Wednesday, July 09, 2008

John McCain: Pseudo-Maverick I

Parade Magazine, the slick insert found in most metropolitan Sunday newspapers, on July 6 carried a feature, "What is Patriotism?" to mark the July 4th weekend. In it presidential candidates Senators Barack Obama and John McCain shared "their thoughts about our country."

Share them they did, and, quite predictably, they stressed a mutual theme: sacrifice, "giving back," and a "unity" that would make the first two actions palatable. Obama's piece was titled, "Sacrifice For The Common Good," McCain's, "A Cause Greater Than Self-Interest."

Obama's essay was a regurgitation of his boyhood experiences and a thinly disguised appeal to contribute to the "common cause." It was intended to counter claims that Obama is unpatriotic and that he secretly despises his country. And one sentence stands out for a significant omission:

"The greatness of our country - its victories in war, its enormous wealth, its scientific and cultural achievements - have resulted from the toil, drive, struggle, restlessness, humor, and quiet heroism of the American people."
What is missing is any reference to the freedom, political liberty, or individual rights that made the country's enormous wealth and scientific achievements possible. These ideas are largely absent from Obama's presidential agenda, except in instances of meaningless lip service to individual effort. The terms toil, struggle, restlessness, and quiet heroism, however, can be found in the speeches and harangues of past tyrants when they praised their slaves for their sacrifices and for the ones they were expected to make in the future.

So, instead of assuring anyone that he is patriotic and loves his country qua free country, Obama defines his patriotism and love of country by how much of a hospital ward/ welfare state/slave camp it can be, if only Americans would express their "love" for and "faith" in each other. His "patriotism" is exclusively of the altruist/collectivist kind. (When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, Stalin did not expect his slaves to fight for communism; he dubbed the contest the "great patriotic war" for Mother Russia.)

Freedom, individual rights and political liberty are also absent from McCain's essay. McCain (or his own ghost writer), however, had the arrogance to refer to a question posed by John Adams in July 1815 to Thomas Jefferson: "Who shall write the history of the American revolution?"

""Nobody,' responded Jefferson, suggesting that while writers could understand the facts, they might never grasp the sacrifices."
Jefferson suggested no such thing. Here is Jefferson's answer:

"Nobody; except merely its external facts. All its councils, designs and discussion, having been conducted by Congress with closed doors, and no member, as far as I know, having even made notes of them, these, which are the life and soul of history must for ever be unknown." [The balance of his answer to Adams' question is irrelevant here. Immediately following his answer, Jefferson, who probably paused to recollect that James Madison had transcribed in their entirety the deliberations of the Congress, then mentions that document, first published in 1840 by Henry D. Gilpin.](1)
In all of Jefferson's reply, the term sacrifice does not once occur, nor is it alluded to or even implied. To Adams and Jefferson, sacrifice was neither a moral imperative nor a touchstone of moral virtue. It did not automatically pop into their minds or rhetoric when discussing political means, ends, and values. For them, the fundamental issues were freedom versus tyranny, liberty versus slavery.

It is just the opposite with Obama, McCain, and every other career politician today. To a man, they are either utterly ignorant of those issues, or they dare not parse them in their own minds and public statements lest they open a can of worms of their own making. For many politicians, the American Revolution is as distantly foggy in their consciousness as the Peace of Westphalia or the Battle of Thermopylæ; for others, it is completely irrelevant to what they believe and claim are vital matters requiring more controls, intervention, and sacrifices of freedom.

For McCain to raise the issue of the American Revolution is a presumption that verges on sacrilege, because for all his purported "patriotism" for America, he is not by any measure a friend of life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. His attribution of the principal role of "sacrifice" in the Revolution is a reflection on either his ignorance of the Revolution or his corrupted understanding of it, or both, a corruption and ignorance also responsible for the pandemic notion in the culture that the U.S. was founded as a "democracy," and not as a republic.

If Obama's political career and agenda can be said to be consistently statist and collectivist, then McCain's political career and agenda have been and continue to be bizarrely "nonpartisan." He portrays himself as a "maverick" in the Republican Party, that is, as an opponent of a complacent status quo. But being a political maverick is not inherently a good thing. Being "nonpartisan" - even when the two major political parties are so philosophically and ideologically bankrupt that the only fundamental difference between them is the speed with which either proposes to propel the country to full statism - means being consummately pragmatic, unprincipled, and open to whatever is perceived to "work."

