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Ghosts of 2008
John McCain Threatens

The statesman is on the right

I’m a fan of Arizona. I’m not a fan of John McCain, even less so now that McCain chose an appearance on Letterman Wednesday (Letterman, divine king, does not usually so easily stoop to sleaze; wasn't Britney Spears available?) to announce, as his travel schedule and exploratory committees and frequent-flier miles in and out of New Hampshire and Iowa had announced a few dozen times, that he would formally announce that he would be a candidate for the 2008 presidency—a formal announcement he actually made in his warmongering speech to the Republican National Convention, in Giuliani territory, in 2004, when he commanded us that “we must, we must” do something or other, I’m not quite sure what, though it vaguely had to do with supporting the president in his many wars no matter what. That McCain still thinks so, that he thinks the ongoing escalation in Iraq is too timid, that he thinks the “global war on terror” is not only still a viable set of words (which could be excused, if he kept it to the campaign trail) but a viable policy, makes him the perennial soldier fighting the last war rather than the visionary and the true leader looking to prevent the next one. Worse than that: McCain is still fighting Vietnam, and he’s not looking to win. He’s looking to avenge. His much-touted “return to Vietnam” Movietone reels had all the makings of a man looking to put his demons behind him while he kept his fingers crossed behind his back. The guy knows how to play fences, how to deceive, how to betray: Witness his treatment of the POW issue in the early 1990s, witness his Machiavellian re-embrace of George Bush in the run-up to 2004, to clear his way for 2008, and then his (McCain’s) embrace of the religious right after that. Whatever principles he may have had dropped off at the bottom of that watery semi-grave he landed in when he was taken prisoner in North Vietnam.

As I recall I announced that he would announce his many announcements back in May 2006 (seeing him obviously enough as “the potential successor to Bush”), when I took another look at his famous coming-out article in US News & World Report after his four years as a prisoner of war at the Hanoi Hilton and other North Vietnamese dens and discovered that neither the piece nor McCain had aged well. They’d aged meanly. But military service is no innate virtue, nor is surviving a prisoner of war camp. Ex-war prisoners should be respected, though no less questioned, doubted and tested about their morals and character and possibly more so, than anybody else. War warps. It doesn’t “build,” whether it’s character or cities. And aged he has. He’s 72 years old. He’ll be 73 on August 29, he’ll be 74 even before he takes office, making him a full presidential term older than Ronald Reagan was when he took office in 1981. Reagan was already teetering on the brink of senility when he did, and not just the ideological kind. Forgive the ageism here, but there’s a point where we must, we must be clear-eyed about the gauze-eyed and say thank you, but we’ll look elsewhere. That old soldiers never die is a nice adage. It’s not good material on which to stake national security. Least of all when the old soldier is an untrustworthy jingoist who only plays the role of reconstructed conservative. The alternative, who apparently is twice as popular in the early polls (Giuliani) is not better, nor that much younger (he’ll be 65, ripe for retirement, by his inauguration day). But if the choice comes down to those two, give me the messy divorcé of Gracie Mansion over the vengeful POW of the Hanoi Hilton any day.

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