Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Most Fascinating Figure in That Election

No, it's not Obama. I'm talking about John McCain. This piece, The Fall, in the New Yorker really spells out McCain in 2008, and the immense tragedy that his presidential run really amounted to. Here was a man who had developed a sense of politics as heroism, as the same activity as his life as a soldier and war hero, except with slightly less risk of assassination. He built a career based on standing up for his principles and not backing down on them. And he had paid for his highly principled political approach with continual defeat, yet he was never humiliated because he never compromised on what he thought was right.

The attacks he endured from the Bush camp in the 2000 Republican primaries were probably the most abuse McCain had ever received in his political career. Rove-style political smear tactics based on fear, hatred, and divisiveness derailed his presidential ambitions. As a result, America ended up with the most catastrophic president in its entire history. And John McCain could return to the senate, confident that he had at least gone down in a fair fight. If the McCain of 2000 had won the nomination, he would probably have soundly defeated Al Gore, would have run a White House not beholden to the neoconservative ideologues of Project for a New American Century, and actually put the care and effort necessary into the war against al Qaeda. John McCain, if he had been elected in 2000, could have been a brilliant president.

But by this year, his ambitions completely derailed him. One by one, all the stands of principle that had dominated his senate career, he let fall away so that he could secure the nomination and compete for the presidency. It got so that many of his old colleagues came to consider the upstanding bipartisan just a front to build up a strong coalition who would back him for president. He spoke so much about whether we know the real Barack Obama. But when you look at what he did during the campaign, people wonder now if they ever really knew the real John McCain.

I believe that McCain really is the principled man who worked the senate floor for three decades. I could tell by his concession speech on election night. His words were calm, conciliatory, looked forward to a challenging future, and were spoken without recrimination or resentment. I doubt Sarah Palin's planned speech would have been quite so honourable. McCain is a figure of classic tragedy, an honourable man ruined by his ambition. Sarah Palin is a cackling supervillain, a self-obsessed bigot who will bring the Republican party to disaster with her 2012 run. Perhaps even more than his own personal fall from integrity, John McCain will regret that he brought this wretch to national prominence.

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