‘Is he ready to lead yet?’ Never: John McCain, Despair and the Politics of Destruction

In “McCain Tries to Define Obama as Out of Touch,” Jim Rutenberg reports that “Senator John McCain is beginning a newly aggressive campaign to define Mr. Obama as arrogant, out of touch and unprepared for the presidency.” Primarily, says Steven Schmidt, “the czar of the Bush war room,” the McCain campaign is asking ‘Is he ready to lead yet?’ about Obama. The resounding answer for them is “No he is not.”

We are in an extraordinarily dangerous moment in American history: the attempt to complicate real issues by falsely manipulating images, rather than engendering a frank and honest–and honorable—discussion about the future of America.

It is clear that John McCain finds himself without a vision, without a voice, so the only recourse is to rely on descructive and desperate approaches focused not on Obama, but rather, on the exploitation of the media because, the McCain campaign believes, they in turn control the uninformed and immature American voter. This is an old practice. And this is why today we find ourselves in such a confusing state of affairs.

McCain’s despair emphasizes the politics of conservatism that follows lock step the Bush approach. I’ve already pointed out the historical antecendents to this in “Why John McCain Won’t be President.” Now in the new book U.S. Versus Them: How a Half-Century of Conservatism Has Undermined America’s Security, J. Peter Scoblic points out that by promoting an aggressive foreign policy drafted in absolute moral terms, the conservative movement has actually made the United States more vulnerable to attack. Thus the conservatism of the past 50 years, Scoblic tells us, has actually undermined American security.

We have never been more vulnerable. It is obvious that we are having a difficult time coexisting in a complex world, particularly when we insist on a Manichaean worldview. Pursuing an aggressive campaign focused on falsehoods undermines the very core of democracy and freedom. This is a key point, particularly since McCain likes to speak about such lofty ideals as honor and virtue. McCain lacks both, showing that he will do anything to win, even if it means continuing policies that undermine the very idea of America.

“Is he ready to lead yet?” No, John McCain consistently demonstrates that his actions speak louder than his rhetoric; that he is bombastic; that he seeks not to influence by logic and reason, but rather, by forceful manipulation and indecency.

John McCain is the embodiment of the decline of American culture. And though I agree with Scobic’s argument that covers the last 50 years, historically, this decline began a long time ago. The first to note this was Henry James, in 1877, in his novel The American.

The opening scene defines the new American arrogance. It announces the blindness that characterizes this level of privilege. Christopher Newman sits in a “great circular divan” that occupied the centre of the Salon Carré in the Louvre, in Paris. He had taken “serene possession of its softest spot, and, with his head thrown back and his legs outstretched, was staring at Murrillo’s beautiful moon-borne Madonna in profound enjoyment of his posture.” In fact, Newman, says James, “suggested the sort of vigour that is commonly known as toughness.”

This is the newman for a new America. The world is for the taking. In an over sexualized posture, Christopher Newman is not enthralled by the Murrilo; he is “in profound enjoyment of his posture.” Here, James shows that this new and tough American is enjoying his position in this the old world. He is going to tame it, dominate it. This is who we believe we are.

But this image in inverted in the final chapter when, according to Newman, “the most unpleasant thing that had ever happened to him had reached its formal conclusion, as it were.” At this point, Newman had “no prayers to say.” “Now he must take care of himself,” alone. This is America, alone, trying to take care of its overstepping, its reaching far beyond what is morally and ethically feasible. We are vulnerable and alone today in the world. We can only blame ourselves, though.

In the end, for James, Christopher Newman is a challenge for America: as we reach out and grab, will we take responsibility for our actions? Will we ground our pursuit of freedoms on honor and virtuous action?

Never has a culture been so free as ours; never have individuals been so free to pursue dreams; and never have we experienced the resounding chorus of people around the world asking that we pursue our ambitions ethically–ethical ambition.

John McCain has failed ethical ambition. His is the last breath of a long line of blind ambition. His is ambition for the sake of ambition; his is ambition for the sake of the few who wish to keep the United States isolated from humanity. If we believe the manipulations of McCain’s aggressive, unethical machine, tomorrow’s America will be dark and isolated.

Is John McCain ready to lead? How can he be? He is already being lead by the dark forces of a vituperative conservatism.

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