Monday, February 18, 2008

What Price The Quest?

“We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious.”

As we knock loose teeth and shatter limbs and joints during our “pre-season” figuring out who's going to start for our side in the “big game”, it seems our opponents have already made a choice of champion. So while we kick our own asses grabbing at the fleeting thrill of Varsity glory/ avoiding the agony of JV ignominy, there he stands in the tunnel—the other team's “choice”, awaiting us. Awaiting America.

An immensely flawed “choice”.

Dangerously flawed, in fact.

Yes, I said dangerously flawed. And there's not a whit of hyperbole in that phrase.

Let's dig into the phrase itself for a second though—shall we?

dangerous (dān'jər-əs)
1. Involving or filled with danger; perilous.
2. Being able or likely to do harm..


flawed (flô'd)
1. Imperfect, in an often concealed way that impairs soundness.

If you could put a dictionary-style picture next to that phrase that would sum it up, you couldn't find a more perfect one than the photoshop mash-up that heads this post. John McCain—as the quest-twisted Gollum from “Lord Of The Rings”. He is the GOP's champion. Their standard-bearer. This time-and-disrespect gnarled man who the very pursuit of the “golden ring” of a collective, national pat on the back has grossly disfigured.

Not externally disfigured...but soul-deep. Heart-deep. Core-deep.

When a person allows his sense of values—hard-core right and wrong to be so eroded that it is but a chip to be tossed onto the pile in trade for prestige...when a person will push his self-respect across the table and cheaply barter it for a chance at something he doesn't need, but his ego craves—you are dealing with a dangerously flawed individual.

Let's look at him again...John McCain.

Now, you might think of that image as cruel, or snarky...but I put him and Gollum together because I can think of no better way to visually represent what has happened to this man than to see him as this creature—simultaneously sad, pitiful, quest-addled, and yes, dangerous.

Read a little on Gollum and try not to bruise your lap from the jaw-dropping irony:

Originally known as Sméagol, Sméagol was later named Gollum after the guttural, choking, coughing noise he made in his throat. His life was extended far beyond its natural limits by the effects of possessing the One Ring. His one desire was to possess the Ring which had enslaved him. He pursued the ring for 76 years after having lost it to Bilbo Baggins.

During his centuries under the Ring's influence, he developed a sort of split personality: "Sméagol" still vaguely remembered things like friendship and love, while "Gollum" was a slave to the Ring and would kill anyone who tried to take it. In The Two Towers, Samwise named the good personality "Slinker" (for his fawning, eager-to-please demeanour), and the bad personality "Stinker" (for obvious reasons). The two personalities often quarrelled when Gollum talked to himself (as Tolkien put it in The Hobbit, "through never having anyone else to speak to") and he had a love/hate relationship with himself.

“His desire was to possess the (brass) ring which had enslaved him”.

“He developed a sort of split personality”.

“His fawning, eager-to-please demeanor, and the bad personaliity”

Hmmmmm. Let's connect the historical dots, shall we?

The Senator and candidate came from a family of Navy officers—his father and grandfather being Admirals actually, and the first father-and-son to achieve four-start ranking, no mean feat. He would also take to the military, albeit with less-successful results. He was renowned as a “red-ass”—rebellious and rambunctious at the Naval Academy, he accumulated so many demerits per year (over 100) that he was enshrined in the infamous “Century Club”—a rare assemblage of ne'er-do-wells who piled up fuck-up after fuck-up. He blanched under authority and developed a bad reputation for it—while simultaneously trying to measure up to the family's Naval officer tradition.

He would graduate nearly at the bottom of his academy class—894th out of 899 cadets.

The man...was a callow, daddy-addled, headstrong Tom Cruise early-90's movie character come to life (Top Gun, A Few Good Men, Days Of Thunder) with repeated incidents of reckless derring-do, narrow, near-death escapes and wild living.

And then, he was off to Vietnam where his ability to be in the middle of freaky incidents would follow him like a hard, film-noir shadow, and then...he was captured by the VietCong after his A-4 Skyhawk was shot down. His body, broken badly in the ejecting from his shot-to-pieces plane (he broke both arms and a leg) would be further savaged as they bayonetted him, shattered his arms again and again, bound him, tortured him, beat him and to sunder his mind, solitary confined him.

I don't want to even think of the nightmares this man must have. They wrecked him body and soul for five-and-a-half years—sometimes getting the mayhem up to three beating a week for extended periods of time. His spirit...would eventually give—as pretty much anyone's would under that sort of onslaught and he painfully signed a statement written by his captors agreeing with their depiction of the U.S. as an imperial, invading power, calling out himself and his fellow members of the U.S. military.

