M for McCain
Chalmers Johnson: If a bankruptcy situation doesn't shake us up, then I fear we will, as an author I admire wrote the other day, be "crying for the coup." We could end the way the Roman Republic ended. When the chaos, the instability become too great, you turn it over to a single man. After about the same length of time our republic has been in existence, the Roman Republic got itself in that hole by inadvertently, thoughtlessly acquiring an empire they didn't need and weren't able to administer, that kept them at war all the time. Ultimately, it caught up with them. I can't see how we would be immune to a Julius Caesar, to a militarist who acts the populist. [emphasis mine]
TomDispatch: Do you think that our all-volunteer military will turn out to be the janissaries of our failed empire?
Johnson: They might very well be. I'm already amazed at the degree to which they tolerate this incompetent government. I mean the officers know that their precious army, which they worked so hard to rebuild after the Vietnam War, is coming apart again, that it's going to be ever harder to get people to enlist, that even the military academies are in trouble. I don't know how long they'll take it. Tommy Franks, the general in charge of the attack on Baghdad, did say that if there were another terrorist attack in the United States comparable to 9/11, the military might have no choice but to take over. In other words: If we're going to do the work, why listen to incompetents like George Bush? Why take orders from an outdated character like Donald Rumsfeld? Why listen to a Congress in which, other than John McCain, virtually no Republican has served in the armed forces? [emphasis mine]
I don't see the obvious way out of our problems. The political system has failed. You could elect the opposition party, but it can't bring the CIA under control; it can't bring the military-industrial complex under control; it can't reinvigorate the Congress. It would be just another holding operation as conditions got worse.
There is no person in American politics today more perfectly described as a "militarist who acts the populist" than John McCain. His image - created and perpetuated by the media irrespective of reality - is of a maverick, a moderate, a man who is not of the Republican Party. Nothing could be further from the truth. With the exception of campaign finance reform (a cause from which he is now careful to distance himself), he is a reliable party-line Republican on nearly every issue, stands strongly against equal rights for women and gays, and despite occasional "concern" that he expresses about excessive spending (military and otherwise), almost never votes against any bill put forward by leadership. When you hear about a party-line vote, he's part of that majority party.
McCain has, over the last several months, drawn himself closer and closer to George W. Bush - a man who has been at pains to identify himself at every available opportunity with the military, with his status as "Commander-in-Chief." Bush has gone so far as to, on several occasions, don a fake, custom-made military uniform, and frequently speaks before military audiences who are obliged to applaud on command. It is astonishing how willing our press has been in perpetuating the myth of George W. Bush as High Warrior, a behavior they will almost certainly repeat - enthusiastically - for a prospective candidate, nominee and President John McCain, given that McCain was a bona fide war hero and survivor of North Vietnamese POW camps. They will construct this image, and they will construct the image of McCain as a glorious outsider, a man uniquely able to address the problems our country currently faces - the war in Iraq, a weakened, nearly bankrupt federal government, corruption rampant in the halls of Congress - despite the fact that McCain has been instrumental in creating and furthering these various problems.
Scott Shields at MyDD offers the following:
"...the Republicans are going to pretend that 2008 is a complete changing of the guard -- from Bush to McCain. But it will just be more of the same. McCain will no doubt put a friendlier face on the politics, but the policies will remain bad none the less, because as Lizza says, at the end of the day McCain really is "the last Bush Republican.""I think that this is exactly what is going to happen, and I agree that McCain is, for now, "the last Bush Republican." But there only needs to be one Bush Republican around at any given time - one High Warrior. It is difficult to emphasize sufficiently just how skillful the GOP has been in constructing of a cult of (militarized) personality around George W. Bush - a man who is not merely ordinary but far below mediocre in nearly any and every category of assessment one might offer of a man. With the chaos of the world that Bush has created, it will be ever easier to create a similar cult around a man who possesses some manner of competence and charisma.
Giving such a man the keys to the country at this point - when the administration of the far-below-mediocre George W. Bush has managed to consolidate all the powers of the federal government in the executive - would be exceedingly dangerous. Digby quotes Bruce Fein, Constitutional Scholar and former Deputy Attorney General in the Reagan Administration from his December 19, 2005 appearance on the Diane Rehm Show, and then offers his own thoughts.
"...if President Bush is totally unapologetic and says I continue to maintain that as a wartime President I can do anything I want - I don't need to consult any other branches - that is an impeachable offense. It's more dangerous that Clinton's lying under oath because it jeopardizes our democratic dispensation and civil liberties for the ages. It would set a precedent that - would lie around like a loaded gun, able to be used indefinitely for any future occupant."The key for Democrats, then, is in preventing the successful construction of such a cult of personality around McCain - the "militarist who acts the populist" - and preventing his ascension to the presidency. To do so, they must begin to expose him for who he truly is. Matt Stoller, also at MyDD offers some hope:
The president continues to say that as a wartime president he can do anything he wants, openly and without any sense of shame. He has loaded that precedent and unless somebody puts a stop to it, it will lie there waiting for the next time a despotic president and his party want to use it.
First up, McCain. In Arizona, he's taking a beating in his approval/disapproval ratings. He was up 72-24 a month ago, he's now 64-29. That's a 13 point swing. What's more interesting is where the swing is happening. Among Democrats, his approval rating has dropped from 73-24 to 58-32, a drop of 23 points. Among independents, he goes from 72-25 to 64-30, a drop of 13 points (which I would imagine is occurring among left-leaning independents). Among Republicans, he stayed neutral, going from 70-24 to 72-26. McCain's partisanship isn't new, but the willingness of Democrats to call him on it is new, and this seems to be having an effect.This, at least, is a possible way out. At least some people who believe - incorrectly - in the construction of McCain as maverick, McCain as moderate, McCain as populist, are willing to chnage their minds in the face of the new evidence in the form of McCain's recent movesto ally himself with the current regime. In terms of public opinion, a move in approval of 23 points in one month in any group, absent a major event, is a large one. This means this task is not impossible - but it is still formidable. Even Arizona Democrats, after this past month, approve of him by a margin of 58-32 - and they are in the best position to know and have known the real John McCain. There is considerable work to be done, but considerable incentive to do so for our Republic - if we can keep it
UPDATE: This, at least, shows we're not there yet.