Perhaps it was a circus act for the gullible and schmaltz-inclined, but the Sen. John McCain of 2000 combined the best characteristics of Superman (a hero who defended Truth, Justice and the American Way), Batman (a zillionaire with a dark past who fought corruption wherever it lurked), and Wolverine (a stocky, grizzled, hard-drinking veteran with berserker rage, but still awesome).
In 2008, however, McCain combines the worst characteristics of Lex Luthor (hollow lust for power, evil henchmen, bald), the Joker (impulsive, belligerent, plays people against one another, unserious) and the X-Men villain Apocalypse (he will bring about the apocalypse).
McCain once made you proud to call yourself an American, and it wasn’t demagogic pride (“with us or against us,” “love it or leave it,” “for the troops or against the troops”) but the real thing. He inspired millions of people with his story of sacrifice and service, and defined himself by his honesty and "maverick" yet moderate positions on the issues. His candidacy derailed when George W. Bush’s goons infamously spread whispers of a brown lovechild whom McCain had actually adopted. As this hideous decade progressed—from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib to Hurricane Katrina to the merciless evisceration of the U.S. Constitution—many of us said to ourselves, “If only McCain were in charge…”
Since 2000, however, McCain has devolved like a post-Atomic Holocaust science-fiction zombie into a grotesque McCarthyite (McCainthyite?) parody. Whereas he once played to centrist Americans—the silent majority who cannot stand “agents of intolerance” whether their names are Farrakhan or Falwell—presently he panders to the most regressive elements of our culture and the most vile aspects of our human nature.
McCain took a bloody shit all over his legacy, and chose to empower the darkest corners of the American Right over the American mainstream. He put all his eggs into the Rabid Mutant Basket, assuming the overzealous radicals would show on Election Day instead of the lazy normal people. If you prefer the Enlightenment over the Dark Ages—Truth over Lies, Hope over Fear, Unity over Hate—the John McCain of 2008 wants you to go fuck yourself.
It hurts me to type this—genuinely hurts—because I once worshipped at the McAltar. (As I make clear in my new book Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right and Other American Idiots I’m a bit of a maverick myself; in the words of Chris Rock, "Crime? I’m conservative. Prostitution? I’m liberal!") Goddamnit, John McCain, why did you break my heart worse than any woman I’ve ever loved? Why did you fellate George W. Bush more furiously in the past eight years than the First Lady since their wedding day?
Back in April McCain “pledged to conduct a respectful campaign,” promising to focus on the issues instead of questioning the loyalty and character of his opponent as the GOP questioned Sen. John Kerry’s in 2004. McCain took the high road, which Americans shockingly appreciate this year, and then he realized he would lose the election to Sen. Barack Obama, so McCain panicked and made a deviant blood pact with the Lord of the Underworld:
“LUCIFER, HEAR MY PLEA!” McCain bellowed to the Fallen Angel, naked and shivering and covered in his own geriatric spermatozoa. “I NEED A MIRACLE… I NEED A GODSEND… I NEED A YOU-SEND!”
“YES, MCCAIN, I HAVE SOMETHING FOR YOU,” said the Dark Prince. “MY DEMONIC BRIDE, ALASKA GOV. SARAH PALIN, WHO IS YOURS FOR A SMALL PRICE: YOUR SOUL, MCCAIN, YOUR ETERNAL SOOOOUUUUL…”
And lo, the wretched bargain was sealed, but McCain forgot that deals with the devil tend to backfire, especially when you are covered in Septuagenarian Man Juice.
Palin looked perfect on paper: a young, popular female governor who would appeal to religious conservatives, gun owners, small town residents, soccer/hockey moms, bitter Hillary Clinton supporters (are there any other kind?) and guys who like to jerk off (there are not any other kind). Nobody in D.C. expected McCain to nominate her—nobody had heard of her, other than Alaskans like me—and she caused immediate waves of excitement throughout the country. Pundits declared her selection a political masterstroke.
