Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Zombie Mac

Unlike Kevin Drum, I'm one of those Dems who caught a mild case of JohnnyMac fever back in the day. I voted for him in the 2000 primary and flirted with the idea of voting for him in the general had he won, though, truth be told, bitter impeachment memories surely would have kept me, despite my wandering eye, a loyal donkey. McCain impressed me with his reformist zeal and his willingness to take on bloated targets in his own party, including "agents of intolerance" Falwell and Robertson. But he really won my respect over the next three and a half years, a period when most Dems in Congress were rolling over and playing dead, leaving McCain to lead the anti-Bush resistance on issues like taxes, campaign finance, and torture. He won some and lost some, but at least he put up a fight.

Then everything fell apart in 2004. Johnny lost his mojo. In retrospect, it is quite clear what happened, although no one seems to be reporting on this. It all began when McCain called up Kerry to initiate talks about joining the ticket as VP, reprising caucus-switch conversations he had held with Tom Daschle three years earlier. Obviously, it didn't happen. The press has never really gotten at what went down, and their interest has been mild at best. But the answer is pretty obvious. McCain made a rational calculation that if he took the VP slot he'd never get his own shot at president--he'd be too old to run in 2012, his first real opening--except, of course, if his friend John Kerry died, something no one with any decency would want to pin their hopes upon. So, despite a wandering eye, he stayed a loyal elephant.

This was the first of many raw calculations on McCain's part. He started buddying up to Bush, so we got degrading campaign shots of fealty hugs. He started pulling his punches in the Senate, backing down on torture, habeas and other rule of law fundamentals. Then he went hard right on the war to pander to the GOP base and cut off charges that he was a disloyal squish. Now, each one of these moves was as necessary as it was disheartening, and I've had the queasy sensation of watching a basically good man with a heroic past sell his soul for a shot at glory. So here we are. 2008. And McCain is running a deeply nasty campaign, one long on confusion, lies, fear, and resentment, but shockingly short on anything like an idea or a noble cause. Can a man fuel an entire presidential run on nothing but bluster and churlishness? He's Surgey McSurge, desperately trying to bluff his lone face card into a royal flush. Forgive the mixed metaphors, but whenever I see McCain on TV now I see a zombie, a pale, fleshy replicant of his once charming former self who lurches right, right, right while droning on about wanting to eat Obama's brain.

Ironically, McCain's claim to election entitlement rests on his life of "sacrifice," a point that Michael Crowley explores beautifully in his recent TNR story ("Salter Ego") on McCain's "brain," Mark Salter, the man who forged McCain's hero image as his top adviser and regular co-author. As Crowley writes, "nothing seems to rile up Salter like Obama himself. . . . In the Salter narrative, the self-sacrificing war hero could not meet a better foil than the Obamamaniacs' narcissistic world of Facebook and YouTube and Scarlett Johnansson."

It is certainly true that McCain has lived a life of sacrifice. But the sacrifices that got him the GOP nomination are not the ones that Salter wraps in flags of sepia. They are the ones where he compromised his judgment to George Bush, FOX News, and the "conservative movement" juggernaut. Meanwhile, it is true that Obama has sacrificed relatively little in a rise that now eclipses McCain's. He seems effortless, a man of flesh and blood, comfortable in his own skin, the rare national politician unafraid to use his own brain. What self-respecting zombie wouldn't try to crush that hope before collapsing resentfully into the grave?


At 9:11 AM, Blogger fronesis said...

Nice post, tmcd. You lay out a very convincing narrative here, one that explains a lot of things that have never made much sense to me.

At 12:34 AM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

Thanks, Fro. As bad as McCain's campaign is right now, and as much as I want Big O to win and win big, I'd really hoped for something better from Johnny Mac. After 8 years of shit salad in the White House, we deserve a campaign where we can come away respecting both candidates.

Given McCain's past, I thought there was a half decent chance we'd get one. But the Bush GOP is a giant shit storm that sucks everything into its crapulous vortex. It has the gravitational force of a black hole and the moral sense to match. I'm afraid Johnny flew too close to the dying sun.


Post a Comment

<< Home