McCain First

So John McCain has a new ad up contending Barack Obama supported a bill to teach 5 year olds about sex. The problem; the bill was really designed to teach them about “inappropriate touching” so that they would know how to avoid predators. It’s really a disgusting tactic that might be the most disgusting yet from an increasingly disturbing McCain campaign. But really, I’m having trouble getting past one burning question. Can we stop pretending John McCain is an honorable guy yet?

It’s not hard to see where the idea of McCain as really, super duper, honorable guy comes from, and indeed McCain has spent a long time trying to craft just that image. But anyone with more than a rudimentary knowledge of John McCain would know that it’s just not true if they stopped to think about it for a second. John McCain is a nasty guy. He’s sworn at a fellow Senator who pointed out that he had no business swooping in at the last second to take credit for an immigration bill he’d done no work on, he’s harmed a bi-partisan state project in Arizona because he wanted to “embarrass” a Democrat who was basically an interim Governor, and of course he’s joked about rape and insulted Chelsea Clinton. And that’s just off the top of my head.

But more to the point than that, John McCain isn’t “honorable,” he’s egomaniacal. The over riding ethos of John McCain has always been…John McCain. Anyone actually wondering how McCain could ever run the campaign he’s running now doesn’t know McCain, and doesn’t understand the fundamental problem with McCain’s entire worldview. You see, McCain can do anything, because everything McCain believes is predicated on the idea that John McCain is the most noble person ever. This is what it means when even McCain fans like David Brooks say that McCain “internalizes” issues. Except that that’s soort of backwards. Internalizing issues implies that McCain just cares a lot about them and takes them personally. In reality, the better way to think of it is that McCain externalizes persona. In that sense, McCain basically believes he can never be wrong, or at least dishonorable, and so when he takes on an issue like campaign finance reform or attacking tobacco companies, the full moral weight of the world is on his side because, well because he’s John McCain and the moral weight is always on his side. And that’s what leads to his famed disdain for the elements of “corruption.” John McCain doesn’t hate lobbyists. For God’s sake he has lobbyists running every aspect of his campaign. But to McCain, “lobbyists” were the people who opposed McCain-Feingold, and McCain really hates people who oppose McCain. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson weren’t “agents of intolerance” because McCain opposed what they stood for. In fact, John McCain has agreed with them on most substantive matters throughout his career. No, the Christian right was bad because the Christian right was supporting George W. Bush as he ran against McCain.

Now this isn’t necessarily the worst complex a politician could have, but it’s certainly no way to govern. But the more troubling aspect of it is what it allows in the candidate’s own mind. When everything is dependent on you and you alone, when you think the country absolutely needs John McCain and only John McCain to “save” it, then absolutely nothing is out of bounds. You can lie about your opponent, you can lie about your running mate, you can smear anyone and everyone who stands in your way without batting an eye because it all has to be done because John McCain has to win. It’s not dishonorable, it’s necessary.

If you think that’s all a bit hyperbolic, listen to a McCain townhall sometime and count the number of times McCain references back to “I.” Osama bin Laden? “I know how to get him.” The war in Iraq? “I know how to win wars.” Earmarks? “I know where the waste is at, and I know how to stop it.” On literally every issue, everything is about McCain. John McCain, and only John McCain, knows how to do this stuff. Mitt Romney can’t, Barack Obama can’t. And so, in that respect, there’s nothing wrong with lying about Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, because it’s just a necessary mean to an end, the end of electing John McCain so that he can fix everything in a way that only John McCain can.

And it’s not even limited to just the substantive claims. When’s the last time you heard someone talk about how they were no longer their own person, but rather “their country’s?” When’s the last time you heard someone insist that their own very successful political career was just “serving a cause greater than self?” I mean, maybe it’s truth, but “self” made out like a bandit here too I dare say. In any event though, President’s just don’t talk like that. You know who does talk like that? Cult leaders explaining why you really must sign over everything you own to them for your own good. Or totalitarian leaders explaining that they’re just looking out for “the country” while they’re ruling with an iron fist. Which isn’t to say McCain is a cult leader or a dictator, it’s simply to disspell the notion that this is a particularly “honorable” guy in American politics. Rather, it’s simply someone with an overinflated capacity for self-righteousness, and an over inflated sense of his own self worth with a passive aggressive bent.

And as this campaign has shown us, the problem with people like that is that they really can rationalize anything. John McCain isn’t George Bush. Bush had limits and lines even he seemed to understand couldn’t be crossed, if only for practicalities sake. John McCain won’t have that burden.