Hermits Rock

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Compare John McCain’s response to criticisms of carpetbagging in Arizona during his first run for Congress to his reply to Barack Obama yesterday. Here he is in 1981:

Listen, pal. I spent twenty-two years in the Navy. My father was in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish I could have the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the First District of Arizona, but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.

Already his later style is discernible, with “Listen, pal” being an early, cruder form of “My friends,” brandished with less refinement but similar intent. More important is his appeal to military service and, no less, the rhetorical shortcut into the land beyond reproach, his stint as a POW in Vietnam. It is a land McCain didn’t discover, but he must have colonized it, because for the 30 years he has been in Washington, DC, he has returned there again and again. Here he is yesterday after Obama criticized him for opposing Jim Webb’s new G.I. Bill:

I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did.

Get used to the self-righteousness, peeps. It’s one of John McCain’s two tricks (the other being the kind of appeals to empty bipartisanship that make Joe Lieberman swoon), and it will be on display like a peacock’s tail for the next five months.



It doesn’t help, btw, that McCain really despises Obama. I recommend Michael Crowley’s story in The New Republic about the 2006 ethics reform spat they had. McCain’s got an ugly sense of propriety and just the right amount of petty self-regard that would make him take exception to O’s early fame and fast influence. (It’s the kind of unctious sense of privilege that, if you’re predisposed to it already, the Senate will almost always enhance it in your character.)

I read the full text of McCain’s response earlier today. You can practically see the spittle flying. I honestly have no clue if most Americans will find his “I’m a big brave soldier and you’re a childish pleb” routine as obnoxious as I do.

I’m hoping Obama can wind him up in the debates.

I read enough of his response to realize it was overblown and not a little intemperate for the occasion—which is to say, I skimmed the first few paragraphs and a few others.

It seems to me that only a man who values being perceived as above reproach could believe that such a response is the right way to present himself to the world. “HOW DARE YOU?” represents its own special kind of behavior, a sort of eternal leap to defend honor for honor’s sake without any sort of corresponding belief in the discernment to recognize what is honorable and therefore worth defending and what is not.