McCain's positions comprise an eclectic potpourri that ranges from restrictions on freedom of speech to advocating environmentalism and man-made global warming to flip-flops on tax cuts and tax increases and advocating the construction of more nuclear power plants for environmental reasons. His endorsement of the Iraq war stems chiefly from an emotional commitment to the military, not from any rational assessment of the conflict. If it were not for his military background, it is likely that his criticisms of the U.S.'s altruistic efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan would not be dissimilar from Obama's, Clinton's or John Kerry's. For all his "straight talk" about Iran and terrorism, there is no reason to believe he would confront them any better than has President Bush. In that respect, if his Democratic critics are right, McCain would simply continue Bush's policies.

McCain, for example, worked for the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam - that is, for the moral sanction of the communist government that held him prisoner for over five years (and during which incarceration he displayed more character and intelligence than he has in politics). Is that any better or worse than President Bush's recent removal of North Korea from the "Axis of Evil" because the North Koreans disposed of a disused cooling tower and pledged not to continue its nuclear weapons program, a pledge made to another totalitarian regime, China?

Conservatives are not enthusiastic about McCain. They perceive him as straddling their camp and the liberals'. They will, however, endorse him as an alternative to Obama and a Democratic Party that smells victory in November and is high on the cocaine of possibly achieving their statist dreams. Ronald Kessler, writing for Newsmax on June 25 about the nature of conservative support for McCain, remarked:

"...[T]he fact remains that the prime motivator of conservatives is probably going to continue to be not John McCain but a fear of the consequences of a Barack Obama victory."
The conservatives are hoping that McCain will change his positions on his fraudulent "cap and trade" proposal and his refusal to advocate oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Region. And, they have forgiven him for his flip flop on the Bush tax cuts, now that McCain has proposed his own cuts and also a "tax holiday" on gas purchases. Kessler remarked:

"If you care about social conservative issues, the next president could replace one or two Supreme Court judges. That could mean Roe v. Wade could be overturned."
The conservatives' and McCain's anti-abortionist position is an unlikely companion to their ostensive "freedom of speech" position, given McCain's work with Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russell Feingold to pass the speech-abridging Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002. But a closer examination of their "pro-speech" position reveals that they are only concerned about the fate of conservative talk show hosts who might be jeopardized or even silenced by an Obama-inspired renewal of the Fairness Doctrine. All other claimants to freedom of speech, presumably, can take the hindmost, including atheists and anyone else prone to mouth, print or wardrobe malfunctions, not to mention pornographers, neo-Nazis, advertisers of abortion clinics, and any other individual, organization or expression of speech deemed by both Republicans and Democrats as undesirable or of questionable or irredeemable social value.

As for the wholly arbitrary strictures and prohibitions of the campaign finance law, conservatives have proven they are as myopically concrete-bound about them as the Democrats. The principle underlying the First Amendment should obliterate the absurd mental gymnastics that govern what may or may not be said and when, what may or may not be paid for and by whom during any election period, national, state or local. But there are no longer any moral giants in politics like Adams and Jefferson who can or are willing to grasp the fundamentality of principles, just charlatans, professional con artists and power lusters of diminished mental capabilities and short-term visions.

Nor are veterans' groups enthusiastic about McCain, although they, too, see him as the better alternative to Obama. A Daily Telegraph (London) article from July 6 underscores the ambivalence of these groups as they launch TV and print ads in support of McCain.

"...Pete Hegseth, chairman of Vets for Freedom, claimed it [the ad campaign] was not designed to support one candidate over another, but to support troops still serving in the field."
Most veterans, respecting McCain's own military career, trust him not to betray American troops. They should, however, ask themselves if they should trust a man who places such a great value on sacrifice in fighting the wrong war for the sake of the "democratization" and "stability" of a country 2,000 years behind Jefferson and Adams. They should ask themselves whose country those troops are fighting for.

The second part of this commentary will examine McCain's positions more closely.

(1) The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson & Abigail & John Adams, edited by Lester J. Cappon. Chapel Hill-London: University of North Carolina Press, 1959 (renewed 1987), pp. 451-452.

10 comments:

Burgess Laughlin said...

Ed, thank you for your detail, informative analysis. Your work here is a reminder to me to always take the long-term view. McCain and Obama are products of philosophies dominant generations ago and still entrenched today. Until those philosophies wither and are supplanted by a philosophy of reason, we will continue seeing candidates like McCain and Obama.

Damien said...

Edward Cline,

Grant Jones, also posted your article on the Infidel Bloggers Alliance. I commented on it there and I am waiting for a reply from either you or Grant.
Link

madmax said...

