Selling His Soul

| Sun Sep. 14, 2008 3:04 PM EDT

SELLING HIS SOUL....Tom Friedman is still pissed off at John McCain campaign:

It's a campaign now built on turning everything possible into a cultural wedge issue — including even energy policy, no matter how stupid it makes the voters and no matter how much it might weaken America.

I respected McCain's willingness to support the troop surge in Iraq, even if it was going to cost him the Republican nomination. Now the same guy, who would not sell his soul to win his party's nomination, is ready to sell every piece of his soul to win the presidency.

So why is McCain doing this? Obvious answer #1: he's just running a standard Republican campaign. Nobody should really be surprised by this. Obvious answer #2: This is hardly the first time McCain has sold his soul. He'll regret it later, of course, but this is just who he is, despite the layers of maverickiness he's managed to cover himself in over the years.

But there's another piece to this. As near as I can tell, McCain, deep in his gut, has convinced himself that Barack Obama is flatly unfit to the president. He's too inexperienced, he's an empty suit, he's naive, and he'll end up surrendering a weakened and declining America to Islamic extremism without a fight. The campaign corollary to this is obvious: the truly honorable course if you love your country is to do whatever it takes to make sure Obama never gets near the Oval Office. If that means running a campaign that sullies your own reputation — well, you just have to suck it up and pay that price. History will eventually exonerate you. In McCain's mind, the fact that he's willing to sacrifice his own reputation is a sign of just how deeply he loves his country.

This is ironic, of course, since it's something of a Messiah complex, exactly the label he's tried to hang around Obama's neck. Less ironic, but a lot scarier, is that it's McCain who would almost certainly accelerate America's Bush-induced decline if he were elected.

His economic policy, after all, is essentially Bush's. Actually, a bit worse than Bush's. And that economic policy has been a disaster of epic proportions: eight years of weak GDP growth; a fantastic increase in the national debt; anemic employment numbers; declining median wages; and a skyrocketing current account deficit. Eight more years of this and America will be the world's biggest banana republic.

And the picture is pretty similar on national security. McCain is almost certain to continue George Bush's policies there too: relentless militarization of the war on terror as a substitute for a long-term strategy of victory; toxic growth in worldwide levels of anti-Americanism; a gut level belief that the mere act of negotiation is a sign of weakness; a belief in bluster as a primary weapon of state; a vast overextension and weakening of our military; a distrust of international institutions so deep that he's unable to even conceive of how to leverage them effectively; and a flat inability to understand the basic nature of the fight against terror. McCain seems to be convinced that we're refighting Vietnam or the Cold War, not something completely new and different that won't primarily be defeated from the deck of an aircraft carrier. We're in bad shape on this front already; keep it up for another eight years and we'll be in a hole so deep that we might not ever get out.

In fact, America is weaker on almost all fronts today than we were eight years ago. I can't tell if McCain understands this or not, but I assume not since he doesn't propose to substantially change either the policies or the worldview that have gotten us here. However, I think McCain does realize that the American public understands this, which is why he's doing everything possible to distract them from it. Look over there! Barack Obama wants to teach your kindergarteners about sex!

And it might work. It has before, after all. But I continue to think that it won't this time. The public doesn't seem to have made up its mind yet about whether Obama can truly bring about serious change, but once the ur-distraction of Sarah Palin wears off they're almost certain to realize that McCain definitely won't. He's another Herbert Hoover, a once well-meaning man who never fully understood what he was up against — and when this election is over I wouldn't be surprised to see McCain suffer the same fate: lost to history as a symbol of a previous era, and ending his career with increasingly bitter denunciations of a public mood and a changing world that he can barely comprehend.

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.