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Change You Can See

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

It looks as though the game is almost over for John McCain. Though the two are physically dissimilar I’ve taken to thinking of him  as a latterday Flashman. Harry Flashman was the bully in Thomas Hughes’ Victorian novel of school life, Tom Brown’s Schooldays. In 1969 George MacDonald Fraser brought him back to vibrant life in his novel Flashman as a coward and bounder who, by a series of accidents, became falsely honored as a national hero, awarded the Victoria Cross for supposedly heroic conduct in the first Afghan War.

Fraser wrote a dozen Flashman novels, all of them worth reading for their rich historical detail. They are indeed the sole basis for most Britons’ knowledge of their imperial history, much as my own generation of schoolchildren got their learning from the sagas of G.A.Henty, inherited from their grandparents. For insight into the emotions we relied on the profound works of Enid Blyton, the Marcel Proust of the nursery set.

When he was at Annapolis Naval Academy McCain had enough emotional scars of his own to earn the Flashmanesque nickname of McNasty. By the time he was flying his A-4 off the Forrestal he’d already acquired a somewhat unsavory reputation as a rash flier (three planes damaged or destroyed) and  as a relentless party boy.

On July 29, 1967 there was a terrible fire on the flight deck of the Forrestal in which 134 servicemen died. If you believe Mary Hershberger’s unsparing account on the truthdig website – to be fair, there are vigorous and detailed denunciations of her report by McCain’s defenders – imprudent actions by McCain may have started the fire. What seems undisputed is his extremely Flashmanesque behavior in the immediate aftermath of the lethal inferno. McCain promptly quit the stricken ship with the late R.W. “Johny” Apple Jr., of the New York Times, who wrote him up in handsome terms a few weeks later.

Thee flames still smouldering and the body bags barely zipped, McCain bounded into a helicopter and flew to Saigon for, in his own breezy words, “some welcome R&R”, even as somber memorials for his dead shipmates were held aboard the Forrestal. Flashman to the life.

He then raced to London for an important private session with the man who would preside over the  inquiry into the Forrestal disaster, the officer in question being his own father, Admiral John McCain, at that time the Navy’s top man in Europe, soon to become overall commander of all forces in Vietnam. Having squared accounts with the pater, he took himself off for a session in the casinos in the French Riviera. Under Admiral McCain’s supervision the investigation into the Forrestal disaster contained no revelations inconvenient to McCain Jr’s reputation. Admiral McCain had a banner year in 1967 supervising cover-ups since he  played a central role in the cover-up of Israel’s deliberate attack on the US Liberty, which had occurred a month earlier than the fire on the Forrestal, killing 34  and wounding 174.

Redeployed aboard the Oriskany, he was shot down over Hanoi. Numerous accounts cited by Douglas Valentine  on this site attest to his less than heroic conduct as a POW, ingratiating himself with his captors just as Harry Flashman would have done. Flashman, gazing down cynically at his own V.C. would certainly have laughed uproariously at the resplendent rows of decorations on McCain’s chest, a medal an hour, for the total of 10 hours and 30 minutes he spent dropping high explosive on civilians in North Vietnam.

McCain returned home to wife Carol who had kept the home fires burning all those years, undergoing the torture of 23 operations after a car accident that left her semi-crippled.

After brisk inspection of his worn bride, he judiciously abandoned Carol for the much younger and extremely rich beer heiress, Cindy Hensley and embarked on his political career as maverick and war hero.

Pure Flashman throughout.

The disadvantages of the McCain-Pailin ticket don’t need much explication. McCain has never risen to the challenge of the world financial crisis and this failure has shrivelled his chances to near invisibility. Though Sarah  Pailin has enough horse sense to attack Wall Street greed, it’s a brave and foolish soul who would argue that she will ever be ready to run the country, which in the unlikely event  of Republican victory she might well have to do. So we’re left with Obama-Biden.

Biden need not detain us. In his single person is  combined everything that is loathsome about the Democratic Party. He’s a phony through and through, serf of the credit companies and virtually incapable of opening his mouth without unleashing a falsehood, a plagiarism or an absurdity. On his criminal record are the bankruptcy bill, many horrible statutes prosecuting the war on drugs, the crime bill.

And Obama? Here are some excerpts from what I wrote about him recently in The Nation.

“In these last days I’ve been scraping around, trying to muster a single positive reason to encourage a vote for Obama. Please note my accent on the positive, since the candidate himself has couched his appeal in this idiom. Why vote for Obama-Biden, as opposed to against the McCain-Palin ticket?

“Obama invokes change. Yet never has the dead hand of the past had a “reform” candidate so firmly by the windpipe.

