The age demanded

“Passion and enthusiasm, which sometimes can be enough to sway a crowd, aren’t even necessary. You can manufacture faith out of nothing and there are an infinite number of patterns and lines that connect from key to key — all deceptively simple.”

–Bob Dylan, Chronicles.

From today’s New York Times Magazine interview with McCain:

“I’ve seen other stories and I’ve seen comments about my national-security speech,” McCain said, referring to an address he gave in Los Angeles a few weeks earlier. “The story line is as follows: ‘McCain’s not the same McCain. He’s changed, and now he’s become a hawk, and he is dramatically different from what he was.’ ” He recited this narrative as if repeating the nonsensical words of dullards. “And anybody is free to write whatever they want and form whatever opinions they want to form. But facts are facts. And the fact is that I know war, and I know the tragedy of war. And no one hates war more than veterans.”

From here, McCain went on to list for me some of the military actions he supported (Grenada, Panama) and some that he opposed (Beirut, Somalia). He had always followed the same set of values, he said, grounded in the premise that all people, not just Americans, were created equal and had inalienable rights. And when America could intervene militarily to further those values around the world without needless sacrifice in lives and money, he was all for it, and where we couldn’t, he was not, and there was nothing extreme about that.

“As far as people who advise me,” McCain went on, though I still hadn’t asked a question, “probably one of my most trusted advisers for the last 30 years is Henry Kissinger, not known as a hawk or a neocon.” McCain infused the word with sarcasm. “I also remember the days when Ronald Reagan was portrayed as a hawk and a neocon. I remember the near hysteria in response to his ‘tear down this wall.’ I remember the ‘Oh, you can’t do that, when you call the Soviets an evil empire.’ I remember all those things. Same people who are now saying — ” He stopped himself midsentence, then began again. “I’m always open to new ideas and new thoughts, but my principles were grounded many years ago in places like the National War College and other places where I have learned and studied and talked to people I admire and respect.

“So,” McCain said finally, “with that preface, I’d be glad to answer any questions you might have, and again, it’s always good to be with you.”

The profile is touching in ways that reporter Matt Bai and McCain himself didn’t expect. Here you see a serious man, much more serious than his brethren in the Republican Party, struggling to articulate a foreign policy that redresses the evil (there’s no other word) of Kissingerism — whose adherents showed nary a gasp when the Metternich of Foggy Bottom sabotaged Hubert Humphrey’s peace plan so that his capo Richard Nixon could get peace with honor by invading Cambodia — yet clings to that very American espousal of the principles of the Declaration of Independence as long as McKinley-Roosevelt’s Open Door Policy was honored. I admit, there may have been a time in the recent past when McCain’s inchoate vision may have sufficed — may even have honored our divisions about what to do with all this power and a limitless supply of foreign markets buying our consumer goods; but it’s not 2000 anymore, and to be right about theocratic terrorist cells isn’t the same as being right about the American counter-argument. He reminds me a bit of Herbert Hoover: earnest, plodding, possessed of good motives but awful instincts, unable to accept that the time for his beliefs has long since passed; the age demanded something else, even if the alternative we vote for poses questions whose answers may make us tremble anew. Who can blame McCain? Pessimism is a tenet of conservatism that I accept wholeheartedly.

Dylan again: “Miscalculations can also cause no serious harm.”

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