Monday, October 6, 2008

The McCain scrutiny XVIII

Avid readers of the ‘Vox will notice the recurrent titular theme of several blogs related to John McCain: a genial misappropriation of the title of a celebrated 1951 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Herman Wouk. “The Caine Mutiny,” to crib from Wikipedia, “deals with, among other things, the moral and ethical decisions made at sea by the captains of ships.”

The previous seventeen blogs titled “The McCain scrutiny” have looked at various aspects of McCain’s ethical and moral decisions not in the hermetic context of a destroyer-minesweeper in World War II but in the frame of a political campaign in an information-relentless age. It’s fair to say the senator from Arizona has given the 'Vox a lot of material to work with.

Never more so than now, when certain provocative actions and inactions by the candidate, the campaign and its proxies, suggest that there truly is no there there, that what will be unfolding for the next twenty-eight days will be an increasingly pitiful embarrassment for a man part Icarus, part Nixon, part Captain Queeg, the second truly tragic American political figure of the 21st century — the first being the man whose office he seeks to assume.

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Over the weekend the McCain campaign announced its intention to make a virtue of the necessity of political mudslinging, circling back to revive a strategy of character assassinations against Sen. Barack Obama.

But we can thank John Aravosis at AmericaBlog for the following indicator of just how rough McCain intends to be:

“McCain was speaking today in New Mexico, doing his usual personal attack on Barack Obama, as the stock market plummeted (you can see the ticker next to McCain on the screen, an apt reminder of what McCain and his fellow Republicans represent), and McCain asked the crowd "who is the real Barack Obama?" Immediately you hear someone yell "terrorist." McCain pauses, the audience laughs, and McCain continues on, not acknowledging, not chastising, not correcting. Oh, but McCain does say in the next sentence that he's upset about all the "angry barrage of insults."

And we can thank The Washington Post’s rock-steady Dana Milbank for reporting the following, of events at a Palin rally in Clearwater, Fla.:

“"Now it turns out, one of his earliest supporters is a man named Bill Ayers," Palin said.

"Boooo!" said the crowd.

"And, according to The New York Times, he was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, 'launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol,'" she continued.

"Boooo!" the crowd repeated.

"Kill him!" proposed one man in the audience.

The McCain campaign thus reaches what up to now would have been unthinkable: a new low in its own campaign strategy, a complete acquiescence to the mob. Milbank doesn’t say whether the man who shouted “Kill him!” was approached in any way by the Secret Service or any other authorities. Probably not. And we can be pretty sure Palin didn’t voice any objections, didn’t have any emotional reaction to that outburst. Nothing. Silence. And therein lies the central vacancy of the McCain campaign, its utter fecklessness revealed.

Terrorist. Kill him. When such words can be not just said but tolerated in the context of a presidential campaign, they reveal a willingness to lay the foundation — to cultivate a sense of approval and permission — on which potentially explosive events could be built, and without which such events cannot exist.

The McCain-Palin campaign has finally entered a realm of such utter rhetorical and imagistic ruthlessness that there’s nothing left to redeem it anymore.

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People are paying attention.

M1, HuffPost: “Incitment to illegal conduct is not protected speech. McCain has crossed the line. If he believes that Obama's supporters will just stand by and tolerate this harmful incitement to harm Obama he is sadly mistaken. The secret service better have a chat with both Paln and McCain before this gets out of hand and some kind of violence results.”

Tstrimling, HuffPost: “In trying to cast Sen. Obama as someone who should be feared, she has created a potentially dangerous situation and should be called on it immediately. While the campaign has put a lid on the press, they cannot keep the FBI from her rallies. I sincerely hope they investigate this thoroughly.”

Note to Tom Brokaw: We’re not holding our breath you'll even read this, but if you do it would be nice, given the gravity of the situation and the stakes of the contest, if tomorrow night, you, the moderator for the second presidential debate, decided to ask McCain about that. Tactfully. Respectfully. Directly:

“Sen. McCain, yesterday when you were speaking in New Mexico, someone responding to your question ‘who is the real Barack Obama?’ shouted ‘terrorist.’ Yesterday when your running mate Sarah Palin was speaking in Florida about Sen. Obama, someone in the crowd shouted ‘kill him!’ Are you now prepared to clearly and unequivocally denounce not only that behavior, but also those in your campaign whose actions on your behalf make such outbursts possible?”

Note to John McCain: We have respected you, and still do, for your service to the country. That is indelible. But there's now, finally, nothing to respect beyond that service. You're not the same man we felt badly for in 2000, when you were the victim of the same ugly sub rosa innuendo you now seek to master on your own behalf. You're not the same man who said, in February of that year, that a campaign that used smear tactics probably didn't have anything else to run on.

You've finally become the worst kind of political self-parody, Captain Queeg off the charts, a whacked-out cold warrior on steroids, thundering around in the same mud you try to throw on the worthies around you, snarling and thrashing in a ring with no one else in it. We look at you but we don't see a principled candidate. We almost certainly don't see a president, we don't see a scrapper or a maverick. Hell, we don't even see an angry man anymore.

More and more, sir, we see a man who's forgotten or abandoned a central bedrock principle for those seeking the nation's highest office: that someone who'll do or tolerate or acquiesce in anything in order to be president doesn't deserve to be president.

More and more, as the clock on your political relevance winds down, we look at you, sir, and see nothing at all.
Image credit: Humphrey Bogart as Capt. Queeg: © 1954 Columbia Pictures,

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