The ‘Real’ McCain

Arianna Huffington’s love affair with John McCain – it’s over! No, I don’t mean that kind of love affair, silly. The glamorous Grecian is pouting and bitterly disappointed because suddenly the man of her dreams is showing his true colors as a two-timing, shift-shaping, canny politician – not the Great White Knight that she once imagined. A pity, that, but one can only wonder why it took Arianna so long to wake up from her self-induced hallucination. Huffington, as usual, goes on about how positively dreadful Meet the Press was last week, dah-link:

"And not just because it was, well, Meet the Press. The marquee guest was John McCain. Or, should I say, ‘John McCain.’ The guy who showed up on Meet the Press this morning looked like McCain, but didn’t sound like McCain. What made the experience all that much stranger for me is that right after watching Meet the Press, I had breakfast with McCain’s campaign finance reform partner, Senator Russ Feingold. Feingold had been on a visit to Iraq with McCain, and his fearless assessment of the reality there made it all that much harder to stomach the equivocations and rationalizations of the new and definitely not improved McCain. If today’s show was any indication, the Straight Talk Express has gone seriously off the road."

If Ms. Huffington is baffled as to why McCain and Feingold are giving radically different assessments of what is going on in Iraq, then one has to wonder if it’s her, and not McCain, who has gone off the rails. What world is she living in? Feingold is the only Democrat of any national stature calling for the U.S. to get out of Iraq. McCain, on the other hand, is – and always has been – one of the biggest warmongers in the U.S. Senate, and no more fervent supporter of the war exists outside the offices of the Weekly Standard. Why do you think Bill Kristol, the little Lenin of the neocons, supported his candidacy during the 2000 GOP primary? That Huffington and her fellow limousine liberals, airheads all, were simultaneously swooning over the Great Helmsman of the "Straight Talk Express" merely underscores how and why the neocons regularly run rings around their ostensible enemies. But poor Arianna just babbles on, clueless as ever:

"And the weirdest part was Russert’s refusal to acknowledge any of it. Sure, he got into specifics about the war, and torture, and congressional corruption, and he asked the mandatory last question, ‘Are you going to run for president?’ But the whole show had a surreal, subdued, almost underwater quality. You got the feeling that McCain knew the stuff coming out of his mouth – ‘the president has done a good job’ – was absurd, but both he and Russert lacked the energy either to make it believable or to address its absurdity. I kept waiting for Russert to ask: ‘But wait a minute, aren’t you John McCain? What’s happened to you?’"

Nothing has happened to McCain: his position on the war hasn’t changed one iota, and that is precisely why he is stalwart in his support of the president and this war, since the two are now synonymous. Remember, that interview took place in the context of Bush’s defiant speech in which he basically declared that he didn’t care what Americans, including the U.S. Senate, thought about this war, because he, George W. Bush, commander in chief, was going to press on to "victory" come hell or high water. This is precisely McCain’s position, and always has been: he has criticized the president on the war, but from the right. Like Hillary Clinton, he has called for the introduction of more troops, more firepower, and generally more aggressive intervention in the Middle East, including taking out after Syria and Iran.

McCain’s record is so consistent on this point that it’s hard to see how someone could miss it. He is not only fervent in his support for the war and massive intervention in the Middle East, but he supported each and every one of Bill Clinton’s wars, back when Republican members of Congress were coming off like peaceniks. While the Republican caucus was overtly hostile to President Clinton’s war aims in Kosovo and Bosnia, and tried to cut off the funds for that little expedition, McCain cheered and called for "more boots on the ground" as the Clintonites bombed some of the oldest cities in Europe. Indeed, if you Google "more boots on the ground" along with McCain’s name, the list of hits numbers somewhere around 700.

During his campaign for president, which Huffington seems to think of as McCain’s Golden Age, he was even more belligerent, thrusting out his chin at every opportunity and bellowing about the need for "regime change" in so many different places that it was hard to keep track of his various targets. During the Kosovo conflict, McCain associated himself with the most extreme Albanian nationalists in the U.S. in calling for a much more vigorous American intervention. That’s why the neocons have always loved him. As Kristol and David Brooks, writing at the time in the Weekly Standard, put it:

“For all his conventional political views, McCain embodies a set of virtues that today are unconventional. The issue that gave the McCain campaign its initial boost was Kosovo. He argued that America as a great champion of democracy and decency could not fail to act. And he supported his commander in chief despite grave doubts about the conduct of the war – while George W. Bush sat out the debate and Republicans on the Hill flailed at Clinton..”

Forget all that "good government" guff about "campaign finance reform," the neocon duo said: what really counts is that McCain never met a war he didn’t want to escalate. "We’re in it, and we’ve got to win it" – that’s what the alleged war hero and admitted war criminal has said over and over again. It’s his knee-jerk response to any and all wars in which the U.S. becomes involved. McCain is grandstanding in his opposition to the Cheneyite pro-torture faction of the administration, but the reality is that he’s just as bloodthirsty as the rest of that crew, as evidenced in this unforgettable performance on CNN’s late, lamented Crossfire. Asked by war skeptic Bob Novak what we ought to be doing in Kosovo, McCain averred:

“I think it’s as follows, Bob: increase the intensity of the bombing, recognizing that that entails civilian casualties. That’s the reason why war is so terrible. And it may even mean losses of aircraft. It also means that we should, as quickly as possible, prepare for the ground-troops option if necessary. And obviously, that’s the last one. In the meantime, there’s a whole lot of things we can do with our Apache helicopters, with A-10 Warthogs and with a number of other assets that we have, and devote it all. “

There is a maniacal quality to McCain’s bluster, and Camille Paglia captured it pretty accurately when she wrote:

“The TV camera does not lie. … It exposed McCain over time as a seething nest of proto-fascist impulses. Despite his recent flurry of radiant, P.R.-coached grins, McCain has the weirdly and over-intense eyes of Howard Hughes and the clenched, humorless jaw line of Nurse Diesel (from Mel Brooks’ Hitchcock parody, High Anxiety).”

While Arianna spouts drivel about the alleged "transmogrification of McCain into ‘McCain,’" the truth is that the real McCain has been there all along, for those with eyes to see. Of course, some people are so blinded by the glitz and glamour of media hype that they are hypnotized by the klieg lights into believing – and saying – whatever the "buzz" of the moment happens to be. These people, however, are not usually recognized as credible pundits – who at least are expected to bring some knowledge and perspective to bear on their subject – but are instead mere gossips, part of the echo chamber of the conventional wisdom that usually turns out to be dead wrong. The problem in applying such a methodology to a man like McCain is that, when you wake up one day and he’s president, you’ll have a lot to answer for.


Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].