Palin could not identify a Supreme Court decision besides Roe v. Wade. She could not name a newspaper or magazine she reads. She recently traveled abroad for the first time. She believes the First Amendment protects politicians from criticism, as opposed to protecting critics from politicians. With a corruption investigation underway, and accusations of censorship, cronyism, religious extremism, and the tendency to fire any public official who disagreed with her, the truth swiftly became apparent: she was Bush with a bush. (Update: I thought this was mildly clever, but "Bush with a bush" gets 1,680 hits on Google. Also, she might wax.)
Her initial approval numbers plunged; she became a liability to McCain and an embarrassment to everyone but the most extreme right-wing diehards who embraced her wholeheartedly as a symbol of their myriad resentments against modernity, the scientific process, proper usage of the English language, etc.
You felt bad for her—she seemed like a normal person who had been picked off the street and expected to master geopolitics overnight—and perhaps you felt guilty for judging her. You might have searched your soul and wondered if you’re a know-it-all snob who looks down on regular folks from your cosmopolitan pedestal. Hey, if you were given a pop quiz on national TV, you would probably fail too; personally I’d rather not reveal my batting average for Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?
However, you are not trying to convince hundreds of millions of Americans you are qualified for the second highest office in the land, and Palin is far too malicious to deserve our pity. Just as Bush is a divider, not a “uniter,” Palin exploited the time-tested strategies of the GOP playbook; she made this election about City Moose vs. Country Moose. If you question the Republican Party, you are an “elitist,” but if you never question the Republican Party—even when it shreds the Bill of Rights and amalgamates Church and State—you are “pro-America.”
Palin is the darkness in Plato’s cave, which is a reference she would probably need explained to her. She would have fed the hemlock to Socrates. She would have imprisoned Galileo. She would have prosecuted Scopes. If she were born in
Americans have a tendency to vote for candidates who seem “just like me,” or remind us of our beer-drinking buddies, which explains the (initial) popularity of Bush and Palin. Our electoral narcissism is understandable but ludicrous; the vast majority of us are obviously not qualified for the White House. It is not “elitism” to observe this; it is reality. I have plenty of beer-drinking buddies, none of whom would receive my vote for anything, not even designated driver.
“Someone called me a redneck woman once and you know what I said back?” Palin recently asked a crowd of supporters. “‘Why, thank you.’”
Is this how a potential president of the
Conservatives used to believe in meritocracy; they opposed racial and gender quotas in the workplace on the principle that the most qualified person should get the job, no matter his or her physical characteristics. Modern right-wingers, however, loathe expertise of any kind. Their only concern is propagating their Orgy of Hate: for scientists, for teachers, for journalists, for immigrants, for the poor, for sexuality, for civilization itself.
It’s a vicious circle: the more McCain alienates centrist voters, the more feverishly he must court the extremists, in turn alienating more centrist voters, requiring him to further court the weirdos. McCain and Palin have consequently unleashed a vicious mob mentality which might not expire on November 5th. When McCain finally tried to calm one of his psychotic xenophobic crowds, the testosterone-filled degenerates booed him for saying Obama is a “decent person…”
According to Palin, Obama “sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists,” “is hiding his real agenda,” “launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist,” and is “not a man who sees America the way you and I see America.” When not insinuating Obama is the Antichrist, the McCain-Palin campaign accuses Obama of supporting sexual education for kindergarteners—as if he were some kind of pervert—even though Obama actually proposed teaching children how to identify and avoid pedophiles. When the hard-hitting journalists at The View asked McCain to disown the ad, the
While Obama has condemned and distanced himself from the left-wing extremists in his party and in his past, McCain spoke at Jerry Falwell’s university and proudly accepted the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee, who declared Hurricane Katrina God’s punishment on
As the lunatics take over the GOP asylum, conservative intellectuals are fleeing: former Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Review royalty Christopher Buckley, Washington Post columnist George Will, Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan, former Bush spokesman Scott McClellan and former Bush speechwriter David Frum… the guy who came up with the nuanced, levelheaded phrase “axis of evil.”
