Streetwise Professor

September 1, 2018

I Honor the Veteran, Not the Senator

Filed under: Politics — cpirrong @ 6:33 pm

Do you remember the commemoration of the passing of Leo Thorsness?  George Day? James Stockdale?

Perhaps you are not familiar with the names.  They were all Vietnam War POWs.  Day shared a cell with John McCain, and McCain made a sling for Day after his arm was horribly injured by torture.  Their records prior to capture were far more distinguished than McCain’s: Thorsness won the Medal of Honor for his acts in air combat in an F-105.

Although it is perhaps unfair to compare or judge the conduct of those who endured the hell of North Vietnamese prison camps, it is worth noting that Day’s and Stockdale’s actions as POWs were deemed so exceptional even by comparison with other POWs that they were awarded Medals of Honor.

McCain shared this hell with them, and he is as deserving of as much recognition for his courage, perseverance, and suffering  as a POW that they received.  But he has received far, far more.  Flags are at half-mast.  He will lay in state in the Capitol.  The media praise has been fulsome, and almost non-stop since his death.

The difference in honors paid to McCain on the one hand, and Thorsness, Day, and Stockdale on the other, therefore cannot relate to his military service and captivity: instead, it is a tribute to his political career.

This is an inversion of priorities. I can think of few politicians who deserve such veneration.  Very few.  And John McCain is not one of them.

Formally, John McCain was a Republican.  But he reveled in tweaking his party, often to aggrandize himself and to attract praise from the “elite” media and the DC establishment.

The fact is that McCain was a member of the party of government.  On every major issue, especially during the period of his greatest power and fame, McCain supported expansion of the scope and power of government.  Sometimes he talked the limited government talk, but he very, very seldom walked the walk.

One of the refrains in the encomiums is that McCain was a strong believer in an practitioner in bipartisanship.  This is hardly an endorsement.  Bipartisanship is the religion of the party of government. And in DC, it is pretty much a one-way street.

In practical terms, “bipartisanship” usually entails a conspiracy of the two parties to stitch up the rest of us.  When someone praises bipartisanship, I grab my wallet and watch my back.

McCain’s signature issue–campaign finance “reform”–is a case in point.  From the first it was designed to protect incumbents and the institutional parties from competition and accountability.  I prefer gridlock and conflict: if they are fighting one another, they are less likely to shaft me and mine.

Further, today’s funeral featured speech after speech lauding McCain’s bipartisanship–and blasting Trump.

If you are mystified as to how paeans to bipartisanship mix (at a funeral no less) with relentless partisan attacks, let me explain.  Bipartisan in Washington-ese means the shared interest of the institutional parties and incumbents in protecting their sinecures and power.  Trump threatens both.  So rank partisanship–again, at a funeral!–is perfectly compatible with the DC meaning of “bipartisan” because Trump and his supporters are not part of the “bi”, and indeed threaten its parasitic existence.  This is one tribe–the establishment tribe–attacking The Other.

In recent years, moreover, McCain has wanted to involve the US in yet more wars, especially in the Middle East.  His advocacy of intervention in Syria in particular speaks very poorly of his judgment, especially in light of American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And let’s be real here.  If McCain had died when Obama was president, or had Hillary been president, he would not be receiving nearly the amount of praise and attention as he is receiving in the Age of Trump.  McCain was a vocal critic of Trump, and praising McCain to the heavens is just another way of damning Trump.

It is particularly nauseating to see many of those who savaged him during his hapless presidential campaign celebrating him today.  As if further proof was necessary of the situational nature of political “ethics” in the US.

For his part, Trump has been less than gracious in his response to McCain’s death.  “Don’t speak ill of the dead” seems to be his operative principle.

At least he’s not a hypocrite on this matter, which is another thing that sets him apart in DC.

Further, let’s not delude ourselves into believing that McCain was some latter-day “happy warrior” to be contrasted with a vicious Trump.  He in fact had a mean, vindictive, and petty side–as demonstrated by his disinviting Sarah Palin from his funeral.  Methinks that much of McCain’s criticism of Trump’s behavior was projection.

And let’s not forget that in addition to being a vicious vocal critic of Trump (and I think “vicious” is a fair characterization), McCain played a low and dishonorable role in injecting the Steele dossier into the body politic.  It is sickly ironic that a man who believed that Russia is a mortal enemy of the United States has done far more to advance Putin’s objective of destabilizing American politics and society than anything Putin has done, or even could do, himself.

So I am quite willing to acknowledge and honor McCain’s service and sacrifice in the years ending in 1973, just as I did (and do) honor that of Leo Thorsness, George Day, James Stockdale and other Americans who served with honor and distinction in Vietnam.  But his political career, and the ongoing celebration thereof, are a testament to the dysfunctions of American government and politics, so I will not be joining in the hosannas for Senator John McCain.

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