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When Sainthood Fails: The Flawed Apotheosis of John McCain

In "April is the cruelest month" forum on April 28, 2019 at 2:44 pm

Few Americans noticed recently when a movement to rename the oldest Senate office building collapsed.. The effort was the brainchild of Chuck Schumer. Driven by what appeared to be uncontainable grief, he tweeted: “Nothing will overcome the loss of Senator McCain; but so that generations remember him I will be introducing a resolution to rename the Russell building after him.” This was, of course, the same Chuck Schumer who previously raged against McCain’s “Five-hundred dollar shoes,” decried his lack of empathy “with the plight of the average person,” and who, during the congressional bail-out mania of 2007, characterized McCain’s suspension of his presidential campaign to resume his senatorial duties as “nothing more than a prolonged photo op” during which, Schumer grumbled, McCain contributed nothing “except for an occasional, unhelpful statement.” Now, gripped by an anguish too painful, apparently, to conceal, Schumer recalled a different John McCain…the saintly McCain—the incomparable statesman whose tragic loss rendered not only Schumer, but every news anchor, politico, editorialist, and show-business personality in America, utterly bereft.

Renaming the building was genius. Republicans would approve because McCain was, after all, a Republican;, and one whose tendency to break ranks with his party seemed oddly representative of the GOP’s weakness for breaking ranks with its electorate. Democrats would approve because McCain’s style of bipartisanship reliably advanced the progressive agenda. Besides, the building in question—an elegant triangular edifice in the Beaux-Arts style—was ripe for a nomenclatural sandblasting, being named for Democratic icon Richard Russell Jr.–a diehard segregationist whose bigoted legislative record recalls a political lineage Democrats prefer nowadays to conceal.

“Ha! Here I stand, while them idiots is out knockin’ over statues of Kate Smith!”

User sabotage–again!

But the impulse died aborning. Schumer’s resolution never gained traction, probably because he never actually bothered introducing it. Ultimately, the only institution to officialize the name change was Google, which impishly contrived to have all searches for the Russell Building return information about “the McCain Senate Office Building,” until the resultant confusion incurred waves of protest, whereupon Google dropped the effort and blamed the matter on “user sabotage.”

The Russell Senate Office Building–briefly renamed by GOOGLE-invading saboteurs.

The principled conservative…

Schumer’s beau geste fizzled for the same reason McCain’s secular sainthood proved ephemeral: The nation’s brief bout of McCain-o-mania sprang from an unholy alliance of  Democratic Leftists, GOP moderates, and disenfranchised conservatives, bound by a common appreciation of McCain’s postmortem utility as a foil to Donald Trump. In life, McCain’s usefulness to liberals stemmed from his fondness for “going maverick,” or rather, for thumbing his nose at his party’s leadership and swerving leftwards. If death lowered the curtain on his legislative rascality, it afforded the Senator a brief afterlife as a makeshift heirogram–an effigy held aloft to rally the righteous and depose the Great Usurper. Saintly McCain became the Anti-Trump—the “principled conservative”–always poised to spring across the aisle to engineer some new compromise thwarting border security, upholding Obamacare, frustrating the Christian Right, advancing Gay marriage, or combating planetary destruction.

One swampy morning….

Nothing says “kumbaya” like a good funeral!

Put another way, McCain was cast as  Ahura Mazda, Trump as Ahriman. The mythic juxtaposition–light versus darkness–was advanced, implicitly or explicitly, in every media treatment of the Senator’s passing. TIME drove the point home for readers too dimwitted to catch on by themselves, explaining that, “While President Donald Trump had been notably excluded from the [funeral service], it was clear many of the speakers — from both political parties — had him on their minds as they mourned McCain, a political giant who died after a brutal fight with brain cancer.” Just as perceptively, if more giddily, The New Yorker described the funeral as “the biggest resistance meeting yet,” noting it “was all about a rebuke to the pointedly uninvited current President of the United States, which was exactly how McCain had planned it.” Absent, apparently, any awareness of paronomasia, The New Yorker nailed the atmospherics, reporting that McCain’s funeral took place on a “swampy Saturday morning.”

As if…

If death made McCain indispensable in the short term, it also ended his usefulness as a walking, talking media prop.  Democrats had no real interest in pursuing the man’s deification, and Republicans sensed the inadvisability of affronting 623 million Trump voters.  Newscasters pivoted from hagiography to slander, professing disbelief that even so infamous a bunch of haters as the political Right would deny John McCain—statesman, war hero, champion of Senatorial outreach—praise on the event of his passing. Anchors frowned over remarks about the Senator that seemed insufficiently fulsome, wondering aloud if they constituted “hate speech.” Even Leftist Kelly Hayes recoiled at the uniform saccharinity, “As if telling the full, truthful story of his life and career were an insult to the senator and his loved ones.” As if, for that matter, the point even required “as if.”

Gregory Green-Ass, the early years….

Granddad, Dad, and Gregory Greenass.

McCain’s family was naval–his father and grandfather both four-star admirals. In keeping with expectations, he entered the Naval Academy, graduating 894th in a class of 899. Proceeding to the Pensacola Naval Air Station McCain quickly earned a reputation as “a sub-par flier” and a partier. By his own admission he “did not enjoy the reputation of a serious pilot or an up-and-coming junior officer.” Barely passing flight school, he crashed two airplanes after graduating, and damaging a third.  In Spain, he attempted to fly his A-1 fighter-bomber between a pair of electrical pylons, hitting one in the process and knocking out power for thousands. In his autobiography he wrote “My daredevil clowning had cut off electricity to a great many Spanish homes, and created a small international incident.” Reassigned to a cushy diplomatic post, McCain laudably volunteered for combat in Vietnam. Assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany, he flew 23 combat missions over Vietnam, making him a true war hero by any reasonable standard–but 23 missions were far fewer than most pilots aboard the Oriskany had flown, thus McCain was dubbed “Gregory Green-Ass.”

