politics & government

Back to the high life and into the breach again!

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Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean. — HENRY V

True story: Although I get queasy when I think of the modern Republican party in general, in 2000 I changed my registration from Independent to Republican so I could vote for

John McCain in Washington state’s closed primary. Interestingly, by the time Washington rolled around, McCain’s fate had long been decided; however, I still voted for him. I respected him as an honorable man and an American hero with a  principled, bi-partisan and practical approach to things. I have some minor tweaks and twinges from my service – I have  no idea how someone as wracked with pain and trauma and injury as McCain is can be as active and aggressive as he is. Of course, he’s a bit sociopathic – but then, he was a fighter pilot and they all have their issues. McCain is a throwback to guys like my Dad and his generation. I’d love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with him and just bullshit. It would be wonderful – he’s a man’s man.

But, I have spent a lot of the last five and a half years being pissed off at John McCain. He did something totally frivolous by selecting Sarah Palin; he compounded it by running to the right of his absurd opponent in the Republican primary for re-election to the Senate; his desire to be president had trumped country first when he rejected John Terry’s overtures to join the campaign on a national unity ticket in 2004 only to lust, LUST, after Liebermann and on and on and on. He endorsed Mitt Romney whom he is known to hate, which is just sad; he continues to oppose most forms of gay rights despite the best efforts of his wife and daughter to get him to think; he hasn’t raised unholy hell about Arizona’s drift to insanity whether with the Papers Please thing, the birtherism thing, and so on so much as drifted along on that current. He’s been a spoiled brat whining at Obama. What the hell happened?

A lot of times, when someone has a sea change in their personality, particularly an older and physically challenged man – and McCain has lots of those considering the torture in Vietnam, the cancers, and general stress – one might suspect a series of small strokes re-wiring the brain. Well, from the Maverick who went his own way representing the potential for limiting corruption in government through campaign finance reform and transparency, John McCain morphed into some sort of John Kyl ignoramus and Mitch McConnell corporatist clone. He didn’t embrace Ayn Rand, because frankly, the role of the patriot and soldier in her universe is to be a moronic tool of the wealthy. McCain isn’t a rocket scientist or a constitutional expert or a Stoic philosopher. HE’S  A GOODAMNED WARRIOR WITH THE FAULTS AND VIRTUES but HE’s NO ONE’S FOOL!

Now, a lot of the McCain stuff that’s emerged has been silly in some ways. McCain is not a reflective scholar personifying cool and irony. The guy boxed at the academy, he was a freaking Navy Fighter pilot. These guys, with a few exceptions, are impulsive, hot-tempered, kind of vulgar types, in the sense of being down to earth and gritty. They curse, tell dirty jokes, make fun of their friends and embarrass themselves, their wives and their kids in public. Politically correct, they aren’t.

McCain might have been Naval royalty, and he was – but, the services tend to knock the roy- out of you and turn it into LOYALTY. Loyalty to friends, to comrades, to country, to belief. They sit around and drink and bullshit and tell silly jokes. They are impulsive, they speak and act before thinking. A lot of fighter pilots are assholes. A couple of Navy fliers told me how much they hated TOP GUN, largely because the portrayals were so true. McCain was probably a lot like Maverick; Stockdale like Ice.

Admiral Stockdale may have become a modern American Montaigne or Marcus Aurelius, but his very exposure to philosophy came by impulse while doing a graduate program at Stanford. He wandered into the philosophy department and got his mind bitchslapped by a different way of thinking. Stockdale personified detachment and coolness in a way that Aurelius did for Rome. There doesn’t appear to have been a lot of love lost between McCain and Stockdale; so what? Different generations, different backgrounds. And, by becoming a Stoic philosopher who actually practiced that philosophy, Stockdale transcends things. Stockdale walked away from the Citadel because he decided that they were crazy and he wasn’t going to hang on to that at the price of his soul. I suspect McCain would have gotten to the same place, but it would have been messier.

I suspect that McCain has been fuming over the Supreme Court and Citizens United for as long as it has been on his radar. It declared his signature legislative accomplishment unconstitutional and basically turned politics back to the 1850s. If McCain is reminiscent of any historical political figure, I suspect he reminds us of Teddy Roosevelt. TR wasn’t exactly smooth, but he was passionate, honest an didn’t shy away from fights. McCain, I suspect, has been somewhat muted, licking his wounds from 2008 and wondering why the hell he’s bothered. Not being a deep thinker, that was probably uncomfortable. Loyalty binds him, and he couldn’t really say what he thought about that ruling without slamming the entire system and the Republican ascendency. If John McCain gives you his word, he will deliver – couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t. So, he undoubtedly despises people like Boehner and Cantor and McConnell; we know he regards Willard as something he’d scrape off his shoe.

So, it’s time for one more fight. By joining Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island in filing a friend of the court brief supporting Montana’s claim to be able to control the flow of money into state politics, McCain is throwing down a gauntlet. We’ll see who picks it up; I suspect that a revisit to the case might easily result in a complete reversal; Roberts is concerned about the Court’s Reputation and both he and Kennedy could swing based on the experience. They underestimated the cupidity of the rich and powerful by several orders of magnitude – however, John McCain called it when the decision was rendered and he’s been relatively quiet about it. I wish he’d stood and applauded when Obama called the Court on that nonsense, but I can understand why not. But now, he’s being John McCain. For the first time since 2000, McCain is letting himself be McCain – Country First, Straight Thinking and Straight Talk.

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