John McCain is a scumbag.
I choose my words carefully, and in full recognition of past sacrifices and contributions he has made.
But I am sick to death of seeing my country go down the toilet. And I am sick to death of my country wrecking other parts of the world. And I am sickest-at-heart of all that the people doing this represent the sleaziest side of American politics.
These are the Karl Rove acolytes, who learned their craft from the Lee Atwater team, who learned from the Nixon ratfucker squad. From there it may go directly back to Satan, for all I know, possibly with a stopover at Joe McCarthy’s desk.
There will always be people like this. Alleged humans who are willing to do anything to win at politics. Fine, we can’t control that. But it says everything about any candidate when he or she puts people like this in charge of their campaign. And it says everything about us as a society that we would ever let those who do so win the highest offices in the land, let alone frequently.
Hence, my comment about McCain. It has now become transparently clear that this man will do anything to be president. Whatever scraps of decency and uniqueness and detachment from his own sick party he once had have now all been mortgaged against that goal. The McCain who once knew Bush’s tax cuts were irresponsible now favors them, despite eight years of direct evidence turning informed speculation about potential consequences into historical fact. The McCain who once criticized the sex-obsessed theocrats running his party as “agents of intolerance” now seeks their endorsement. The McCain who once stood for a cleaner politics is now firmly ensconced in the sewer, from whence he is reaching down and hurling great gobs and handfuls of what flows all around him.
It was not enough that he mocked Obama for not going to Iraq, only then to whine about how Obama was grandstanding when he turned around and went, and everybody from General Petreaus to Prime Minister Maliki to the entire public of Germany made McCain look the fool. It’s not enough that he’s now desperately trying to turn the very fact of Obama’s popularity against him by running ads comparing the Illinois senator to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. And it’s still not even enough that McCain is running ads – based on wholesale and proven lies – that Obama skipped out of meeting with wounded American troops in order to shoot some hoops.
No, what really proved that McCain is a scumbag is the one line – now repeated multiple times – that Obama “would be willing to lose a war in order to win a campaign”. Even if they weren’t just finishing up living through the consequences of precisely such politics for eight years now, Americans should be apoplectic in anger that the same folks are back using the same tricks again. Mostly, though, they should be horrified and enraged that such language could be used in a presidential campaign. They should be precisely as willing to elect any person uttering such disgraceful epitaphs as they would a Holocaust denier, a Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, or a serial pedophile.
This is not a policy difference. This is not a disagreement over issues. This is not even a personal critique of an opponent’s professional or even character-related qualifications for office. This is an outrageous smear of the most vile kind. McCain has said – without a scrap of substantiating evidence to back his claim – that Obama is willing to sacrifice the lives of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens in order to advance his personal career ambitions. How serious an assertion is this? I would regard such alleged behavior as among the most heinous crimes that a person can commit, not different from hiring out a murder. Except, that is, that we’re talking about probably a million murders. I have no doubt, and plenty of solid evidence, that that’s exactly what the Bush people did when they launched their Iraq war based on lies. I have little doubt, and some evidence, that Hillary Clinton and John Edwards and John Kerry committed exactly this crime in voting for the invasion. I think they are all deserving of the gravest punishments, not least including, to start with, a complete banishment from the corridors of power and prestige. These are war criminals, plain and simple. McCain has long been one of them, as one of the war’s most avid backers while surely fully cognizant of the lies forming the pretext for invasion. Now he has doubled down by politicizing yet again the gravest decision a country can ever make.
The weight of ironies here – on top of boundless disgust – are enough to keep a roaring Saturn V stuck on the launch pad. Start with his nauseating new campaign slogan, “Country First”. I’ve news for you, McCainiac. A candidate who really put country first wouldn’t employ Rove-trained scum-slingers to hurl baseless accusations against an opponent, all of which have the effect of massively cheapening America’s political process. Many people alive today don’t remember that there actually was a time – before Rove, before Bush and his father, before Atwater, before Nixon – when this sort of campaign ploy was considered way beyond the pale of decency. There was a reason for that, and we need to return to that ethos for precisely that reason. Willingness to campaign in such a fashion is highly corrosive to the fabrics of decency, respect and trust that are the necessary foundations upon which democracy ultimately rests. Take those away by legitimating and rewarding such vile tactics, and you’re ultimately left with a tattered democracy, if any at all. Country first? No, John – you’ve actually done just the opposite. When you claim that your opponent is sacrificing people’s lives and American national security to win a campaign without having any evidence for that claim, you’ve put your own desperation to be president well ahead of the country you claim to love by undermining its democracy and by you, yourself, using the war to score political points.
