Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The DISCLOSE Act, or, The Final Nail in The McCain Myth

So, the DISCLOSE Act failed to break cloture today. It's not that surprising, as the Republicans have been moving rightward on campaign finance since 2009 in order to avoid the freedom-crippling limits of union and corporate spending on politics. Were Thomas Jefferson alive, he would undoubtedly weep at what we'd done with campaign finance, destroying his vision of capitalist democracy and all. Look, this isn't really my issue, and while I personally don't think there's anything wrong with campaign finance reform I think attempts to fix it attack the symptom rather than the disease, which is income inequality. But it is interesting. Campaign finance reform is a popular issue, and Republicans making this sort of stand just seems brazen and politically dumb. The smarter move from their point of view would have been to accept some sort of compromise that neutered the measure, as House Democrats pretty much already did by exempting the NRA. But in a typically lucid stance the Tea Parties decided that the best way to address the intolerable collusion between government and business was to let business spend as much money as it wanted on politics, which I'm sure will make NO MORE BAILOUTS a reality forever. I'm sure the moderates would have wanted to act on this, but as with most things there seems to be limited political space for Repubs to freestyle these days. It's actually a pretty good campaign issue for Democrats, as another data point with which to paint the GOP in general as a bunch of corporate tools.

What interests me most is that John McCain voted to filibuster, along with all his colleagues. I think it's worth pointing out. Admittedly, McCain kinda-sorta reversed himself on this some months ago, but campaign finance reform was among the earliest heterodox positions that McCain adopted, and that he's now opposed even to debating the topic in the Senate shows just how little the man actually stands for. Like most people on the left I bought into the McCain Myth for most of the Bush years. My reasons were, I suspect, pretty typical: as I became more and more convinced of the twisted nature of the Bush Administration, I deeply wanted to believe that there was someone with actual power who realized the extent of their wrongness and had the guts to fight against it. For a time, McCain seemed like exactly the person I--and so many others--were hoping would take the stage. Certainly, the Democrats of 2001-2005 were a pretty uninspiring bunch. McCain seemed to be the only hope of people like myself--he actually seemed to relish the role. So the McCain Myth grew, thanks to people like myself and the media. I think even McCain himself believed it for a time. But it was all bullshit, as the only things that truly drive the guy are twin burning desires: to use military force as liberally as possible, and to advance a highly pronounced ambition. Virtually every position change he's ever made can be thoroughly explained by those two factors. Campaign finance reform was due to his personal scandals--he had to adopt an image of a clean-politics reformer to stay in office. His moderation on other issues occurred during the late 1990s, at a time when the public had tired of the Gingrichian right-wingery that had been ascendant in the GOP during that decade, and after losing to Bush in the GOP primaries McCain's further move to the left can be easily explained as a realization that he probably had no future in the GOP and wanted to get cozier with the other party (famously, it is speculated that he considered switching parties). And his movement back to the right, culminating in his supporting Bush in 2004 instead of joining John Kerry's ticket, really was the climax of the building of the McCain Myth--and the moment it started going bust. McCain must have realized that if he threw in his lot with Kerry he would never actually be president, while if he got over his anger and backed Bush he just might have a crack at the job. I'm quite sure he would have run against Bush had the Democrats given him the top slot on the ticket, and he might even have won. He didn't switch parties, though, and ultimately the prospect of ending the combination of environmental neglect, upward wealth redistribution, and torture--the Bush Troika that McCain vehemently opposed--were no match for McCain's desire to succeed Bush in office. McCain is certainly politically shrewd, but in retrospect his backing of Bush showed the lie in his transformation into Mr. Elder Statesman, and his slide downward toward becoming a polarizing and unlikeable party hack has, at last, reached full fruition. Remember the date, folks. If you had any last inklings that John McCain is a good guy and an honorable public servant, now is the time to drop them.

In the end, I suspect that McCain will be judged harshly by future historians, who will just be baffled by how much good press the guy got for someone with hardly any legacy and rather obvious venality, and will probably chock it up to the desperation of the times. I predict that McCain will have a tough time winning re-election this year even in Arizona, just because I can't imagine that anyone on the right, left or center trusts him anymore. It would probably be better for him if he lost because he still has a chance to try to do things that will burnish his legacy a little bit and maybe dull the acrid smell of his actual record (think Herbert Hoover and his tireless work for children after he left office), but my guess is that he'll get another term in a close, nasty, 51-49ish race that will require him to pander to racist xenophobes (The immigrants are coming to take your jobs, my friends!), Glenn Beck worshippers and fundamentalist wackos in such a way that will make his infamous address at Falwell U. in 2006 look mild, and that his last term will see him losing ever more influence, up until he finally earns his richly deserved irrelevance. I think there's probably a great novel or film to be made with McCain as a politically talented antihero, although it's worth noting that his arc is eerily similar to war hero-turned-Congressman Clay Overbury's in Washington, D.C. by Gore Vidal, which would so totally make an awesome movie.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.