Don’t Be Fooled by the Myth of John McCain | January 25, 2008

By Johann Hari

January 24, 2008, The Independent/UK

A lazy, hazy myth has arisen out of the mists of New
Hampshire and South Carolina. Across the pan-Atlantic press,
the grizzled 71-year-old Vietnam vet, John McCain, is being
billed as the Republican liberals can live with. He is ‘a
bipartisan progressive'”, ‘a principled hard liberal’, ‘a
decent man’ – in the words of liberal newspapers. His fragile
new frontrunner status as we go into Super Tuesday is being
seen as something to cautiously welcome, a kick to the rotten
Republican establishment.

But the truth is that McCain is the candidate we should most
fear. Not only is he to the right of Bush on a whole range of
subjects, he is also the Republican candidate most likely to
dispense with Hillary or Barack.

McCain is third-generation navy royalty, raised from a young
age to be a senior figure in the Armed Forces, like his
father and grandfather before him. He was sent to one of the
most elite boarding schools in America, then to a naval
academy where he ranked 894th out of 899 students in ability.
He used nepotism to get ahead: when he was rejected by the
National War College, he used his father’s contacts with the
Secretary of the Navy to make them reconsider. He then
swiftly married the heiress to a multi-million dollar

Right up to his twenties, he remained a strikingly violent
man, ‘ready to fight at the drop of a hat’, according to his
biographer Robert Timberg. This rage seems to be at the core
of his personality: describing his own childhood, McCain has
written: ‘At the smallest provocation I would go off into a
mad frenzy, and then suddenly crash to the floor unconscious.
When I got angry I held my breath until I blacked out.’

But he claims he was transformed by his experiences in
Vietnam – a war he still defends as ‘noble’ and ‘winnable’,
if only it had been fought harder. (More than three million
Vietnamese died; how much harder could it be?) His plane was
shot down on a bombing raid over Hanoi, and he was captured
and tortured for five years. To this day, he cannot lift his
arms high enough to comb his own hair.

On his release, he used his wife’s fortune to run to as a
Republican senator. He was a standard-issue Reaganite
corporate Republican – until the Keating Five corruption
scandal consumed him. In 1987, it was revealed that McCain,
along with four other senators, had taken huge campaign
donations from a fraudster called Charles Keating. In return
they pressured government regulators not to look too hard
into Keating’s affairs, allowing him to commit even more
fraud. McCain later admitted: ‘I did it for no other reason
than I valued [Keating’s] support.’

McCain took the only course that could possibly preserve his
reputation: he turned the scandal into a debate about the
political system, rather than his own personal corruption. He
said it showed how ‘we need to drive the special interests
out of Washington’, and became a high-profile campaigner for
campaign finance reform. But privately, his behaviour hasn’t
changed much. For example, in 2000 he lobbied federal
regulators hard on behalf of a major campaign contributor,
Paxson Communications, in an act the regulators spluttered
was ‘highly unusual’. He has never won an election without
outspending his opponent.

But McCain has distinguished himself most as an über-hawk on
foreign policy. To give a brief smorgasbord of his views: at
a recent rally, he sang ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,’ to the
tune of the Beach Boys’ ‘Barbara Ann’. He says North Korea
should be threatened with ‘extinction’.

McCain has mostly opposed using US power for humanitarian
goals, jeering at proposals to intervene in Rwanda or Bosnia
– but he is very keen to use it for great power imperialism.
He learnt this philosophy from his father and his granddad
Slew, who fought in the Philippine wars at the turn of the
20th century, where he was part of a mission to crush the
local resistance to the US invasion. They did it by forcing
the entire population from their homes at gunpoint into
‘protection zones’, and gunning down anybody over the age of
ten who was found outside them. Today, McCain dreamily
describes this as ‘an exotic adventure’ which his grandfather
‘generally enjoyed’.

Then McCain’s father, John, led the US invasion of the
Dominican Republic in 1965, at a time when there was a
conflict on the Caribbean island. On one side, there were
forces loyal to Juan Bosch, the democratically elected left-
wing President who was committed to land redistribution and
helping the poor. On the other side, there were forces who
had overthrown the elected government and looked
nostalgically to the playboy tyranny of Rafael Trujillo. John
McCain Snr intervened to ensure the supporters of the
democratic government were crushed, bragging that it taught
the natives ‘how to behave themselves’. He saw this as part
of a wider mission, where the US would take over Britain’s
role as a ‘world empire’.

These beliefs drive McCain today. He brags he would be happy
for US troops to remain in Iraq for 100 years, and declares:
‘I’m not at all embarrassed of my friendship with Henry
Kissinger; I’m proud of it.’ His most thorough biographer –
and recent supporter – Matt Welch concludes: ‘McCain’s
programme for fighting foreign wars would be the most openly
militaristic and interventionist platform in the White House
since Teddy Roosevelt – [it] is considerably more hawkish than
anything George Bush has ever practised.’ With him as
president, we could expect much more aggressive
destabilisation of Venezuela and Bolivia – and more.

So why do so many nice liberals have a weak spot for McCain?
Well, to his credit, he doesn’t hate immigrants: he proposed
a programme to legalise the 12 million undocumented workers
in the US. He sincerely opposes torture, as a survivor of it
himself. He has apologised for denying global warming and now
advocates a cap on greenhouse gas emissions – but only if
China and India can also be locked into the system. He is
somewhat uncomfortable with the religious right (while
supporting a ban on abortion and gay marriage). It is a sign
of how far to the right the Republican Party has drifted that
these are considered signs of liberalism, rather than basic

Yet these sprinklings of sanity – onto a very extreme
programme – are enough for a superficial, glib press to
present McCain as ‘bipartisan’ and ‘centrist’. Will this be
enough to put white hair into the White House? At the moment,
he has considerably higher positive ratings than Hillary
Clinton, and beats her in some match-up polls. If we don’t
start warning that the Real McCain is not the Real McCoy, we
might sleepwalk into four more years of Republicanism.



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