A true war hero with 23 combat missions.

“Jousting with Charlie and… Triple A?”

With the possible exception of the senior Bush, John McCain is the politician most famous for being shot down. During a bombing raid on a North Vietnamese hydroelectric plant, he deviated from tactical convention approaching the target.  “I knew I should roll out and fly evasive maneuvers,” he wrote, “…but I was just about to release my bombs…and had I started jinking…I would have never had the time nor, probably, the nerve to go back…” at which point, according to McCain, “I released my bombs, then pulled back the stick….in the instant before my plane reacted, a SAM blew my right wing off.” Except, it didn’t. Other pilots flying the mission unanimously reported anti-aircraft fire, not a surface-to-air missile, blew the the wing off McCain’s A-4E Skyhawk. Why McCain always insisted he was hit by a SAM is perhaps an issue best left to psychoanalysts–but the official Navy report is unambiguous; he was hit by “AAA fire,” not a missile.

An A-4 Skyhawk–with both wings.

Hanoi John

Welcome to North Vietnam!

McCain again flouted protocol bailing out. Pilots were taught a specific procedure for ejecting from a stricken A-4E, but McCain ignored it. As a result, he broke both arms and his right leg–self-inflicted injuries acquired even before angry North Vietnamese fished him out of Truc Bach Lake.  This later paid unexpected dividends when voters assumed news footage of the imprisoned McCain hobbling on crutches or trussed up in casts amounted to evidence of torture. In fact, as he concedes in his memoirs, McCain immediately offered information to his captors in exchange for hospitalization. Bad form, but of little practical consequence; even the toughest pilots broke at the “Hanoi Hilton,” and there is no doubt McCain was tortured and beaten, although he later wrote his treatment was “less harsh than might be accorded other prisoners,” because of “the propaganda value the Vietnamese placed on possessing me.”

Mostly self-inflicted.

McCain famously rejected an offer of early release–an offer the communists made because his father was a full admiral. TIME concertized McCain’s version of events, marveling at his decision to choose “prison in Hanoi for years rather than accept a release he considered dishonorable.”  But this story, too, is equivocal.  The senior American POW in Hanoi during McCain’s imprisonment adamantly opposed any American accepting early release, and military code required the ranking officer’s permission. McCain, then, had every reason to suppose his request would be denied.  Obviously, he could have sidestepped regulations and accepted the offer unilaterally—but doing so risked censure and even charges of collaboration down the road. Thus, although the story of McCain refusing early release is true, a dearth of workable options probably shaped his decision.

The Reaganite who schooled Goldwater

“Wait a minute, John–what’s with the hand buzzer?”

Released in keeping with the 1973 peace accords following five-and-a-half years of imprisonment, McCain retired from the Navy in 1981. Moving to Arizona, he ran for congress in 1983, campaigning as a dyed-in-the-wool Reaganite. In 1987, he ran for the senate, defeating his Democratic opponent by 20 percentage points. As a freshman senator, McCain resumed his support for the Reagan agenda. He defended “Reaganomics” despite zero grasp of supply-side theory, opposed abortion, voted in defense of school prayer, and appeared every inch the Cold Warrior. Yet, according to McCain, during a private meeting with the retiring Barry Goldwater (whose vacated seat McCain occupied), Goldwater offered, “You know, John, if I’d beaten Lyndon Johnson in ’64, you wouldn’t have spent all those years in a North Vietnamese prison camp.” McCain recalls quipping, “You’re right, Barry. It would have been a Chinese prison camp.” McCain loved telling the story, and true or not, the anecdote was subtly evocative of a deeper truth: John McCain enjoyed kicking members of his own party in the shins–especially those who represented seniority–or, one might go so far as to say, father figures.

“And anyway, John–why would Taiwan put you in a prison camp?”

When Newt Gingrich’s posse of young conservatives swarmed congress in 1992, McCain applauded their arrival but opted out of Gingrich’s “contract with America.” Instead, he gravitated toward several top Democrats, including Tip O’Neill, Paul Simon, and Mo Udall.  He soon began voicing support for various social programs, most notably the Americans with Disabilities Act. The legislation foundered when Republicans, to McCain’s considerable annoyance, took umbrage at several of its zanier entitlements.  Nevertheless, the media praised McCain’s enlightened willingness to join forces with liberals, painting him as a beacon of hope in a GOP too long wedded to grumpy intransigence. The accolades were not lost on McCain.

The reformer….

Nobody at McCain’s farewell service mentioned the Senator’s first association with campaign finance reform, otherwise known as the Keating Hearings. It was 1990, and the Washington Post reported grim news: “The Senate Select Committee on Ethics today will open what are expected to be exhaustive and contentious public hearings in the highly publicized ‘Keating Five’ case…” According to the Post, the hearings promised “a rare tour of the netherworld of campaign fund-raising and its impact on Washington’s official business.” Of the five, the only accused Republican was John McCain, whose earliest associations with campaign finance cast him as a poster child for its abuse. Accused of inappropriately intervening with federal regulators on behalf of Keating, a major campaign donor, McCain took a beating in the press, but avoided more serious consequences by agreeing to confess poor judgement.

Approaching the nominative contest of 2000, McCain recast himself as a campaign reformer par excellence.  Crossing the aisle in search of allies, he found a ready accomplice in Russ Feingold, (D-WI). While McCain thundered demands for action, