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With apologies to Churchill (who owed a few of his own): Never have so many been so wrong about so much.
There are few things you’d less rather be right now than a conservative/regressive, and that is why. It’s like the old Firesign Theater bit: Everything You Know Is Wrong. “Dogs flew spaceships! The Aztecs invented the vacation! Men and women are the same sex! Our forefathers took drugs! Yes! That’s right! Everything you know is wrong!”
And, what’s worse, everybody knows it except you. America is turning decisively away from its tragic thirty-year experiment with Reaganism-Bushism, and for very good reason. Regressives have ruled the country more or less unabated (Democrats, the supposed carriers of the liberal torch, were during these last three decades either frightened, centrist or irrelevent – and usually all three at once). Moreover, during the last years especially – the Cringe Decade – the right was particularly forceful, particularly unfettered, particularly successful at having its way, and particularly arrogant in the self-righteous belief in its authority on all things.
Once small problem, though. If you sat down with a pen and paper and tried to invent a more thorough litany of failure on the right’s watch, you’d be hard pressed to top what they’ve actually done. I suppose inadvertently nuking all the major cities of the United States would be worse, but I can’t think of much else. The simple truth is that the regressive movement took a great and proud and prosperous country and ran it into the ditch at 130 miles an hour. Worse yet, for them – and unlike the bad old years of Willie Horton, or invading Panama, or Clinton’s faux scandals – the public isn’t fooled anymore. They had already caught on to the game, in large part, a few years back, which is why Bush has been moribund in the absolute cellar of job approval ratings for almost the entirety of his second term. Things were already tough for the black hats, but then this economic crisis came and walloped people severely, right in the wallet. One thing about Americans – they’re seriously selfish. You take away their reputation and their liberties and their democracy and they might – might! – vote against you. You take away their money, they’ll rip your fucking lungs out, Bro.
And if John McCain seems particularly short on breath of late, that’s why. There’s nothing quite like the total absence of breathing organs to put a crimp in your respiratory function.
But this crackup is way, way bigger than the righteously deserved toilet training of one John Sidney McCain the Third. This is the end of an era, and not a moment too soon. It now looks like Democrats will win a 1932-style, landslide, realigning election (as I predicted one year ago), smashing McCain in both the popular vote and the Electoral College, picking up double-digit seats in the House, and possibly even gaining a filibuster-proof majority of 60 in the Senate. Even Mitch McConnell, a smug horror story of a minority leader for his decrepit party, looks like he’ll be losing his seat, along with such smarmy dreaded incumbents such as Elizabeth Dole and Norm Coleman. This has all the makings of a serious and even perhaps lethal spanking for the hated GOP.
That would leave wishy-washy sometime-conservative Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as the sole remaining bulwark of regressivism in the American government. Which is to say none at all. It used to be said that ‘justices read election results too’, and never was that more true of anyone than of Kennedy, well before this year, but especially now. Even as we speak (and as I also predicted), we’re seeing many on the right scrambling now to reinvent themselves as progressives (for some, like David Brooks or Coleman, who had been lefties back when that was trendy, this represents a reconversion conversion). Anthony Kennedy will surely be on that list. In the 1930s, this same scenario developed, and a troglodyte majority on the Supreme Court started striking down New Deal legislation in a time of massive duress, only to have an angry public, Congress, and highly popular president turn on them. Kennedy won’t make that mistake. He ain’t gonna sacrifice his personal legacy to keep Clarence Thomas pure, that much we can guarantee. Can you imagine, for example, a Democratic Congress vigorously moving national health care, or jobs, legislation, and a Democratic president ceremoniously signing it into law, only for Kennedy to provide the swing vote on the Court striking it down as unconstitutional? Fat chance. The guy’s not suicidal, and he doesn’t want 300 million angry Americans trying to Google his address.
The trajectory of the regressive movement over the last thirty years has led us to this horrid place. At least you could say that their little mini-revolution began with some ideas, however disastrous those were, and however much they always masked the true kleptocratic purpose of the movement. Reagan had his Cold Warrior shtick, along with some notions of political economy he was peddling. Greedy and stupid Americans, their post-war prosperity already perceptibly beginning to slip away in the late 1970s, foolishly bought the whole package – anything to keep the wallet stuffed and the bloated car out of the hands of the repo man. Reagan surely did not win the Cold War, but he surely did exacerbate the steady unraveling of the middle class. The national debt was tripled, while the burden of taxes was shifted from the rich to the non-rich, and organized labor was undermined at every turn. Surprise, surprise – the rich got a lot richer, the poor got poorer, and the middle class stood still.