Understand that this was a third-generation Naval Officer doing this, “(dishonoring of) his country, his family, his comrades and himself by his statement.”

He would eventually rebound and withstand later pressures by his torturers, but the die had been cast, and the spotless run of the two previous generations of McCain “excellence” would sadly end there. He would come home. He would see his broken body fixed as best as it could be. But in spite of his heroism and gumption, the landscape had changed in his absence. There would be dinners and photo-ops with hawkish politicos, but the broad-based respect he craved would not come. There would be no third-generation McCain Admiralty.

Life would grow fragile. A marriage would end after several affairs and a final, advantageous liaison with a wealthy, connected daughter of industry as his career in the armed services petered out (He'd retire as a captain). He'd fallen in with a political circle as a Navy liaison to the Senate and would then curry favor in his now-new wife's family's business circles as a base to launch his own political career from. He'd parlay this into a career as a member of the House of Representatives, and eventually onward when he would be elected Senator in 1986. He was, “a comer”, a close friend of President Reagan who'd embraced him upon his return from Vietnam, and on his way upward when he hit the road-abutment that was his involvement in the “Keating Five” Savings and Loan scandal that effectively ended the careers of four of the five—the survivor being McCain alone.

What saved him? A canny ability to play nice with the political press and speak with a patina of bluntness. Exhibiting in essence...a “fawning, eager-to-please demeanor.”

That would garner him a “reputation” among the press cognoscenti as a “Maverick”, unafraid of what his words and actions would cause. The fabled “Straight Talk”. And he would appear to buck just enough trends (but never really follow through) to continue that facade right up to his master plan—his claiming of the ultimate respect, or “his desire was to possess the (brass) ring which had enslaved him”.

The Presidency of the United States.

It is here, during the primary season of that 2000 Presidential election that McCain would again find his lifelong quest for respect thwarted and his very soul—his service, his patriotism, his sanity, and his family ripped to shreds by his GOP opponent George W. Bush, and the Republican hierarchy who came to dislike him for not toeing the line 100% with its conservative values.

They trashed him for abandoning veterans on POW/MIA issues and having ”come home from Vietnam and forgotten about us.”—using a trotted-out, and sketchy veterans activist to deliver the brutal message.

They then smashed him as a traitor, using his torture-obtained statement in Vietnam as a weapon against him.

And then, they attacked his family—push-polling , faxing, flyering all of South Carolina, a key primary state with rumors of his being insane (due to his POW ordeal) wife's being a drug addict, and his having fathered a Black child out of wedlock—a brutal, but effective lie playing on his having adopted a non-white daughter from Bangladesh.

His campaign would never recover from that assault and Bush would triumph in that election—with a bit of help from the Supreme Court, voting irregularities and some bused-in hooligans in Florida. And as a terror-addled populace and war-crazed GOP rallied around the fear-mongering Bush—amplifying his power many times over, and freezing out any sort of “Maverick” opposition, something terrible happened to John McCain.

His lifelong quest for respect would lead him to repeat and sadly compound the one thing that had haunted him for thirty years.

He would again embrace a vicious tormenter. Unabashedly. And this time...literally.

The man and operation that dragged his patriotism and military service through the mud, slagged his wife, abused his child as a campaign weapon and play to racism, and then...effectively called him insane he was now practically fellating...for a bit of blessing for future considerations in that infamous “quest”. A trade of one's core integrity, a heaping scoopful of innate self-respect—handed over to the man and machine that tried to destroy him.

If that folks, is not “dangerously flawed”, my God...what in heaven's name is?

But it gets worse. Much worse.

John McCain, who once said after his ship-board near-death on the U.S.S. Forrestal, “It's a difficult thing to say. But now that I've seen what the bombs and the napalm did to the people on our ship, I'm not so sure that I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam.” would say mere weeks ago about the idea of the U.S.'s being in Iraq for an extended period of years, “Make it a hundred. We’ve been in South Korea …we’ve been in Japan for 60 years. We’ve been in South Korea 50 years or so. That would be fine with me.

Those are stunning words from a man who spent half a decade in a POW camp as a result of fighting a war we still can't justify today. It shows a sad broken-ness in the man. An inability or worse, an unwillingness to connect reality with the things he's seen, felt and still has the physical scars from. And that sad “broken-ness” was displayed for us all a mere 72 hours ago when Senator McCain—a victim of some of the most painful-to-rehash torture that any living American could ever speak of, did a 180º degree turn—a smart, spit n' polish about-face on his previous, well-documented stance AGAINST the use of torture against enemy combatants in the well of the Senate during a crucial vote on a bill outlawing the heinous acts.

