(something I wrote a couple months ago before I had this blog)
Every detail of the McCain funeral was fascinating. It was like that first scene in The Guns of August in which the all the Kings of Europe came together in an imperial parade right before World War I. It felt like a final gathering of the Old Washington and showed both why we’re going to really miss it when sh*t hits the fan and also why it had to die. Lots of talk about patriotism and the importance of bipartisanship at the same time that Henry Kissinger, looking more and more like a reflection of his soul, was somehow up there talking about honor and wasted lives and missing those who’ve left us and nobody took his cane to whip him with it. Joe Lieberman, his jowls six inches still lower than when he left the Senate, interrupting a personal reflection on his BFF to natter on for five minutes about McCain’s commitment to Israel. W. still looking like he couldn’t believe he got through the speech, and a quietly but unmistakably withering Obama cutting through the bullsh*t to deliver a message that this establishment dug its own grave.
It’s not that Obama hated McCain or vice versa, but McCain represented the American past, and Obama still represents a potential American future. McCain represented both what was good about the past and why it has to become the past. Lots of people on the left want to call McCain a racist, probably because he once said he’d earned the right to use the G-word about the Vietnamese, but I doubt most of them even knew that. They probably don’t have evidence except a reflexive belief that all Republicans are; but however McCain felt about the Vietnamese, he was still the driving force behind the normalization of relations between America and Vietnam. They say he was a warmonger, but war is an inevitable part of life, and the wars McCain backed were fought far away and with relatively small casualties. Now the wars may be fought on our shores rather than elsewhere. They say he took too hard a line with America’s enemies, but Obama’s refusal to treat the Russian threat seriously was a colossal blunder, and anybody who hasn’t realized that yet is reflexively defending Obama from criticism rather than seriously analyzing the situation. They say he was a modern imperialist, and this charge has some weight to it, but imperialism has always existed, and eventually every attempt to eradicate it completely rather than minimize it resulted in totalitarian states.
The idea that McCain had no accomplishments is somewhere between ignorance and lunacy. If his accomplishments were not more concrete, it says far more about what he was up against than about him. McCain and Feingold were the only senators in our lifetime who ever successfully and productively reformed campaign laws. He fought a crusade to take on big tobacco and nearly won it. He’s the only major Republican presidential candidate since the 60’s to not kowtow to the Religious Right, and not only did he not kowtow to them, he stood up to them! He was the only major Republican to propose bills to fight climate change, and he did so multiple times. He voted against Bush tax cuts twice, he exposed Jack Abramoff’s corruption, he and Ted Kennedy almost passed a bill to legalize illegal immigrants, he sponsored nearly a bill a year to end the Bush Administration’s torture practices. And let’s not forget, just a year ago, he stopped an attempt to kill Obamacare. Over and over again, McCain stood up for so many values progressives claim to cherish, and he did it from a place where no one else would dare. So however much left-wingers hated him, right-wingers hated him more.
McCain made compromises to keep his fights going, we all do. McCain, like everybody else, is a product of his time and place, and his time and place was in denial about the full extent of the rot. Had McCain not chosen Palin, the path to a President like Trump would have been just as clear – maybe for 2020 rather than 2016, but it would have happened, and the Trump of a different timeline might have been a would-be-dictator three times as smart. Look at America right now, there’s too much hatred, too little compromise, too much anger, too much humiliation, too much evil to hold the demons back.
The old Washington, like every institution that lives more than three minutes, is built on compromises. Nobody but babies get what they want more than 30% of the time, and some of the compromises are truly terrible, like allowing members of the Nixon White House – who prolonged the Vietnam war by six years and two million lives – to be treated better than Mussolini. But it was not the compromises of the old Washington that brought us Trump, it was the 25-year refusal of conservative Republicans to allow for compromise, and the state of denial the rest of Washington has been living in the entire time that the country is fine. The only people with whom you cannot work are the people who refuse to compromise. Their utopian promises of a better world can only be built over the corpses of the people who will fight them, and they may well lose. Every movement that does not allow for dissent is a movement that we can’t include. McCain, like everybody else in Washington, failed to cut off the sickness, and the cancer has now metastasized to the entire government.
Fanaticism is a drug, the more outrage you feel, the more you crave it. Supposedly, the fanaticism which fought against equal rights on every front had gone away. It never went away, it just became more insidious, more easily couched in conservative phraseology, and therefore more easily distributed through mass media. You can’t technically hear white superiority or male superiority in terms like small government or personal responsibility or states’ rights, but somehow, both the Right and Left could smell the hatred in those terms – the only people who didn’t were the Centrists. They were living too comfortably in the suburbs, making too much money, prepping their kids for colleges nobody else could afford.
We now live in the uncompromising discontents of the world which the McCains collaborated with. Meanwhile, the Obamas fought to end it so they could save it, and by doing so, save us. There is no more Obama Presidency, and no one President, not Obama, not Lincoln, can undo everything in eight years which legislators and companies have been trying to implement since Obama was just a community organizer. We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for, and now it’s up to Democrats to do the work of two parties – to do the work and make the arguments both for gradual extension of liberty and the accelerated, until such time as there are powerful Republicans again who believe in liberty at all.