By the time we got to 2004, the bogus ideas were no longer even bothered with, as the regressive electoral appeal was reduced down to pure lies and a patent appeal to fear. The marketing genius Karl Rove managed to fool all of the people some of the time, and turned war hero John Kerry into someone to be feared and doubted, while war avoider George Bush became GI Joe. That’s a hell of a lot of political detergent to move off of supermarket shelves, but – along with some old-fashioned electoral fraud in Ohio, of course – it worked one last time. Bush bragged about winning political capital to spend in his second term, but you’d have to be as stupid and disingenuous as the little toad himself (the same guy who declared the Iraq war over before it actually began, and who said “You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie”) to have believed that nonsense. The truth was that 2004 was the last gasp of the old black magic, and it just barely worked. Use lies, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and national security bogeymen to scare pathetically ill-informed Americans, and in non-recessionary times you could win another election. Back then, at least.
That game is over now, exhausted for a generation or more, though a shamefully and embarrassingly desperate John McCain is still trying to play it. And why wouldn’t he? If he doesn’t care about his honor and integrity and reputation – and he evidently doesn’t, at least compared to how much he cares about winning the presidency – what else is there for him to do? He can’t run on issues, he can’t run on solutions, he can’t run on his wonderful VP choice, and he can’t run on the peace and prosperity his party has delivered. Indeed, he has to run from all those things. That leaves only one other option, which is for McCain and his team of Rove proteges to do to Obama what Rove himself did to Kerry – that is, sow enough doubt about his trustworthiness in the minds of voters to make them hold their noses and default to the seemingly (but not really) safe choice of the seemingly (but not really) known quantity.
But it’s just not working anymore. In fact, so much is it not working anymore, that nowadays you have regressive politicians and pundits renouncing their own team for trying it. Where were these folks back in 1998 when a group of serious and serial philanderers impeached a president for lying about a blow job? Where were they when Rove and Bush told South Carolinians that McCain had fathered a child with a black mistress, or ridiculed Al Gore for supposedly having claimed to have invented the Internet? Where were they in 2002, when Saxby Chambliss, another Vietnam war avoider, ran ads morphing the face of triple-amputee Vietnam vet Max Cleland into those of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein? And where were they when Rove and Bush were swift-boating Kerry in 2004? I’ll tell you where. They were cheering it all on.
Not so much now. Dylan once said you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but in 2008 you’d have to be an inter-galactic astronaut or the doorkeeper for Cheney’s underground bunker to not know. And so the regressive right blovitoriate is splitting before our very eyes, into two camps. One is the unreconstructed Neanderthal set, like William Kristol and Victor Davis Hanson, who can’t quite believe what they’re seeing (“But this can’t be right – we own the presidency!”), who thought the Sarah Palin pick was just plain inspired, and who are encouraging McCain to stop pussyfooting around already. Kristol, for example, watching it all just melt away, has been furiously trying to find a gambit to keep the regressive dream alive. First he advised McCain to go all Rove on Obama, which McCain did, sending Palin out to describe That One as having ‘palled around with terrorists’. Unreal. You know you’re in deep shit when Sarah Palin is your voice of moral authority (her best line yet has been her claim this week to be relieved that she has been fully exonerated by the Alaska legislature’s corruption probe, which in fact flat-out accused her of breaking the law by abusing power for personal gain).
Anyhow, having realized that Ayers accusations are actually diminishing McCain’s popularity rather than enhancing it, Kristol is now calling for McCain to fire everyone on the staff and for the “competent” McCain and Palin to just do constant press conferences until election day. Nevermind that allowing Palin to talk to the press or public in any unstructured environment would put McCain in danger of being on the ugly side of a fifty-state sweep right now. (You think I’m kidding? McCain is up a whopping six percent in Georgia at the moment, eight percent in Mississippi, and one percent in North Carolina, home of Jesse Helms. He’s currently losing by two points in that bastion of leftist fomentation, that revolutionary hotbed, the People’s Republic of North Dakota.) Perhaps the most amusing line of this entire election cycle came from the McCain campaign staff, (perhaps slightly miffed by the suggestion that they all lose their jobs), who claimed that Kristol, of all people, has now drunk from the cup of Obamania. Wow. Who needs a dictionary definition for paranoia when you’ve got that to work with?