Ed, here is the quote from Jefferson that Damien asks about:

"Self-interest, or rather self-love, or egoism, has been more plausibly substituted as the basis of morality. But I consider our relations with others as constituting the boundaries of morality. With ourselves, we stand on the ground of identity, not of relation, which last, requiring two subjects, excludes self- love confined to a single one. To ourselves, in strict language, we can owe no duties, obligation requiring also two parties. Self- love, therefore, is no part of morality. Indeed, it is exactly its counterpart." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Law, 1814. ME 14:140

Jefferson seems confused on the subject but then again he wasn't a moral philosopher.

Damien said...

madmax,

Weather he was confused or not, I wouldn't say he wasn't a philosopher who dealt with morality. After all the statement itself is dealing with the nature of morality. Plus that's only part of what he said.

Here's the source for the quote by the way.
Objectivism_and_Thomas_Jefferson

Burgess Laughlin said...

Here is the lead paragraph from the site linked above:

>"Ayn Rand described her philosophy as 'a philosophy for living on earth'. But as we shall see, a philosophy founded on selfishness, as her's unabashedly is, is short-sighted and self-centered, and appeals to our lesser nature."

First, Ayn Rand's philosophy is not "founded on selfishness." The author clearly has not studied Objectivism. He does not seem to have a clue about the structure of her philosophy and the fact that it has five branches. Ethics, the domain of selfishness, is one branch. It is not the most fundamental branch. Metaphysics and epistemology are. The author's absurd statement that Ayn Rand based her philosophy on an ethical principle undercuts all that he says later.

Damien said...

Burgess Laughlin,

Maybe the writer is wrong about some of the things he is saying about Rand. But those are actual quotes from Thomas Jefferson, unless you are going to accuse the article's writer of lying or quote mining.

I was just wondering how this squires with the objectivist view of the founding fathers. Based on some of the quotes Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. sites in his essay, we can safely say at the very least he proves that Jefferson was not an egoist. Yet he did not support a statist ideology. So what does that say if anything about the nature of egoism verses altruism? What does it say about where people's beliefs come from. It seems to me he might be a little less shocked by some of McCain or Obama's statements than you might assume. It seems to me to contradict some of the things said in Mr. Cline's commentary. That is why I am hoping he or Grant Jones would comment on them.

Damien said...

I meant to say, "what does it say about how our beliefs influence our actions," instead of where our beliefs come from.

Sorry, I don't know how I made that mistake.

Burgess Laughlin said...

From my notes for Lecture 5, Disk 2, Track 2 of Leonard Peikoff's 2007 DIM Hypothesis lectures:

"What is the relationship between an MOI [Method of Integration] and a particular ethics? One can't deduce a person's ethics or politics from his MOI. [My conclusion.] Jefferson is an example of someone whose explicit ethics was terribly altruist, yet he was able to set that aside in favor or a free political system." (0303)

---------

Damien, often individuals do not have consistent philosophies. They think clearly in one area but not in another. Their resultant philosophies are trainwrecks. The particular reasons for a particular man's views can only be answered by a detailed analysis of his writings and all his actions.

Damien: "I was just wondering how this squires [sic] with the objectivist [sic] view of the founding fathers."

To the best of my knowledge, Ayn Rand never said that everyone's philosophy is consistent. Please quote a particular passage in her writings that highlights the problem you think you see.

There is no problem that I can see with interpreting McCain or Obama. Both are consistent in their positions: Two worlders in metaphysics, acceptance of faith or other form of mysticism in epistemology, altruism in ethics, and statism in politics. Those are their actual principles that explain their behavior. Neither is "mixed," as Jefferson appears to have been. (I have not made a special study of Jefferson.)

Damien said...

Burgess Laughlin,

Thanks for letting me know what you think.

I don't agree, but I am not going to argue with you. I was just curious as to what an objectivist response to that quote would be.

madmax said...

"Maybe the writer is wrong about some of the things he is saying about Rand."

Not maybe. Definitely.

This writer is totally clueless about Ayn Rand's philosophy. But it is clear from his rant that he is not interested in genuinely understanding Rand's ideas. His piece is meant to be a condemnation of egoism and an apology for altruism.

Regarding the Founding Fathers; they were political revolutionaries not ethical ones. They tried to base a politics of (largely) individual liberty on traditional morality. They were able to get away with it temporarily because the Enlightenment elements of the Founding era were so strong. But as soon as the Enlightenment came under attack starting with the Progressive Era, altruism started to eat away at America. Today, altruism threatens to totally destroy America.

The fact that Jefferson can write pro-egoist sentiments in one letter and anti-egoist sentiments in another does not affect the benevolent, life-sustaining nature of egoism or the malevolent, life-hating nature of altruism in the least. All it shows is that Jefferson was mixed and subject to the dominant ideas of his time. That doesn't take away from his greatness though. Jefferson helped create a world where Ayn Rand could exist. The man deserves to be revered despite his flaws.