Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
September 24, 2008
John McCain was a war hero. (In case you haven’t heard.)
Actually, he wasn’t a hero in the classic sense of performing great feats of courage in battle. But still, he was a prisoner of war and ” like many others in the same situation ” he behaved honorably under extreme duress in unimaginable conditions.
So, yes, we can call him (as he so often allows himself to be called) a war hero.
And that is why the presidential campaign is shaping up as a true tragedy.
I’m speaking here of a tragedy in the classic sense.
In everyday conversation, we use “tragedy” to mean “something really, really horrible and sad.” But in the classic sense, a tragedy is the story of the downfall of a hero, a “tragic hero” ” a man of greatness destroyed by a flaw within his own character.
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Actually, to avoid scholarly quibbles over technical translations from the ancient Greek, please allow me to swerve a little and say we’re talking about classic tragedy in the Shakespearean sense.
In Shakespeare’s tragedies, the tragic heroes are destroyed by deep character flaws.
Othello’s jealousy. King Lear’s pride and anger. Macbeth’s ambition.
And it is Macbeth that comes most directly to mind as we discuss John McCain ” or should we call him “MacCain”?
Macbeth was a war hero who was led deeply ” tragically ” astray by his own ambition. And his nagging, ambitious wife.
For those of you who slept through their English Lit classes (not necessarily a bad thing to do), I’ll quickly note that, following a great victory on the battlefield, Macbeth was convinced by a witch’s prophecy that he was meant to be king. (It was three witches, actually ” chanting “Double, double toil and trouble” and whipping up a brew with “eye of newt and toe of frog.”) So, pressured by his wife, he murders the king, seizes the throne and then, as things fall apart, murders all sorts of people, including one of his best friends. In the end, Macbeth is defeated in battle and beheaded ” and that is pretty much that.
So … from Macbeth to MacCain.
John MacCain is a war hero (see discussion above) who believes he is meant to be president of the United States. (No witches’ prophecy involved. No reference to “eye of Newt … Gingrich.”)
He hasn’t murdered anyone in pursuit of that goal ” but he is in the process of murdering his own reputation.
In Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth hears a voice proclaiming, “Macbeth does murder sleep.”
MacCain, on the other hand, is murdering truth.
There is little doubt that John MacCain is running a presidential campaign that is breaking new ground in outrageous dishonesty in official campaign ads.
Those last few words are important.
There always have been ” and probably always will be ” people spreading flat-out lies about political candidates. That’s sad, but inescapable.
“Barack Obama is a Muslim who swore his oath of office on a Koran.” That’s one.
Or, to drop back to the South Carolina Republican primary in 2000: “John McCain fathered an illegitimate black baby.” (MacCain learned the wrong lesson from that
scurrilous smear. He learned that it worked, not that it was disgraceful.)
You just can’t stop that kind of stuff. But it is usually whispered in the shadows.
This time, John MacCain is running ads that are equally dishonest ” and end with the candidate himself saying, “I’m John MacCain and I approved this ad.” And that is where he’s breaking new ground. Dishonorable ground.
For example (just one, it’ll suffice):
Obama gave a speech saying that we need to talk to our enemies, including Iran. He pointed out that Kennedy and Reagan talked with Russia in the middle of the Cold War. Then he added, “Think about it. Iran, Cuba, Venezuela ” these countries are tiny, compared to the Soviet Union. They don’t pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. And yet, we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying, ‘We’re going to wipe you off the planet.'”
John MacCain then ran an ad declaring, “Obama says Iran is a ‘tiny’ country, ‘doesn’t pose a serious threat.’ Terrorism, destroying Israel, those aren’t ‘serious threats’?
Obama ” dangerously unprepared to be president.”
That ad is simply flat-out dishonest, at a very high level.
That ad is simply, flat-out dishonorable.
And it ends with John MacCain saying, “I approved this ad.”
John MacCain, proud graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, probably would have been thrown out of that prestigious school for that sort of behavior. The Academy’s
Code of Honor says:
“Midshipmen are persons of integrity:
“They stand for that which is right.
“They tell the truth and ensure that the full truth is known.
“They do not lie.”
There is no wiggle room in there ” just a flat declaration that midshipmen make
damn sure that “the full truth is known.”
And so here we have “The Most Lamentable Tragedie of John MacCain” (to get a
Plot synopsis: Driven by his ambition and blinded by his prideful belief in his own
incorruptible honor, war hero John MacCain betrays everything he believes in and
destroys his own reputation.
And MacCain’s tragic fate does not pivot on the election results.
If he loses the election, of course, he will be totally destroyed. Both his character and
his career will be shattered.
But even if he wins, MacCain will have suffered a tragic fate. Like Macbeth, he will
have gained the title he so deeply desired ” but he will be recorded on the pages of
history as a man who betrayed his principles and his honor to feed that ravenous ambition.
In that kind of victory lies sad and bitter defeat. For a man of honor.
And, sadly and dangerously, for this nation.
We deserve better.
By the way, in case you were wondering, I am not suggesting (or even hoping for)