by Rick Rockwell
There’s a saying about John McCain: Love the man; hate his positions.
After watching the carefully orchestrated Republican National Convention this week, that saying no longer applies. At least, for this critic.
Full disclosure: during the last presidential election year, this writer was serving on Capitol Hill. The experience was eye-opening and depressing. Some of this, Sen. McCain (R-AZ) addressed in his acceptance speech for the presidential nomination on the closing night of the convention. McCain spoke of a culture in Washington where politicians served themselves first. The country be damned. Thus McCain’s slogan of “Country First.” (Also, a not so subtle swipe at Obamamania which looks like the cult of personality, American-style.)
During a year, with a lot of work for a Senate committee that McCain chaired, the Senate Commerce Committee, this writer came away believing few politicians were true to their oaths. McCain was one of the very few exceptions. Respect and admiration swelled for McCain, although this writer was working for the Democrats. McCain didn’t seem to care about party (as he underlined in his speech), instead he cared about the issues. He put Democrats and independents in key positions on his staff (sure, mostly Clintonites, but the point was made) and up until very recently he has had to pay for that maverick reputation with lukewarm support from the Republican base. In 2004, McCain was a leader to respect: much better than the indecisive Tom Daschle, leader of the Senate Democrats of the time, or the weak Harry Reid, leader of the Senate Democrats now.
But the John McCain of 2004 (someone who presidential candidate and fellow Senator, John Kerry considered as a potential running mate) is not the same McCain of 2008. Today, McCain looks a lot like those other self-serving politicians: someone who will say or promise anything to achieve their goal.
The hecklers who interrupted McCain’s acceptance speech tried to point out his hypocrisy on his votes concerning veteran’s issues, energy policy, and more. But of course, they were shouted down and whisked away.
But watching McCain’s speech was all anyone really needed to realize that the war hero now is the leader of the party of Orwell. Not that George Orwell would join the Republicans. No, instead, he warned us about their promises of a dystopian future.
Remember, in Orwell’s classic 1984, the three party slogans:
• War is Peace
• Freedom is Slavery
• Ignorance is Strength.
Those slogans were laid out for all to see in McCain’s speech.
If you want peace, McCain reasoned, be prepared to confront our enemies. Be prepared to take on Iran. Or the Russians. (Despite criticisms, McCain’s strong response to Russia's invasion of Georgia is likely one of the moves he made in August that have kept him nearly on par with his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama from Illinois.)
Want a better education? Then turn schools over completely to a consumer culture where parents and students will set the standards and decide curriculum. Teachers will be told what to teach and how to teach it.
McCain performed this same Orwellian trick throughout his speech. Want to save the planet? Then as the Republican chant goes: “Drill, baby, drill!” Energy independence (another cornerstone of the peace through strength reasoning) means the unconscionable policy of drilling for oil like there is no tomorrow to increase rather than decrease our carbon emissions in a time of global warming.
Want better service from your government? Then cut taxes. Cut spending. Cut government. The Orwellian logic: the same inefficient government we have now will get better if it is smaller. Just tell the folks in New Orleans what a smaller government did for them in 2005. Weren’t the Republicans holding their collective breath this week as Hurricane Gustav took a swipe at New Orleans? And isn’t it clear the smaller government hasn’t been able to provide the security for that city, and won’t have the levee system rebuilt for another three years, at the least.
After trying to sell those Orwellian propositions, there is no way to love McCain. Respect him for his achievements. Thank him for his service. And realize politicians are going to lie to us. It’s in their nature.
For more background on the 2008 campaign, please see these archival posts:
(The photo of Sen. John McCain campaigning in Louisiana in June is by dsb nola via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. To see the first part of McCain's acceptance speech in St. Paul, MN at the Republican convention, please check below.)
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by Rick Rockwell