In the politically correct ‘90s conservatives had some legitimate gripes: overzealous speech codes, frivolous lawsuits, Orwellian sensitivity training, punitive vice taxes and other government overreach. Left-wingers were often the angry and scary ones—moderates sympathized with Republicans—but this is no longer the case. The pendulum has swung too far to the right; it must come back to the center. The Republican Party of 2008 loathes freedom of speech, pursuit of happiness, separation of church and state, equality under the law and liberty for all. Wrap yourself in the flag all you want, but voting for the modern GOP is as unpatriotic as it gets.
For the last decade Republicans have equated dissent with treachery, sophistication with subversion and prudence with surrender. They worship the symbols of patriotism—the flag and the anthem and the pledge, as if no other countries have these things—but not the meaning of
The world is an insanely complex place, but True Believers on the Right cannot process concepts deeper than Patriotism vs. Treason, God-Loving vs. God-Hating, Capitalist vs. Communist, Good vs. Evil, Us vs. Them. At the final presidential debate McCain referred to the “pro-abortion” stance, as if the majority of our citizenry supports infanticide for supporting Roe v. Wade. This is ridiculous; most of us only support terminating babies when we’re stuck inside a movie theater with one. (McCain opposed overturning Roe in 1999. Was he for abortion before he was against it?)
Facing economic collapse thanks to our voracious greed—have you seen your credit card statement recently?—Americans have rejected the fantasy-based Culture War and finally asked for realistic solutions. Who cares if gay-married transsexuals are unfreezing embryonic stem cells and committing doctor-assisted suicide if nobody can afford bread and we’re cannibalizing one another for protein?
McCain deserved to win the Republican nomination (and perhaps the presidency) in 2000, but it’s no longer 2000. Yes, he is an American hero, but—much like the TV show Heroes—he has become over the top, inconsistent, badly scripted and embarrassing to watch. His Cold War understanding of the world is obsolete; his legendary temper is the last thing
I used to believe it didn’t matter what “foreigners” thought of us—our president doesn’t need a permission slip to defend the American people, blah blah blah—but since then I’ve traveled to Europe and Latin America and the Middle East, and I learned something which surprised me: many people in other countries want the U.S. to lead, want us to be Number One, want us to shine as a beacon of justice as we once did. The rest of the human race is begging us to elect Obama not because he will weaken our military or lessen our influence, which is impossible after eight years of Bush (unless we elect McCain); they want us to return to our founding values of freedom and equality. They resent us for betraying our ideals, not because of our ideals.
As our economic institutions crumble, we cannot survive as a nation divided by all-consuming hatred of our elected leaders and fellow citizens, but Hate is the only thing the Republican Party has to offer: unthinking populist ferocity which makes no distinction between civil discourse and civil war; the same blind, menacing frenzy which besieged Italy, Germany, Russia and China in the previous century. We are on the brink of irrelevance as a nation, but miraculously we have one final chance to avoid sinking into oblivion. We have one final chance to not act like a bunch of complete douche bags.
If you vote against Barack Obama, you are on the wrong side of history, just as Nero was on the wrong side of history when the
Yes, Obama has inspired a cult of personality, but sometimes such things are deserved; millions of teenyboppers loved the Beatles, forever the greatest band of all time. Obama possesses a top-tier intellect and Herculean self-control, which are qualifications, not disadvantages. And even if he does become the worldwide Islamo-Antichrist who gnaws upon the skulls of the Enslaved White Masses for breakfast, it wouldn’t be that much worse than Bush, right?
No man is perfect, no politician is pure of heart, but in 2008 we are not choosing between the lesser of two evils. The tragedy is that, if John McCain had stayed true to his character—assuming his former self was not a character—we could have chosen between the greater of two goods.