The thought of [John McCain] being president sends a cold chill down my spine.
—United States Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi)
According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, some voters in the critical political battleground state of Pennsylvania are leaning towards Barack Obama because economic matters are trumping candidate "character" in determining their choices in the presidential election.
If "the economy" hadn’t become the overwhelming issue, the Tribune reports, these voters would be going with John McCain because of his supposed superior personal qualities.
The voters are worried about Obama’s moral fiber because of his past connections to such supposed moral monsters as the black pastor Jeremiah Wright and the former SDS Weatherman-turned education professor and charter school advocate Bill Ayers.
The Tribune story is titled "Character Counts; Economy Counts More" (J. Tankersley and C. Parsons, Chicago Tribune, October 9, 2008, sec.1, p. 13).
While I am no particular fan of Obama’s personality and neoliberal politics, I find the Tribune article’s angle and title distressing. I do not expect mainstream voters or reporters to follow me (a left Marxist since age 18) in feeling little shock at the crimes of Ayers (decades ago) and in having little problem with the rhetoric of Wright. I get it that most Americans are in no position — morally, ideologically, or in terms of information received — to share my understandings of why Ayers briefly became a (rather hapless) ultra-left "terrorist" and why Rev. Wright is angry at U.S. policies (and crimes) past and present.
What is more difficult for me to swallow is that anybody could identify John McCain with anything remotely connected to positive moral character. The candidate atop the current malicious Republican presidential campaign — increasingly reduced to the preposterous claim that Obama is some sort of "far left" enemy of "American" values and institutions (my recently released book "Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics" is an antidote to that charge) — is a characterological catastrophe.
As Tim Dickinson notes in a recent Rolling Stone profile of McCain, the Republican presidential contender has demonstrated a shocking lack of principle with his recent policy contortions. McCain’s campaign positions have shifted drastically to the hard right on the Bush tax cuts (for the rich), court appointments, oil drilling, the religious right, and torture. Having once found it politically useful to oppose all of these things, McCain now embraces them.
The supposed centrist "maverick’s" swing to the far right has found grotesque expression in his running-mate selection — a viciously stupid evangelical hit lady whose only qualification for office is her ability to energize the GOP’s white-nationalist messianic-militarist and pseudo-Christian base.
"Straight Talk" McCain has recently undertaken politically calculated rightward leaps on immigration/border policy, gay marriage, lobbyist power, and "talking to our enemies." He has shifted positions on financial regulation and the AIG nationalization in response to financial capitalism’s deepening crisis.
In detailing McCain’s recent wild and rightward policy swings, Dickinson quotes numerous Republicans who told him that the candidate’s only real concern is personal advancement. Former Republican U.S. Senator Lincoln Chaffee and McCain were once the only two Republicans to vote against Bush’s tax cuts. He joined with a differently calculating McCain in opposition to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to George W. Bush’s most reactionary court appointments. Now Chaffee says that "John has made a pact with the devil."
Besides being monumentally inconsistent and unprincipled, McCain is a loose cannon who would pose grave risks on the global stage if he were to reach the White House. By Dickinson’s account:
"At least three of McCain’s GOP colleagues have gone on record to say that they consider him temperamentally unsuited to be commander in chief. Bob Smith, the former senator from New Hampshire, has said that McCain’s ‘temperament would place this country at risk in international affairs, and the world perhaps in danger. In my mind, it should disqualify him.’ Sen. Domenici of New Mexico has said he doesn’t ‘want this guy anywhere near a trigger.’ And Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi weighed in that ‘the thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded’" (T. Dickinson, "Make-Believe Maverick," Rolling Stone, October 16, 2008, p. 70).
Along with being perceived as dangerously selfish and reckless by a number of leading Republicans, McCain appears to be something of a vicious bastard. He cussed his wife out in the vilest terms imaginable in front of three reporters in 1992.
He joked at a 1998 GOP fundraiser about the "ugliness" of Chelsea Clinton, attributing her physical appearance to the fact that the lesbian Attorney General Janet Reno was "her father."
In April of 2007, McCain responded to a voter’s foreign policy question by singing "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran" to the tune of the old Beach Boy’s tune "Barbara Anne."
