For many folks, aging is accompanied by wisdom and the understandings that they've gained over their time on the planet. Growing old can be wonderful and inspiring -- both for those who are maturing, and also for those who find benefit in the sharing and reliance of their elders' life experiences.
John McCain has certainly aged in his time in public office. He managed to distinguish himself in his military service in his early adulthood, and he sought to make a difference as a national legislator in the lives of the Americans he dedicated his life and livelihood to in Vietnam. He's had many impressive triumphs and several landmark accomplishments during his career in Congress, but there is a great deal of evidence that the Arizona senator has forgotten the lessons of his past and has been determined to ignore the consequences of events and actions which he had once used to direct his political compass.
Putting aside, for a moment, the most influential event of his life -- his heroic conduct as a POW during the Vietnam War -- the most defining debacle of his public career has to be his confessed role in the Keating 5 scandal. Despite his knee-jerk response to the public discovering that his hand had absentmindedly dipped into the corporate influence cookie jar, and all of the subsequent railing against special interests and the strident efforts to reform the political money game that he orchestrated to try and remove the stink of corruption from his own office, McCain has continued to advantage himself of corporate benefactors as if his conduct is above reproach.
It's an easy reflex for the older, wiser McCain to brush off stories like the one which surfaced earlier this year of a frantic effort by his staff to block access to the senator of a forty-year old female lobbyist. Staffers were convinced the woman was involved romantically with the senator and were shocked to learn that McCain had written letters to government regulators on behalf of her corporate client.
Despite all of McCain's talk about the evils of corporate influence, he continued to exploit free travel on corporate charter flights from people who were lobbying him after the Keating scandal, including, as the NYT reported, corporatist executives like Rupert Murdoch, Michael R. Bloomberg and Lowell W. Paxson, McCain's 40-year old lady-friend lobbyist's client.
From his "chief political adviser," former RNC hack Charlie Black, to Bush loyalist and lobbyist, Ed Gillespie, Sen. McCain has surrounded his campaign with some of the most pernicious corporate influences of the Bush term, and beyond. Progressive Media USA Research, in May found that "McCain has had at least 133 lobbyists running his campaign and raising money for him." In fact, Sen. McCain has even chosen a corporate lobbyist to run his VP search.
Political amnesia has overtaken Sen. McCain. He flipped to support the Bush tax cuts after denouncing them. Other flips:
-In 1999, McCain said he backed Roe v. Wade, but by 2007 he called it a "bad decision" in order to attract pro-life votes.
-McCain reversed his earlier opposition to waterboarding torture this year.
-In a huge flip to attract conservative votes this year, McCain announced he would oppose his own immigration bill.
-He said gay's and lesbians should be allowed to marry, then he said the opposite.
-And what happened in 2007 to make him completely walk away his support for the campaign reform legislation that bears his name?
It would be too much of a presumption to suppose that it is McCain's age which has caused him to ignore his own past wisdom on these key issues. Perhaps it's legitimate, though, to suggest that the 71-year old now sees this election as his very last chance to achieve the power and position of the presidency which has eluded him in his earlier attempts to get Americans to vote him in. It may be, as well, that the seductive lure of the power and influence of the highest office in the land has trumped and overtaken any dedication to the principles that McCain postured and pretended were paramount to his exercise of legislative authority.
McCain's saddest reversals have come in his early assurances that our military would "win" in Iraq. “We will win this conflict. We will win it easily," McCain had said at the beginning of the invasion. After nearly four years into the occupation, he insisted that he knew the mission there would be "long and hard and tough.”
More importantly, there's a damning attitude of bravado from Sen. McCain toward the Iraq occupation even though the mission has sacrificed the lives of over 4000 of our nation's defenders. The bravado is, at first look, unseemly for someone who bore so much of the burden and consequence of Nixon's blundering military expansionism in Vietnam. Where is the concern from McCain for the burden and consequence of Bush's blundering imperialism in the senator's declaration that our troops could remain in Iraq for "100 years" or more?
It's apparent that John McCain has settled on the most dangerous conclusion he could adopt concerning the correctness and prudence of our nation's military involvement in Vietnam. McCain is satisfied to believe that our military forces' ability to seize territory by force in Iraq and hold it is enough of a "success" to continue the destabilizing occupation.
To McCain, the "surge" of military repression against resisting Iraqi communities represented a validation of his grousing at the beginning of the invasion that Rumsfeld didn't mobilize enough troops to successfully cow the Iraqis into accepting the overthrow and takeover of their country.
With the escalation of force -- it's assaults and the aftermath -- there's now a narrative of massive U.S. and Iraqi deaths, which occurred throughout the military build-up and was a predictable result of the stepped-up military activity, for McCain to point to as his justifying emergency. Then, there's the narrative that Bush's war hawks can promote of relative calm and order (that's actually the result of the U.S. attacks on the resisting Iraqi communities subsiding). Public, pay no mind to the fact that Bush's and McCain's diverting, opportunistic invasion was the pretext and the fuel for their perpetual aggression and the inevitable resistance.
For Bush, the "surge" was a reflexive defense by the lame-duck to ward off the inevitable, impending declaration of a humiliating failure in Iraq which will follow our exit, whenever in this century it finally takes place. It's a classic Cambodia-style push-off; a "decent interval" like Kissinger advised Nixon to employ to stave off criticism of their failure before the presidential election. Nixon was heard on released 1972 tapes saying "South Vietnam probably would never even survive anyway."