Life Imitates Art

By James McCarty Yeager

Republicans are running away from the Preznit like he’s an Army recruiter. — Anonymous

Washington, D.C.

Bertolt Brecht’s 1947 play Galileo debates the moral responsibility of atomic scientists for the use of their discoveries. It suited Brecht’s grimly non-capitalist mind to explore similar issues as applied to the theological-security Church instead of to the national-security state.

Although the Inquisitor wants to punish Galileo for upsetting received cosmology, for a while Galileo has the protection of Cardinal Bellarmine, (an open-minded prelate not predisposed against science.) Eventually Bellarmine becomes the new, reforming Pope. As he robes for his papal investiture, Bellarmine starts out resisting the Inquisitor (who still wants to get his hooks into Galileo.) Proceeding to don ever more elaborate vestments, Bellarmine refuses to give in. But finally—after the Inquisitor reminds him that the Church’s authority is in question here, not mere science—simultaneous with the attendants’ final gesture of placing the Papal tiara on Bellarmine’s head, he assents where he had previously demurred. His final line in the scene makes it his first official act as Pope to remove his protection and give the Inquisition permission to interrogate Galileo in the name of higher policy.

Nowadays Sen. John McCain is identically afflicted. As the Republican crown settles upon his querulous, aged and ill-suited brow, the last shreds of respectability are stripped from him, leaving him naked to the winds of history.

McCain is 2008’s Bob Dole: a once-potentially-decent man running 20 years too late. They are both long-time legislative hacks who sold their souls to be president and degenerated into cranky old men. Some may recall how painful it was to watch Dole shed principle as he licked Senior Bush boot so as to become heir to the 1996 nomination. But watching McCain run away from his own campaign finance reform, anti-torture positions, and civilized immigration reform has been positively excruciating in the last two years.

McCain has had more to betray than Dole, but has done so just as ruthlessly and far more rapidly. In addition to the above defalcations, in the current lobbying scandal we learn that the man who once drew applause for his stance against giving away the digital broadcasting spectrum took money from those same network and telecommunications companies.

Chris Cilliza at the WaPo site says, “McCain, too, has railed against special interests throughout his political life.” Well, not exactly. He has done so only since being caught in the Keating 5 scandal. Just as Jerry Lewis (after a career making fun of retarded persons) went on to do telethons for Jerry’s Kids in an inspired fit of reputation rehabilitation, so McCain reinvented himself as St. John the Maverick after carrying water for thieves during the S&L scandal.

Some have argued that McCain is a good-natured fellow befuddled by the intricacies of existence (he was 6th from the bottom in his Naval Academy class) who was exploited by Keating in the S&L outrage and who has been making up for it ever since. But his actions in senatoring-as-usual at the behest of post-Keating lobbyists indicate that McCain’s expiation had early, continuous and severe limits.

And McCain’s belief in his own goodness, maverickosity and purity of heart seems to lead him into these positions, as with Keating before and now Vicki Iseman and the 59 lobbyists raising funds for his campaign, where he cannot see he’s done anything wrong. Yet his financial shenanigans — in getting a campaign loan against federal matching funds that he now wants to avoid accepting so as not to have spending limits — just look plain sleazy.

No, the closer he comes to being ratified as the official Crown Prince the less McCain is his own man. As franchise holder for the Bush Third Term, he has even less room to maneuver than Dole did. He’s bought the war, Guantanamo, warrantless wiretapping and corporate immunity, Justice Department scandals and their coverup, exposing a covert national security asset for political purposes and all the other trappings of the Unitary Executive theory that turn impeachable unconstitutional acts into policy.

None of it has given him any indigestion. Only thing is, he’s standing around in the chill breezes of a garden-variety lobbying scandal, unprotected by anything except the Mighty Wurlitzer TM Republican Noise Machine delivering futile and misdirected attacks on the New York Times.

Electorally, John McCain is about to become the concluding bookend to Barry Goldwater, who ushered raw-meat conservatives into sight of respectability and power. Bush Minor, whose wild cowboy foreign policy was even less responsible than Goldwater’s, has squandered two generations of that conservative respectability, and by his dismal performance has ensured political power will be withheld from conservative hands for quite some time.

McCain is the guilty bystander upon whom that whole house of cards is falling.

On balance, couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

James McCarty Yeager surveys Washington, D.C., from the hill north of the Soldiers’ Home where Lincoln would ride to visit the wounded and get away from the heat of downtown.

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2008

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