“Is it possible to confront America’s problems without talking about the arms budget, now entirely out of control? The Pentagon is spending more than at any point since the end of World War II. In “real dollars” – admittedly an optimistic concept these days — the $635 billion appropriated in fiscal 2007 is 5 percent above the previous all-time high, reached in 1952. Depending on how you count them, the Empire has somewhere between 700 and 1,000 overseas bases.

“Obama wants to enlarge the armed services by 92,000. He pledges to escalate the US war in Afghanistan; to attack Pakistan’s sovereign territory if it obstructs any unilateral US mission to kill Osama bin Laden; and to wage a war against terror in a hundred countries, creating for this purpose a new international intelligence and law enforcement “infrastructure” to take down terrorist networks. A fresh start? Where does this differ from Bush’s commitment to Congress on September 20, 2001, to an ongoing “war on terror” against “every terrorist group of global reach” and “any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism”?

“If elected he will be prisoner of his promise that on his watch Afghanistan will not be lost, nor the white man’s burden shirked.

“In the event of Obama’s victory, the most immediate consequence overseas will most likely be brusque imperial reassertion.

“In February, seeking a liberal profile in the primaries, Obama stood against warrantless wiretapping. His support for liberty did not survive its second trimester; he aborted it with a vote for warrantless wiretapping. The man who voted to reaffirm the awful Patriot Act declared that ‘the ability to monitor and track individuals who want to attack the United States is a vital counterterrorism tool.’

“As a political organizer of his own advancement, Obama is a wonder. But I have yet to identify a single uplifting intention to which he has remained constant if it has presented the slightest risk to his advancement. Summoning all the optimism at my disposal, I suppose we could say he has not yet had occasion to offend two important constituencies and adjust his relatively decent stances on immigration and labor-law reform. Public funding of his campaign? A commitment made becomes a commitment betrayed, just as on warrantless eavesdropping. His campaign treasury is now a vast hogswallow that, if it had been amassed by a Republican, would be the topic of thunderous liberal complaint.

“In substantive terms Obama’s run has been the negation of almost every decent progressive principle, a negation achieved with scarcely a bleat of protest from the progressives seeking to hold him to account. The Michael Moores stay silent. Abroad, Obama stands for imperial renaissance. He has groveled before the Israel lobby and pandered to the sourest reflexes of the cold war era. At home he has crooked the knee to bankers and Wall Street, to the oil companies, the coal companies, the nuclear lobby, the big agricultural combines. He is even more popular with Pentagon contractors than McCain, and has been the most popular of the candidates with K Street lobbyists. He has been fearless in offending progressives, constant in appeasing the powerful.”
I suggested that for a souvenir of what a progressive platform might look like people might consult Ralph’s website, or – at least for those portions about foreign policy and constitutional rights, Bob Barr.

Listening to my complaints about Obama, a friend of mine in New York asked what alternative I had to recommend her. Since in New York  the split for Obama-Biden  is roughly 65-29 I told her it didn’t matter. She could write in the straight Wiccan ticket if she felt so inclined. (Not a bad platform either, as she duly reminded me: “Do as you will, as long as it harms none.”) It wouldn’t make any difference, any more than it would in California, where you can vote for Nader or Barr or McKinney and Obama is going to win regardless. In most states in the Union you can write in the Bertie Wooster/Jeeves ticket, and even without your vote Obama-Biden will canter home. So get out there and have fun and don’t feel excessively  burdened by responsibility to History – always a left-wing failing.

And wouldn’t Barr be the first mustachioed occupant of the White House since Teddy Roosevelt?   Even if you don’t like the man, vote the mustache! This would be change we can see. Does that phrase have a vaguely familiar ring? It was what LBJ used to advise his staff during the Great Society build-up: “You’ve gotta give them change they can see.” Meaning bridges, roads, new parks. Apparently the Obama pre-transition team is studying the early days of the New Deal and Great Society programs as thematic precursors for their initial two years — before they lose one house of Congress, I suppose. I like freshman Montana Senator John Tester’s notion of change we’d like to see. Tester said people “want to see the executives that drove Wall Street into the ground in orange suits picking up cans along the side of the road.” He’s got a hugely popular reception for that thought.

If the new Obama administration has got any sense at all, it’ll start planning a series of show trials of the ci-devant Masters of the Universe, now delightedly fingering the billions handed them by Hank Paulson and the US Congress. If they get a veto proof majority the ground work could start in the Senate, in a committee armed with subpoena power. If not, in some Partisan Commission, taking testimony around the country. Or both. This is the moment to fix in the popular mind for the next couple of generations exactly who are the malefactors of great wealth along with their intellectual courtiers. Stake out the battlefield, otherwise the enemy will stake it out for you.  For sure, it would be divisive. Division and unity go arm in arm.

A Matter of Life or Death

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ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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