This is all the more ironic because McCain knows better than anyone the consequences of politicizing war. He spent six-and-a-half years being tortured under the ugliest kinds of physical and mental duress. He has since become something of a student of the conflict in which he made these great sacrifices, the Vietnam War. If he were honest enough to allow himself to go there, he would admit the truths of that war which are undeniably supported by the documentary record, including the government’s own secret history of Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers. What these reveal is that McCain – along with many other POWs and MIA, 58,000 Americans killed, tens of thousands more gravely wounded, and perhaps several million dead Vietnamese – was a victim of precisely the same sort of politicking of war that he and his president and his party have now brought to the lucky people of Iraq.
We know that governments from Truman to Nixon and every one in between lied to the American people about Vietnam, and not just small lies either. And we know that Lyndon Johnson, the man more responsible for the war than any other person, didn’t even believe that it was a war that could be won, but fought it anyhow, in large part because he believed that commie-baiting Republicans would use the “loss” of Vietnam against him in elections if he didn’t, just as they had earlier with China. Of all people in the world, John McCain should never indulge in this sort of gutter filth. He rotted away the better part of a decade of his own life, mangled and traumatized, in the Hanoi Hilton in order to help Johnson attain his personal prize of another term as president (or so Johnson thought), and because Republicans had politicized national security, also to win elections. Is he okay with that? I’m sure not. I’m not okay for him, nor for any of the John McCains of this world. Short of genocide, what greater possible crime is there than launching a war in order to advance one man’s career ambitions?
A third irony is that while he was bravely serving his country and having his patriotism exploited by political hacks like Johnson and the various mutant would-be humanoids of the GOP, the very people who would later bring us the most recent version of their sociopathic amorality were back then sitting by the sides of swimming pools, sipping margaritas, and making career plans to get rich by hook or crook. George Bush had his daddy get him a free pass. Dick Cheney took five draft deferments. John Ashcroft seven. And so on, and so on. Quick: name one person on the Bush national security team in 2003 who actually showed up for combat when it was his turn. There was only one – Colin Powell – who, while hardly a sweetheart himself, was not coincidentally the only one of all of them to oppose invading Iraq. McCain has hitched his wagon to a whole barnyard full of chickenhawks and their despicable war. The fact that Cheney literally said “I had better things to do in the 60s than fight in Vietnam” tells you something of what these guys must have thought about patriotic patsies like John McCain, who risked their lives in service to their country, just as David Kuo’s insider revelations about how Rove and company secretly mocked the religious right congregations they used as Republican shock troops tells you more of the same.
But it gets a lot worse yet. In irony number four, McCain would be savaged by these vicious thugs once again, and it was for the same mistake of having once served his country. When it looked like he was going to clobber Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries, the serious money made sure that that wouldn’t happen, and that their reliable kleptocrat, Little George, would be ushered into the White House instead. The very same animals who are now mauling Barack Obama on behalf of John McCain were shredding the senator himself on behalf of Bush just eight years ago, falsely accusing McCain in South Carolina of fathering a love child with a black mistress, and of being off his rocker from his POW days. Whatever happy news there is in the fact that a movement this evil will inevitably wind up eating its young, it remains a statement of the sad journey John McCain has taken that he would employ the very same hitmen to now do the same to someone else. Shame on you, John McShameless. Shame on you.
Fifth, it’s both outrageous and outrageously ironic for McCain to level this charge against Obama, as opposed to, say, Clinton or Edwards or Kerry. Of the four of them (and many more), only Obama has always opposed the war. Only Obama had the guts to do so at the beginning, when the Bush people had made that an excruciatingly hard thing to do. True, he wasn’t then in the US Senate, and he didn’t actually have to cast a vote on the issue. Nevertheless, it was pretty widely understood at the time – not least by Rove and the three Democratic would-be presidents listed above – that going on record against the war was the kiss of death for any presidential ambitions. Obama not only took that risk, but he hit it just right, not opposing all wars (for there are rare ones for which the alternative is even worse), but opposing dumb wars, and labeling Iraq just such.
