US Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain walks on stage at the Civil Forum on the Presidency at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. (REUTERS/Mark Avery)
Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.
- H. L. Mencken
In this election, it is the character of the candidate that will matter the most.
That, and pretty much that alone, has been the core campaign message Republican candidate John McCain has been peddling to all and sundry for nearly two years. His devotion to this particular talking point has come to resemble the kind of passionate zeal rarely seen beyond the compound walls of survivalist militia groups; and the slavish dedication he has displayed in tolerating the mindless monotony of such endless repetition is matched only by the muddy mooing of sacred cows along the shores of the Ganges River in India.
Clearly, Mr. McCain has become deeply invested in trying to keep the entire presidential campaign conversation focused only on this mantra regarding "Character." To be sure, he has definitely put in the work. He began his second, and presumably final presidential campaign on the second Friday in November of 2006; in the six hundred and sixty one days that have passed since he became a candidate again, his maximum efforts have been focused on flogging the "Character" theme every step of the way.
Presidential races being what they are, it was simply impossible for McCain to remain totally focused on this one-liner sloganeering project. Every rare now and infrequent then, something would come along with enough juice to merit the creation and release of a new statement. The campaign message machine would suddenly swerve out of the "Character counts" slow lane and merge itself into the heavier traffic, passenger-side turn signal blinking away for no good reason as usual, but only for a few miles.
Sooner or later, the bus always veered back into that slow lane, those newer messages eventually died of neglect, and would go floating up to whatever Heaven there may be for topics that were either too hot for a compromised candidate to handle, or were too detailed for a stupid candidate to comprehend. Mr. McCain has evinced both facets of this particular phenomenon on more than a few occasions, most notably during the recent Russia-Georgia crisis. Beyond that, almost every single time some reporter posited queries about Iraq, or Afghanistan, or the entire African continent, or basically anything else pertaining to issues of national security, McCain wound up dropping the informational ball.
There are several very good reasons why McCain would like to keep all debate and discussion in this presidential race right there with him in that slow lane. First and foremost is the simple truth that the man basically has nowhere else to go. His dilemma brings to mind that old maxim trial lawyers have lived and died by since time out of mind: when the law is with you, pound on the law; when the facts are with you, pound on the facts; if neither the facts nor the law are with you, pound on the table. That is John McCain's entire political reality in a nutshell.
The facts reveal that Mr. McCain has thrown his support behind just about every asinine and idiotic decision made by the single most unpopular and unsuccessful American president there ever was and, God willing, ever will be. The facts reveal that he has boomeranged away from so many policy positions he once espoused, going so far as to denounce a whole sheaf of legislation he had personally authored, because the Republican base despised those issues; but since he needed their support if he ever wanted to have a chance of winning, it was whiplash be damned and the Devil take the hindmost.
The facts, along with plenty of photographic evidence, reveal that while the city of New Orleans drowned beneath the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina, McCain was snuggling with George W. Bush beneath the very same blanket of willful ignorance and sadistic indifference that has defined this administration. By a horrifying coincidence, the city of New Orleans now finds itself in the crosshairs of yet another deadly hurricane, not only on the anniversary of Katrina's destruction, but also on the eve of the Republican National Convention that will officially nominate Mr. McCain as the GOP's candidate.
Before the end of the week, no matter what happens with Hurricane Gustav, smart money says those pictures of McCain yukking it up with Bush while New Orleans was washed into the sea are going to make another appearance in the mainstream news media. In the interim, do please offer all manner of prayers and positive thoughts, in the name and for the sake of every living soul facing the hammer of one more terrible storm.
The facts reveal that Mr. McCain risked the lives of more than one hundred American soldiers by dragging them through a dangerous Baghdad marketplace for a campaign photo-op, all because he was taking heat in the American press for claiming that Baghdad was a perfectly safe town to take a stroll through, and hoped some pictures of him doing exactly that might bat down the criticism. The day after he pulled this little stunt, an Iraqi militia came through that same marketplace and massacred more than twenty innocent civilians to show McCain the difference between a safe neighborhood and where they live.
