Friday, December 03, 2010

Too High Up and Too Far Away

Inherit the Whinge

James Fallows ruminates pityingly on the dyspeptic old husk that John McCain has become...
"I can remember when McCain seemed to be a potentially Eisenhower-ish, as opposed to an increasingly Bunning-like, figure in American public life. Broad-minded, tolerant, eager to bridge rather than open divides -- this was the way he seemed to so many people starting from his arrival in the Congress in the 1980s.

"Seeing him now is surprising not simply because it reminds us: this man could be the sitting president, but also because it again raises the question, how did he end up this way? Even if his earlier identity had been artifice, what would be the payoff in letting it go?"

And tries to find historical parallels.
I have been trying to think of a comparable senior public figure who, in the later stages of his or her career, narrowed rather than broadened his view of the world and his appeals to history's judgment. I'm sure there are plenty (on two minutes' reflection, I'll start with Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh), but the examples that immediately come to mind go the other way.

George C. Wallace, once a firebrand of segregation, eventually became a kind of racial-healing figure near the end of his troubled life.

May I suggest that William Jennings Bryan (or his cinematic alter-ego, Matthew Harrison Brady) and his involvement in the Scopes Trial probably comes closest.

The issues at hand in the Scopes Trial were, in crucial ways, remarkably similar to DADT:
"I say that you cannot administer a wicked law impartially. You can only destroy. You can only punish. I warn you that a wicked law, like cholera, destroys everyone it touches — its upholders as well as its defiers."

-- Henry Drummond, "Inherit The Wind"
And the conflict's central antagonist -- a once-popular, perpetual candidate for President who never closed the deal on the top job and ends up being publicly humiliated in a legal battle he should never have inserted himself into --

is about as close to a dead-bang match to McCain as you are likely to ever find.

They are both stories of once-towering figures in the twilight of their lives who have plunged off a cliff with both feet because, where years ago there was once vigor, there is now only a bilious mental and spiritual rigor mortis: only hubris and rage, being channeled though an increasingly narrow and bitter mind.

Or, as Henry Drummond put it at the end of the movie:
"A giant once lived in that body, but Matt Brady got lost because he looked for God too high up and too far away."


Bustednuckles said...

My brain doesn't do names, period. The results of killing brain cells for recreation for forty years.
What was the name of that rotten cock sucker on the "R" side before Rove who started all this bull shit and then repented right before he died of brain cancer?

Good fucking riddance anyway.

You know who I am talking about.

Bustednuckles said...


Anonymous said...

Very good parallel.
After watching him bluster through the elections cycle, it occurred to me that McGranpa's current persona, is one of a frustrated privilege. Born and raised in the officer core, he believed he earned his power status through inheritance, until he blundered his way in to a prison camp. Then he convinced himself he earned his status through ordeal. He just cant get over the fact that he lost the a black man..and one whose parents weren't rich..and even worse, one who never served. Now he is the embodiment of a spoiled child, in an old mans body, blaming all the "others" for his failures. Hateful and pathetic.

Anonymous said...

uh....Lee Atwater.

Nick Steno said...

I am reminded of Mencken's obituary of William Jennings Bryan, after seeing him floundering at the Scopes Trial so many years after his presidential orations:

"Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not.

The job before democracy is to get rid of such canaille. If it fails, they will devour it."

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an obit that could have been written for Jerry Falwell, or will be for Pat Robertson.
Bryan would be a raging success in today's "God and Guns" tea party environment. His appeal to the mostly rural, uneducated population of the early 20th century, sadly translates well to the red state bumkins of the early 21rst century. Apparently, the "30 percenters" will always be with us, as long as the plutocrats are successful at keeping people poor, uneducated and misinformed. Thanks Rupert! Keeping time marching backwards.

yardley said...

sorry to go offtopic, but am eagerly awaiting to hear Driftglass's take on Assange and the leaks. Is he waiting for more info to reach an opinion, or waiting until it's "safe"? Many people on my local forum won't even make a comment on the matter at all- out of PURE FEAR of ending up on the shit list when the nazis take over again in 2012. I love Driftglass with all my heart, but I am sick to death of hearing about David fucking Brooks.

Habitat Vic said...


There is no "safe" if the fascists take over and start digging into political opponents. Eight years ago I got to see a fusion center (real-world equivalent to what you see Chloe working on in 24 - not quite that fast though) in operation. Assuming you have access/cooperation from service providers and large financial and other major corporations (fair assumption, IMO), you can really track down just about anybody.

While killing time with some of the designers (included some pretty young university-type geeks), I tried to think of ways around getting identified on the net. Anonymous? Please. Only logging on at cafes, libraries? Not a chance. Burn phones & disposable/stolen laptops? Better, but only if you don't visit other favorite sites - data mining of similar websites/usage-patterns can trip you up.

If things really go bad, there's already enough out there on the web that most of us are already easily (to authorities, anyway) identifiable. Happy Saturday.

Roket said...

Actually, McCain's nose dive into oblivion is a good thing in the long run. Otherwise, how could we possibly celebrate the birth of an exemplary man in, you know, a place called Panama.

Monster from the Id said...

In Bryan's defense, he thought for years that evolution did not contradict or otherwise challenge faith. He only turned against biological Darwinism after he became convinced that it led to social Darwinism.

Unlike too many of today's evangelicals, Bryan recognized that social Darwinism contradicted the teachings of Jesus, and the Hebrew prophets who spun the tradition from which Jesus drew.

Chapter 8 of Garry Wills's 1990 book Under God: Religion And American Politics sheds much light on the Scopes trial.