It’s all very consistent, Dickinson shows, with McCain’s pampered youth as the legendarily irresponsible, boorish, and stupid son and grandson of four star admirals in the U.S. Navy. After graduating 894th in a class of 899 at the Naval Academy, McCain became a notorious party-boy who repeatedly crashed Navy planes. Any flier without McCain’s would have lost his wings.
McCain was able to achieve notoriety and build a political career around the claim to be a "war hero" because he managed to get shot down while bombing the civilian infrastructure of North Vietnam. Contrary to his carefully cultivated myth of special and holy "sacrifice for country," McCain received favorable treatment by informing his Vietnamese captors the he was the son of a top U.S. military official (Admiral McCain head of the U.S. assault on Vietnam by the early 1970s). He divulged military information (the name of his ship of origin and the target of his assault) other American POW’s refused to release under torture.
McCain’s subsequent career and highlights include:
* The vicious abandonment and divorce of his first wife after she suffered a crippling car accident and the 42-year-old McCain became smitten with his future wife – the 24-year-old former USC cheerleader Cindy Hensley, a wealthy Budweiser heiress.
* Using his position as the Navy’s liaison to the U.S. Senate to secretly negotiate (against the wishes of the Secretary of the Navy) an egregious pork project – the replacement of the aging aircraft carrier "The Midway."
* Voting in the U.S. Senate against the Martin Luther King holiday.
* Voting to confirm the arch-rightist Robert Bork for the U.S. Supreme Court.
* Calling for the abolition of the U.S. Departments of Energy and Education.
* Championing a bill that eliminated catastrophic health insurance for senior citizens.
* Intervening along with four other senators in 1987 to prevent federal regulators from investigating Lincoln Savings and Loan, a corrupt institution owned by McCain’s leading contributor and friend Charlie Keating. The S&L collapsed two years later under the weight of Keating’s corrupt real estate dealings, costing U.S. taxpayers $3.4 billion and defrauding 20,000 holders of Keating’s junk bonds.
In the late 1990s, Dickinson shows, McCain dropped his initial post-Vietnam reluctance to support aggressive U.S. wars and underwent a dramatic "neocon makeover." McCain’s arch-militaristic conversion was consistent with his initial claims that "the liberal media" had undermined the "national will" and therefore cost noble America a "war it should have won" in Vietnam.
McCain turned into such a "bellicose hawk" that he went beyond Dick Cheney in "spreading bogus intelligence" in advance support of George W. Bush’s criminal invasion of Iraq.
McCain’s hyper-militarism combines with the sense that he is a loose cannon to prevent top Republican generals like Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell from endorsing his candidacy.
For whatever reason, Dickinson does not mention McCain’s likely strong connection to recent reckless U.S.-imperial provocations of resurgent and nuclear-armed Russia. Dickinson might also have mentioned the Arizona senator’s inflammatory call for the formation of a U.S-led "League of Democracies" to (presumably) replace the United Nations – a body from which McCain would ban Russia and China.
It is common among left commentators – the present writer included – to criticize dominant U.S. political culture’s tendency to privilege candidate character and "qualities" over substantive matters of policy and ideology. America’s quadrennial candidate-centered corporate-crafted "electoral extravaganzas" (Noam Chomsky’s term) tend to cloak the fundamental corporate and imperial consensus between reigning parties and politicians, focusing voters on superficial differences of candidate style instead of the fact that both of the nation’s dominant political parties are well to the right of the populace on numerous key issues. The current election year is no exception.
Still, "character counts" when it comes to who is going to hold what is still the most powerful single office on Earth – the U.S. presidency. The vicious, stupid, unprincipled, and reckless John McCain is morally, mentally, and physically ill-suited for that job in ways that must be made abundantly clear to as many voters as possible over the next three weeks. It should be emphasized that the 72-year-old cancer (Melanoma)-patient McCain – the infamously "hotheaded" son of a father and grandfather who both died from sudden heart attacks (at ages 62 and 71 respectively) – could very well keel over dead the day of his possible inauguration, bringing us to the unthinkable brink of a Palin administration.
If you live in a contested state, I suggest that you smell with supreme fear what McCain and Palin are cooking and vote accordingly. This ain’t just Democratic Coke versus Republican Pepsi, comrade: it’s Coke versus Crack.
Paul Street ([email protected]), a writer and speaker based in Iowa City, IA, His latest book is Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, order at www.paradigmpublishers.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=186987