Senator John S. McCain voted AGAINST outlawing torture.

He okayed it.

In November of 2007, he was against it—so much so that he wrote legislation outlawing torture—a stance he'd held ever since returning from Vietnam, saying to Kwame Holman of PBS's Newshour at the time:

“First, subjecting prisoners to abuse leads to bad intelligence because under torture, a detainee will tell his interrogator anything to make the pain stop. Second, mistreatment of our prisoners endangers U.S. troops who might be captured by the enemy, if not in this war, then in the next.”


“If we inflict this cruel and inhumane treatment, the cruel actions of a few darken the reputation of our country in the eyes of millions. American values should win against all others in any war of ideas, and we can't let prisoner abuse tarnish our image.”

This man, who remains unable to raise his arms above his shoulders, and came home with legs so torture-wrecked that he could not bend his knees without the aid of multiple operations. Bayonet wounds to his stomach and feet. Teeth knocked out and a shoulder busted to bits like a stale fortune cookie. All of this at the hands of his brutal captors.

And now, because it is politically expedient as a wingnut stance during election season, he suddenly, cravenly embraces torture...just as he physically embraces the morally diminutive “man”—the President who signed off on it.

To curry favor with a party that in many quarters hates him.

A party run by people who for the most part are actual cowards who ran like light-struck roaches from serving in the war he sacrificed the health of his body and a bit of his soul to. His courage-measured lessers—men who couldn't put up with a tenth as much as he did, were somehow able to—without the threat of physical pain, mindfuck him into doing their bidding. To the point where he effectively sold off, like some internal organ he could semi-live without, to a wealthy, willing-to-buy patron—one of his core beliefs—in the inherent evil of torture.

What would you say of a man—no...a person asking you to trust him or her with the powers of the highest office in the land who would turn on his heel, and for a shitty little pat on the back, debase himself before the people who denigrated his daughter, slandered his wife, called him crazy, and then totally cede a personal principle the he need only look at his scarred body to realize it's terrible impact?

You would say that man is “dangerously flawed”.

Let me paraphrase Henry Fonda's “William Russell” character in the 1964 electoral politics film “The Best Man” in these words to Senator McCain—respectfully sir, “We can't let you be President.”

This isn't about simple horse-trading or deal-cutting. That's part and parcel of the life behaviors of a political animal. No...this is about willfully giving up every shred of your self-respect for a chance—just a lousy fucking chance at a brass ring you don't even know why you “need”. You've allowed yourself to be twisted, bent, mutated into something other than the relatively clear thinking human being you were. You're a creature that will give over anything and everything—family, integrity, self-respect to get at something you crave.

You...are Gollum. And you don't care how hideous, creepy or disgusting you're going to make yourself look in your pursuit of this “quest”. Something has totally broken deep inside you, Senator—something key, something intrinsic to living a decent life that no longer functions as it should. For that reason alone—beyond the retrograde politics you wanly espouse, and the bottom-dwellers you trawl with nowadays, you are NOT fit for the office of President.

Just. Not. Fit.

I am not calling you crazy. But I am saying that anyone who makes the decisions you have of late cannot be trusted with the affairs of state. You have no scruples. No balance. No sense of proportion, right or wrong, or a moral compass that works as it should. The decades-long and just as long, un-fulfilled quest for a plurality of Americans' “respect” on your terms has damaged you deep within. You are...a danger.

Long, futile quests can do that to a man. History and literature are riddled with such tales—Ahab and that damnable white whale, Nixon and his psyche-twisting pursuit of the White House and his going further 'round the bend—fracturing the very Constitution to keep it. But I suppose the one that best captures it is the one depicted in the film The Bridge On The River Kwai, where ironically enough after Sir Alec Guinness's driven POW camp detainee Col. Nicholson has selfishly sacrificed the lives of countless fellow prisoners in his crazed, perfectionist building of the infamous bridge at the behest of his captors, he himself meets his end—amidst the bodies of his co-horts as the bridge—the quest itself—is ultimately destroyed. A fellow officer, Major Clipton comes upon the terrible scene—seeing nearly everything laid to harsh, senseless waste. Lives, souls and, and he shakes his head and utters the film's classic final words that sum it up perfectly.

Words the Senator from Arizona if he has a shred of self-awareness left, hears as a whisper in the back of his mind based on knowing the damage of his feckless trading-off of his integrity. And if he hasn't that self-awareness anymore, it means he can't hear the words—but they ring doubly true as that “deafness” merely verifies them that much more—if not to him, then to we who look on, like “Kwai's” disgusted Major Clipton.