropriations bill the famous bete noire of all liberals, the very modest provision allowing drilling in Alaska.
McCain blew up. He shouted that Stevens had put him in a box where he had to vote for the appropriations and take the bad with the good. This is the same McCain who had done exactly the same thing to George W. Bush on the so-called torture provision, tightening it into legislation where it could not be separatedthe same McCain who was heedless of what many experts called a threat to national security. The same McCain who dismissed Charles Krauthammers reasoned column that the law would prevent authorities from forcing a hostage to divulge where he put a ticking time bomb in Manhattan by saying: Oh, if thats the case than tortures o.k. But its not in the bill you grandstanded, Senator. And a cop or federal official whos grilling a suspect will have to risk his career and possible jail time by forcing divulgence of informationall because you wanted a little glory press for 2008.
Theres nothing worse than quashing an examination of John McCain by saying we cant criticize him now or in the future because in captivity thirty years ago he was a hero and the mainstream media have ordained him as their white-haired best hope. The lunging after notoriety and applause from liberal interest groups which is his specialty, his ditching of conservative social values and the unparalleled age starting out in the presidency at age 72 (Reagan was 69) deserves scrutiny.