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The John McCain of Yore

January 19th, 2011

An embarrassment to true believers everywhere

Photo by Cpl. Pete Zrioka, U.S. Marine Corps

Reading John McCain’s warm appreciation of the President’s Tucson speech in last Sunday’s Washington Post was a throwback to more innocent times. For a moment, we forgot how rigid and cynical the old hero has become. We thought back instead to 1999, a time when McCain seemed like a real person, the “maverick” politician so many of us rooted for over the Bush machine. The op-ed’s high note:

I disagree with many of the president’s policies, but I believe he is a patriot sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country’s cause. I reject accusations that his policies and beliefs make him unworthy to lead America or opposed to its founding ideals.

My brother was not sympathetic to these views.

McCain is no conservative.

Sorry, Bro, I forgot: A person who has a good word for President Obama cannot, ipso facto, be a conservative.

But McCain’s finest point—one lost in much of the post-Tucson hand-wringing over civility—is on Obama’s motives. Brewing a pot of discontent over policies we disagree with, even with a dash of vitriolic spice, is a fine American tradition. What is not acceptable, McCain seemed to say, is questioning the opposition’s allegiance to country.

My brother’s mind, fattened on a diet of pure talk-radio cream, is no longer receptive to such distinctions.

Americans have every right to question Obama’s motives, whether he is a legitimate US citizen and whether he truly likes America for what it is.  Avoiding a question to his motives is absurd. …

Most Americans have voiced, as they did in November, that they want a president that respects the people and has more conservative values.  People, unlike most liberals, care more about what someone’s real beliefs and motives are more than how eloquent he sounds in one speech.

We have re-entered the dimension of imagination. Allow me to translate.

1 – The concept here, instilled by the deep neurotic hypnosis of talk radio, is that “most” Americans feel that the president does not “respect” them. With approval ratings hovering between 45 and 50 percent for more than a year now, this is, sorry Bro, simply not true.

2 – “People, unlike liberals…” I do love my brother’s colorful language. But when I stop to really think about this Rightist world view, where liberals aren’t actually people, it frightens me.

This is the sort of dehumanizing talk that spawned the post-Tucson national therapy session. And while my brother and 99.9 percent of his fellow radio wingers might enjoy the acerbic wit of saying how liberals aren’t really people, I’m not comfortable with that sentiment flying freely on the airwaves. It’s the sort of thing the Hutu said about the Tutsi. And while I can’t say precisely where the line is drawn between free speech and threats of violence, I do know that calling some people less human than others is coming awfully close to that line.