After his stunt at the Baghdad market, John McCain is certainly America’s premier buffoon, at least outside the Bush Administration. He has all the moral seriousness of Bertie Wooster without Jeeves. He’ll soon be challenging Bello for top billing at the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. Or maybe he’ll end up touring county fairs, biting the heads off chickens and sitting on the ducking post. Remake of “The Blue Angel,” perhaps? He’d be good as Emil Jannings in the final scene.
At least this stunt is just farce, albeit not at all funny to the Iraqis who regularly spend time in the market he proclaimed safe after visiting it for ten minutes with his body armor, 100 soldiers in Humvees, 3 attack helicopters, 2 Apache gunships, and sharpshooters stationed in the buildings all around (all on top of the pre-dawn sweep and diversion of traffic). McCain only recently did much worse than farce, back in fall 2006 when he pretended to negotiate with the Bush Administration about the torture legislation and then promptly caved on the whole thing, thereby betraying his own personal history and anything honorable that he had ever seriously stood for.
The saddest things about McCain are twofold. First, despite all the hype about the “Straight Talk Express” and such, I think he actually had some integrity at some point. It simply has all been consumed by his ambition and desperation. I am reminded of Hubert Humphrey, who embarrassed himself in the 1972 Presidential campaign, trying halfheartedly to do George Wallace Lite, because the ambition and desperation had eaten up everything else, like one of Sauron’s victims bearing a lesser Ring of Power. Second, if you sell out and torch your integrity and honor in order to win, it kind of helps if you actually do win – at least that saves you from being ridiculous. To sell out and still lose badly, as I suspect McCain will, is to lose everything. I wonder, once it is all over, if (unlike Bush or Cheney) he will actually be able to grasp the totality of his humiliation.
I actually met the man once, in circumstances that certainly embarrassed me more than him. It was probably the year 2000, and I had a book out recently (probably Making Sense of Social Security Reform). I was halfheartedly trying to get it media exposure. (The problem is that I’m always more interested in writing my new project than promoting my old one.) I got a call from a booker on Good Morning America, ostensibly giving me a chance to appear on a segment with Senator McCain and to mention my book. The booker, some sort of junior intern who (it turned out) was just trying to get 60 people or so to agree to show up in Midtown NYC before 6 in the morning, told me that I would definitely get to ask him a question. She would have said yes if I had asked whether, by showing up, I would get to host the show for a few weeks.
When I got there, it transpired that I was just one of 60 people who could submit a question on an index card, about 3 of which (the more vacuous the better) would be read by the host to the Senator. But by the time I realized that I should just leave I had already been herded with the rest into the studio for the live gig. I did get to look anonymously disgruntled on national television for a second or two when the camera swept past me a couple of times.
When it was over, McCain worked the crowd shaking hands. Somehow it transpired that, although I had already shaken his hand once, he was heading towards the exit and I was still standing nearby. Thinking that I wanted a second go, he said to me angrily: “I already shook your hand!”
I ended up with a Good Morning America t-shirt plus a story to tell my Tax class a few hours later.
Payback is sweet, Senator, even if it wasn’t your fault.