Lastly, the greatest irony of all is that nobody politicized this war more than Republicans did. Bush admitted to an interviewer in 1999 that he would use such a war for purposes of insuring his domestic political power. Cheney literally had a formula of “Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade”. Moreover, if there had ever been any question of why Bush went to Congress for an Iraq war resolution just weeks before the congressional elections of 2002 – thus cynically pinning Democrats between the Scylla of a war they knew was based on lies and the Charybdis of the GOP using national security as a sledgehammer in this first post-9/11 election – it should have long prior been put to rest by Rove’s congressional election briefing plan, which was accidentally leaked, indicating that the party would be using national security issues as its election strategy. Add to all of that the commander-in-chief’s little aircraft carrier landing stunt, the myriad times that the president wrapped himself in the mantle of American soldiers (live and dead), the plastic Thanksgiving turkey, the 2002 abomination against Max Cleland and the 2004 version against John Kerry, and all the rest, and you get a very, very politicized war. Not only should John McCain not be adding to the pile of such disgusting tactics, he should be on his knees begging the country for forgiveness of his party.
But that country – the better country of my youth, frankly, for all its faults – no longer exists. It appears that little can tame the GOP’s taste for the jugular. And, in part, this is not entirely unexpected, since it always freakin’ works. Then again, so does genocide, but many of us have made the amazing moral leap to recognize that not every prize is worth the price paid to obtain it, even if you can manage to get other poor slobs to do the paying. And so we refrain from genocide. Or launching wars to advance our careers.
So, look, it’s now July. McCain has hired the known assassins, and they’ve already begun their work, a fact which became visibly obvious in the massively changed tenor of the McCain campaign this last week or two. So, Barack Baby, do I have to spell it out for you, my man? Can you not see the freight train that is headed your way? Must we have yet another example of Democratic roadkill, to join those of Dukakis, Gore, Cleland, Kerry and the rest, before one of you guys learns to throw a punch or two?
This is your swiftboat moment, dude. John Kerry waited three weeks to respond to the crap they threw at him, after which he might as well have gone off windsurfing and not bothered responding at all. Why are you not shredding McCain for lying about your Iraq trip and the canceled visit to wounded soldiers? (Even the media is pointing that out, despite the fact that they love McCain almost as much as they fear the GOP.) Why are you not disemboweling McCain every day of the week, every week of the month, for his outrageous allegation that you are sacrificing lives in order to win an election?
And why aren’t you on the offensive? McCain has given you openings you should be able to drive a Mack truck through, and you need to be saturating the airwaves with these. Why isn’t every other television commercial a viewer sees one of yours, showing Phil Gramm calling Americans “whiners” for feeling economic pain, showing McCain saying “Gramm doesn’t speak for me”, then noting that Gramm in fact spoke on behalf of McCain to the Wall Street Journal on that very same day? Why aren’t you running ads turning McCain into George Bush’s long lost Siamese twin? Why aren’t you hammering McCain at his point of greatest strength, undercutting his so-called national security credentials by showing clips of all his errors, including before the war began when he said it would go easily, during the early parts when he said it was going fine, his absurdly bogus Baghdad market walk-through, and his myriad recent gaffes which suggest his brain clicked off sometime in the 1980s?
Despite the fact that the candidate has now issued a semi-strong rebuttal spot two weeks into this ugliness, I must say, I liked the Barack Obama of the primary season better than the current model. I liked his politics and his integrity more, but most of all I liked his fighting spirit, and his immediate response to scurrilous attacks.
Now that the attacks have gotten worse, I’m wondering what happened to that guy?
Hey Barrackis: One Dukakis is per lifetime is more than enough.
McCain and his Gang of Rove have more than transcended the threshold of decency these past weeks, and have done so repeatedly.
It’s time for you to take him down.
DAVID MICHAEL GREEN is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (firstname.lastname@example.org), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.