McCain and His Captors

I posted a couple of days ago about the striking similarities of and enormous differences between John McCain and Bob Dole.  My friend Ted Whatley had this response:

I chuckled at Dole’s wit and marvelled at his meanness and his service to ADM.

Dole campaigned as he did because he assumed a future in his party. McCain has none which is another disastrous element in his flawed, disastrous sense of leadership; So much for mini-mavericks. Think TR in 1912.

McCain tour as a POW shaped his life. If the Freudians were in vogue, we’d be hearing a lot about how we repeat and/or try to replicate high moments in our lives. Dash ahead to 2000 and after when the Rove universe took him out of the skies and brutally tamed him. Then he hires them–his putative captors–to run his campaign.

McCain cannot function with a captor.

My response:

Ted-

If you’re going to remember Dole’s service to ADM, don’t forget his flakking for Viagra.  I always thought it strange that the media never did any efficacy fact checking with Liddy; the Pfizer lobby was probably just too strong.  Potent.  Whatever.

I think your formulation is just brilliant.   McCain is suffering from Extremely Late Onset Stockholm Syndrome.  That would explain a lot.   It makes sense that Patty Hearst was not the only one with family money who behaved erratically in captivity.  And you must admit, Steve Schmidt must look pretty damned intimidating in one of those Symbionese Liberation Army berets.

If the Freudians were indeed ascendant, at least our overlords would be a group who values ideas.  But there’s something more meta at play than McCain’s own psychological arc, unique though it certainly is.   It seems to me that McCain is also a historical figure who should be viewed through the lens of that great Eric Hoffer riff: 

Every great cause begins as a movement, then it becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.

If you haven’t, I implore you to read George’s Packer’s “The Fall of Conservatism,” maybe the finest magazine article on politics I’ve ever read.  As an overlay to Hoffer’s dictum, Packer sketches the following arc of the conservative movement:  Goldwater conceived it; Nixon brought it to power; Reagan legitimized it with the mainstream; Gingrich radicalized it and gave it militancy; Rove made it borderline criminal; and Bush 43 presided over its demise.

What starts as a grand idea gradually becomes hollowed out in service of the preservation of power for power’s own sake.  (The Cheney bio, Angler, is worth a skim in this regard.)   

All of what follows assumes an Obama victory, as tempting to the Fates as that is.

With the perspective of this historical sweep, one is tempted to sympathize with McCain as the inevitable pall bearer of the conservative movement.  It’s as if he inherited a few random sheets of x’s and o’s out of Vince Lombardi’s playbook, but has never given any thought to the deeper meaning of football.   He’s putting the dot on the exlamation point that punctuates the end of an era, just as the Ohio State drum major dots the i at halftime.  The difference is that the lad in the funny hat knows exactly what he is doing, and comports himself with considerable grace and panache.

It’s interesting to ponder how this all would have unfolded had Mitt Romney been left holding the now-empty conservative idea bag.   For starters, he would still be campaigning in Michigan.  And it’s certainly not inconceivable that he would have won the election, running as a seasoned business guy in the face of an economic tsunami, and leaving to his running mate Huckabee the job of firing up the base as McCain has left that task to Palin.  Although his messaging in the primary was not a model of focus, it’s quite possible that he would have come across as Obama’s equal on cool but his superior on economic chops.

But I doubt it.  And McCain’s primary victory may have ultimately prove fortuitous for the Republicans:  his campaign has been so erratic and embarrassingly substance-free that movement conservatism, to the extent it still exists, is guaranteed its moment of catharsis, regardless of whether McCain loses in a landslide or a 2 a.m. squeaker.

Provided an Obama victory, when on the sun rises on November 5, the party of “Ideas Have Consequences” will be staring at the consequences of a fully denatured idea in its  post-racket decrepitude.   The Democrats had a similar experience in 1968.  Good luck with  all that, gentleman.  Oh, and, Governor.

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