Thursday, October 9, 2008

You Do Need a Weatherman

The liberal line on John McCain is that he was once a decent and honorable fellow, notwithstanding his reactionary views, but that he made a Faustian bargain with the Republican “base” that has led him to abandon decency and honor. There is some truth to this story, though it wildly exaggerates the virtues of the McCain of yesteryear, as a host of writers have pointed out. Here, again, is a link to a particularly instructive discussion of the issue. McCain has descended from a very low plateau, not a mountain.

McCain’s supporters would, of course, disagree; though it isn’t clear how they could do so plausibly. Thus, following Sarah Palin’s lead, they endlessly repeat the claim that the man is a “maverick” who puts his country first. Why not? Plausibility is not something Palin, or the people she appeals to, appreciate or even understand.

One thing that both McCain’s liberal critics and his supporters agree about, however, is that John McCain was a war hero. This shared conviction is what gives Barack Obama’s grotesquely exaggerated “palling around” with Bill Ayers, a leader of the Weather Underground some forty years ago, its sting. That sting, in turn, is why liberal Democrats want to claim that raising the specter of Bill Ayers is just a “diversion” that the McCain campaign, because it has nothing constructive to say about the economy, is raising out of desperation. To have any chance at all of winning, the argument goes, Republicans have nothing more they can say or do except raise racially-tinged doubts about Obama’s character – in order to make susceptible voters wary of pulling the lever for him, no matter how dissatisfied they may be with the alternative.

There’s some truth to that story too, though it misses the most morally and politically relevant point – in a way that calls attention to how much of an evil the lesser evil is. As I’ve written before, in many entries on this site, Obama, like most Democrats, is a dove, but emphatically not an opponent of America’s imperial role in the world. This is why he will prolong the occupation of Iraq and intensify American involvement in Afghanistan – although both of these Bush wars are not just lost causes, but also reprehensible misadventures in behalf of a misguided cause. Like Richard Nixon back in the days when Bill Ayers was “bringing the war back home,” liberals, including most Democrats, want at least the appearance of “peace with honor” – the better to fight again another day (should more fighting become necessary to maintain American domination of the rest of the world).

Thus they honor McCain’s “service” as ardently as they “support the troops” (by keeping them in harm’s way); and they deride what Bill Ayers had been about before he “rehabilitated” himself -- as Keith Olbermann, the best of them, put it on MSNBC’s “Countdown.” They could hardly be more wrong.

Before his plane was shot down, John McCain fought on the wrong side in Vietnam. No doubt, he killed and maimed scores, perhaps hundreds, of people. Bill Ayers and the other Weatherpeople tried, maladroitly and in vain, to fight on the right side -- to attack the aggressor here in what we now call “homeland”, in order to aid the aggressor’s victims in Vietnam. Their strategy was wrong-headed and counter-productive. Perhaps it was morally reprehensible too. Even so, they killed no one (except, through bomb-making ineptitude, several of themselves) and hardly did much property damage either. In other words, the liberals have the moral and political assessment all wrong. Ayers was not a “hero,” but he was – and is – an estimable person. McCain, so far from being a hero, is not even an estimable person and never has been. And, unlike Ayers, he is not in the least repentant.

What about Sarah Palin, the chosen messenger for making much ado about Obama’s tenuous association with Ayers? Now that she no longer has to cram for “debates” or interviews outside the precincts of Fox News, she has emerged as a full-fledged and unabashed “pig” in the sense, unfairly demeaning to the animal, that the word had back in the days when Ayers’ response to the Vietnam War was in every respect morally superior to McCain’s. The difference from McCain is just that she is spunky and, of course, that she slaps on lipstick.

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