The law is hardly worth mentioning at this point when it comes to Mr. McCain. Nothing much can be said about a man who once opposed the use of torture by the American military, but began waffling on the issue almost immediately after deciding to run for president. While it cannot be said that McCain is now an active supporter of torture in all its forms, he won't be getting any thank-you notes from anyone unfortunate enough to experience the waterboarding technique he recently chose to endorse. One might define this as hair-splitting, unless one happens to be getting wet in that very unhappy fashion, and it should not be forgotten that Mr. McCain probably knows more about the realities of torture than just about any living American today. The contradiction here is, quite frankly, unspeakably chilling, and does him no favors regarding his "Character" fixation.
Nothing much can be said about a man who now supports the repeal of Roe v. Wade, a repeal he once opposed." Nothing much can be said about a man who opposed the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and then decided he actually supported the policy, and then went on to publicly denounce a Supreme Court ruling on the matter that was exactly in line with his prior opinion. He used to support diplomatic engagement with Hamas, but not any more. He used to support diplomatic engagement with Syria, but not anymore. He used to believe the NRA should not be allowed to play a role in the setting of GOP party policy, but not anymore.
Nothing much can be said about a man who has given his support to the NSA's warrantless wiretapping surveillance program which was initiated by the Bush administration, which has violated the Constitutional rights of millions of American citizens, and which McCain once believed was entirely illegal. This man helped to establish the legal legitimization of torture, and looked on mutely while Mr. Bush and his people not only ravaged the entire Department of Justice in the name of politics and personal protection, but went further into the realm of abject criminal corruption by refusing to honor every legally issued subpoena they were served with.
All that holds this idea that is America together, at bottom, is the good will of people in power and their deliberate subservience to the rule of law. When subpoenas are ignored by the arrogance of the powerful, the rule of law is over and the country is all but gone. McCain not only chose to be lumped in with these wretched practitioners of serial treason, but bestowed his blanket approval upon their patently illegal policy of spying on every American with a phone and the power of speech, perhaps because he actually convinced himself they had earned such additional legal largesse. Or maybe he just didn't give a damn about anything other than keeping himself on the good side of people like Bush, because he knew he was going to need their help to raise money for his presidential run, and nothing else mattered more than this.
The facts are not with Mr. McCain, nor is the law, so all he has been able to do is pound the table with the mythology of his so-called "Character." The whole POW thing is about all he has left. His "maverick" reputation was already a threadbare and pitiful thing before Hillary Clinton became a Senator, so there isn't much there for him, either. It all sounds like what Politician Hell might be like: damnation down there means running for office on a platform made out of thirty-year-old horror stories everyone has heard a thousand times already, and a bunch of baloney about being an "outsider" that nobody really believes anymore. Have fun with that.
There is no joy in Mudville following the Sarah Palin VP selection, for that matter. This big to-do was supposed to highlight whatever remains of his "maverick" image. The last, best club he had in his campaign bag was the line of attack against Barack Obama's lack of executive and foreign policy experience. By choosing Palin to be his running mate, McCain stapled his entire campaign to a woman whose shiny right-wing Christian credentials cannot obscure the fact that she has slightly less foreign policy or executive experience than a ham sandwich in the pantry of Air Force One. In other words, that one good club might as well have been thrown into a furnace six hundred and sixty one days ago for all the good it will do him now. Bluntly, this Palin choice not only failed to prop up his outsider credentials, but has also raised serious concerns about whether his basic judgment and understanding of simple reality can be relied on under any circumstances.
This ugly reality is McCain's well-earned, supremely deserved reward for deciding to abandon any pretense of character or integrity, with deliberation and intent, while crowing to all within hearing about the importance of character and integrity. Everything he abandoned had nothing at all to do with what he believes or doesn't believe as an American or as an elected representative. He abandoned these things because he wants to live in the White House, period. He wants this with every dirty, immoral, shiftless, unprincipled fiber of his being; and through this has become a living, pathetic, abhorrent example of the damage to heart and soul such lust for personal gain can cause.
For men who have neither character, nor integrity, nor honor, nor shame, for men like John McCain, that kind of wanting is all that remains in their heart, and is all that really matters to them anymore. Men like this, men like John McCain, are entirely hollow inside, empty, and truly dead in every way that once counted them human. They are skin, bones, emptiness, and nothing else besides.