The other great line that Kristol floated as a rationale for voters to choose McCain, and a theme of late among the drowning right-wing punditocracy, is that McCain should argue for votes by saying that he will be there to block what is sure to be a Democratic and – wait for it now – liberal (oooooooh!!) Congress. Let’s leave aside the obvious and traditional solution to such a quandary, which is that McCain could instead simply encourage voters to choose Republicans all up and down the ticket (could there be something toxic about the R-word in 2008?). But even apart from that rather obvious bit of logical lunacy, what sort of frighteningly vapid bonehead do you have to be to think that divided government is a winning notion in 2008? I mean, raise your hand if you think that what Americans want right now, in the middle of multiple crises, including one which is destroying their retirement savings and threatening their jobs, is a gridlocked government in which Congress passes legislation shot down by the president’s veto pen, and the president proposes solutions ignored by a Congress controlled by the other party. Do they really pay these guys big bucks to pen this sort of drivel? These morons are the pundicratic equivalents of Wall Street’s equally brilliant masters of the universe, only in six figures instead of nine.
Take, for example, Victor Davis Hanson, who says that, since the campaigns of previous GOP nominees – ranging from the racism of the Willie Horton project to the swiftboating of war heroes – were worse than the present transgressions, therefore “McCain as a vicious campaigner is a complete fabrication, but, again, a brilliant subterfuge on the part of Team Obama that, in fact, has run, via appendages, the far more vicious race”. Yeah, Cindy McCain said that too, arguing that Obama has run “the dirtiest campaign in American history”. I suppose if you find trouncing her husband to be dirty politics, she’s right. But the notion that a campaign which is trying to win by tying the other guy to an unknown former radical who blew stuff up when the candidate was eight years old is somehow not running a vicious campaign is so big a stretch that not even a lot of regressives will make it anymore. Nevermind that the education commission that both Obama and Ayers served on was a project of the Annenberg family, huge supporters of Reagan and, yes, one John McCain. And nevermind that that means that the Annenbergs, and McCain, and all the conservative members of the commission have, by the same logic, palled around with terrorists at least as much Obama. Oops.
But, for my personal favorite, there’s that famous political philosopher, Ted Nugent (better know to some as a horrid screaming shred-metal rock singer, or an enthusiastic murderer of animals), who advises McCain to go all Reagan and tell the people once again that government is the problem, not the solution. Yep, just as every American is scrambling for a lifeboat in an economic Category 5, and even the Bush administration is doing its very best impression of V. I. Lenin by plunging the government deep into economic interventions, he literally advises McCain to “Tell us the federal government has no business in the home loan industry and that you will take our economy away from the Treasury Department bureaucrats and give it back to the bankers, stockbrokers and company leaders that have made our economy thrive since Alexander Hamilton served at Treasury.” Hey, Ted, you forgot pedophiles and serial murderers on your list of popular people right now! Stockbrokers? Yes! CEOs? Yes! Oh please, John McCain, please. Please sing their praises in the closing weeks of the campaign. Just because Ted Nugent seems like the very antithesis of a thoughtful political theorist, just because he seems like a metal-headed rocker who has turned it up to eleven once too many times, I guarantee you, John, that he is not. Your can win the presidency if you’ll just follow his advice and talk incessantly about all the heroic stockbrokers and CEOs you’ll put in your cabinet! This will really resonate with American voters right now!! Maybe you could even pardon some of those Enron guys and put them to work running the country. (Again.)
Meanwhile, the other faction of the wrong-wingers are leaving the sinking ship as quick as they can and hoping nobody notices. Like David Brooks, for example, who called Palin “a fatal cancer to the Republican Party” and is otherwise similarly leaving behind his old comrades on the right in article after article he authors. Or Frank Schaeffer, who describes himself as a “lifelong Republican, [who] worked to get [McCain] elected instead of George W. Bush” in 2000, but who now writes: “John McCain: If your campaign does not stop equating Sen. Barack Obama with terrorism, questioning his patriotism and portraying Mr. Obama as “not one of us”, I accuse you of deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate, and therefore of potentially instigating violence.” Ouch. Or, Christopher (son of William F.) Buckley, who has endorsed Obama, only to be driven out of the National Review, the conservative journal famously launched by his father back (to the future) at a time when no one was listening to such gibberish. According to Young Buck, he’s “been effectively fatwahed by the conservative movement” ever since his act of great apostasy. That’s a great line, as was the entirety of Buckley’s hilariously accurate and embarrassingly realistic script for “Thank You For Smoking”. Memo to regressives: It’s not a real good idea to piss off people with such sharp skewering knives. Meanwhile, welcome to the sanity club, Chris. We hope you’ll stay a while. You’ll always be welcome among the fast-exploding ranks of the reality-based community.
