When you see John McCain "fact finding" his way through the world on the tax-payer's dollar with smiley face Joe Lieberman forever at his side, their all-out effort to make McCain appear presidential, I can't help but think of Howdy Doody, that goofy marionette of early TV days and his human side-kick, smiling Buffalo Bill Smith. Howdy would be our Joe, while John would be the affable Buffalo Bill. The original TV show entertained the kiddies with bad jokes and silly stories and a very silent Clarabelle Cow as they sold America's children Wonder Bread and grape jelly. Now if they could get kids to demand soggy white bread smeared with goop perhaps you can get adults to buy a soggy Republican candidate and make him the next GOP president after the disaster of the Bush years. While the Democratic candidates battle each other for the nomination few look at the real McCain who is smiling his way towards the presidency, assisted by those renegade Democrats Lieberman and now the Clintons who appear to admire him more than his own GOP does.
The Clintons have suggested that among the candidates only Hillary and McCain are qualified to be president and make the crucial decisions because of their great experience, thereby casting doubt on Barack Obama's judgment. It's an amazing way to help their party reach the White House; more amazing after what McCain once said of Hillary and their young daughter, Chelsea, during the Clinton White House years when Chelsea was a child.
Addressing an audience of like-minded, foul-mouthed Republican politicos, McCain told the joke that most MSM have been reluctant to report. "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?" McCain quipped. "Because her father in Janet Reno!" he replied. As his audience roared with laughter McCain had succeeded in calling the kid a freak and her mom a lesbian. Nice man.
Now if anyone insulted my child or grand-child in that fashion, I would go after him with a very sharp stick, not boost his presidential qualifications. But then I share a very bad temper with Senator McCain, and a long memory. That joke of his exposed the full McCain; a sometimes nasty, small-minded, injudicious guy who will forgo decency or taste to win political points among his Neanderthal colleagues. But there is something far worse than that. It is Hillary and Bill stating that such a man is wiser and more trustworthy than Barack Obama in order to question Obama's patriotism and judgment and hopefully win the nomination for Hillary. Can they hate Obama so much for standing between them and their ambitions that they would betray their own party by maligning a good man whose great sin is winning more votes than Hillary? Guess so.
John McCain comes with a fascinating story that all America loves, and I suspect that the Clintons respect it as well. As a young pilot who bombed the Viet Cong enemy on many missions he was shot down in '68, and suffered five years of imprisonment in a vile Vietnam prison, two of those years in solitary confinement. McCain bravely refused to be released before other prisoners because of his connection to his Admiral father. He did ultimately break under torture calling himself a black criminal and an air pirate as he parroted the words of his captors. Once released after the war he was a broken man, physically and emotionally. He rebuilt his life, and now the story changes. He divorced his long-waiting wife, married a beer heiress who sponsored his political aspirations, took one hundred and twelve thousand dollars from a crooked S&L President Keating to plead Keating's cause, scraped by that disgrace and recreated himself as the foe of lobbyists and campaign spending. He made a reputation as a maverick, a straight shooter while all the time using lobbyists to advance his career. On the good side, he was one of the very few Republicans who did not give off that nasty whiff of sanctimony that makes one want to open a window every time a Republican speaks: the Orrin Hatch effect. In any case, McCain was and is a man who could embrace the George W. who maligned him and his family in the 2000 contest for the GOP nomination, embracing Bush in order to help win the 2008 GOP nomination. Put all that later day life-stuff aside, it's the story of McCain's heroic suffering as a POW that could make him president. So let's talk about suffering as a qualification for leadership.
My own life has taught me that the horrors we have suffered do not make us better people, wiser people, or more capable of leading others. We now know that an abused child does not become a better parent as a result of that abuse; indeed, he or she may pass on the abuse to the next generation. As a college student after the Second World War, I met a few Holocaust survivors. Sad to say their horrific experiences under the Nazis had not made them wiser, nobler, or superior to anyone else. Some were fine people but no more so than one could find in the general population of non-sufferers. Indeed, many were cautious, angry, querulous and disagreeable. Who could blame them after the horrors they had endured? It seemed clear that those horrors alone had not qualified them for positions of leadership in politics or morality; conversely, nor had it disqualified them. Generally speaking, what makes us better people are the better people around us who lift our sights, sharpen our insights, brighten our lives and teach by example.
We have all experienced loved ones and friends who have been afflicted with a terrible disease. A few rise above the disease. I think of the superb Elizabeth Edwards as one of these. But for every Elizabeth Edwards there is the sufferer who becomes swamped by the disease itself and cannot transcend the fear and the pain. I see that McCain's life experiences have resulted in one angry and dangerous man, one who seems to me unqualified to lead this country in war or in peace because he has never come to terms with his own past suffering. If he gets that infamous red telephone by his nightstand, he will most likely curse out the caller and then it's bombs away. I doubt if he misspoke when he said he would keep our troops in Iraq for another hundred years if necessary. I don't worry so much that he doesn't know the difference between a Sunni and a Moony, what concerns me is that he doesn't know the difference between a winning strategy and a quagmire, or in some cases, decency and indecency.
As far as our feckless press corps is concerned, McCain's the good guy on the Straight Talk Express, willing to talk dirty and be indiscreet, and like Bush he's the fellow to have that infamous beer with as he calls you "Pal" and "Friend." The press has so concentrated on the few missteps of Obama that it has failed to examine the real McCain, a sometimes affable but often mean-spirited, foul tempered, reckless man, who will pursue the policies of the Bush administration to their terrible conclusion; a recession that ends as a depression, and a war that never ever ends, robbing our children and grand-children of their future. After five years and four thousand American deaths in Iraq we are told that McCain's much heralded support of the surge has succeeded because the militias have held back for awhile in the face of overwhelming forces, forces they know to be temporary because our military cannot keep those numbers on the ground. The Iraqi government remains in permanent disarray and the murderous killings go on and on. So much for McCain's successful war policy.
Once, when my son, Nick, was a boy of seven, he played ping-pong with an adult guest in our house. Nick was a pretty good player for his age, and the grown-up could not face defeat by a mere child and began to play more and more fiercely. By the end of the game the guest (let us call him Bob) won, but his knuckles were bleeding from the many times he had hit them against the corners of the table to make a difficult return. I said to Nick, "Bob plays to win." Nick replied, "No, Dad, Bob plays to bleed."
As a one-time Clinton supporter I know the Clintons play to win, but they now play to bleed and that's harmful for them and for the country. It's hard to figure out who is the more shameless these days, McCain or the Clintons. Personally, I'll give the blue ribbon to the Clintons, but McCain may well get the presidency as a consolation prize. And America will once again be the loser.