So grim has the McCain campaign become, and so diminished are the fortunes of the regressive right, that people are jumping ship now as if they owned stock in General Motors. And why wouldn’t they? This last week in particular has been one of the most horrible ever in American politics. You could start with the fact that a grossly under-qualified nominee for Vice President is already nearly being indicted for abuse of power, and she hasn’t even hit Washington yet. So far, that’s just a reflection on the grossly under-honorable man who selected her, purely to benefit his own career aspirations. But when you add in the fierce devotion that Palin engenders among the legions of the scary right, you can really get depressed.
All of this was on such full display this week that even John ‘Say Anything’ McCain seemed taken aback at one or two events. I think he realized just who it is that his campaign is attracting nowadays. I think he realized his complicity in fomenting such visceral hatred that we now see people attending rallies of one of the two mainstream parties in America screaming out “terrorist” and “kill him” with respect to the man they’re introducing as Barack Hussein Obama. I think he was a little shell-shocked that not only members of his own party were publicly rebuking him, but civil rights hero John Lewis compared him to the racist monster George Wallace. This would be especially devastating if it had occurred in an America where people paid attention to politics, since McCain had just recently named Lewis as one of a few people whose advice he would seek out were he president. That comment, uttered just last August, was already an odd remark, since Lewis is a liberal Democrat, and McCain once opposed making Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday, and because Lewis let on directly afterwards as to how McCain had never sought him out even for small talk during the two decades they’ve both served in Congress. But now, of course, it’s even more absurd, because the first bit of advice Lewis offered caused the McCain camp to go insane and demand that Obama rebuke Lewis, even though the two have nothing particularly to do with one another.
The truth is that a guy who once possessed a broad reputation for decency and integrity, deserved or not, came to grips this week with the realization that he is not only losing his last bid ever for the presidency, but that he is losing his honor as well. McCain knows that he will not only go down in history as a two-time presidential loser, but also as yet another hate-mongering, horror-show, thug graduate from the McCarthy/Nixon/Atwater/Rove/Schmidt school for the criminally insane. The once proud John McCain, filled up with generations of military values extolling the crucial importance of gentlemanly honor, has become just another ill-smelling hack. Worse yet, he’s a loser hack, who will never have the chance to rehabilitate himself. At least when George H.W. Bush pissed all over his country he won the race, and got to join that most exclusive club, and then he had four years to make people mostly forget about Willie Horton. McCain, on the other hand, has bungled his way into the full-on nightmare vision of a lost election coupled with lost integrity.
But McCain owns this Shakespearean tragedy in full. Part of me is a bit sad to say that, remembering the John McCain who once had the honesty to note that “America has the best Congress money can buy”, or who called the freaks of the religious right “agents of intolerance”. But most of me is no longer sad. George W. Bush and the regressive movement have devastated the country and planet where I live, and their motive for doing so was ultimately just simple greed. McCain has spent the past eight years facilitating that monstrous and monstrously lethal mass rape. It is therefore fitting that a man who was once highly respected should experience ruin not once, but twice, at the hands of a moral dwarf like George W. Bush. In 2000, Bush used the scummiest of scummy techniques to emasculate John McCain, a man who was infinitely his better in every respect. Now again today, the Chimpster-in-Chief sits in his Oval Office, smirking as ever, sociopathically oblivious as the legacy of his two terms – both of which McCain actively helped him win – sealing the senator’s fate for a second time.
The number of sacrificial victims to the fragile ego of one George Walker Bush is astonishing to contemplate. It’s staggering to imagine that one individual’s personal childhood inadequacies could wreak so much havoc on an entire planet, but indeed they have.
From Tony Blair’s career to the lives of a million Iraqis. From Americans’ wallets to their country’s very honor. From environmental destruction to the Republican Party itself. All relegated to the ash heap of history.
John McCain is only the latest to be added to that list.
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.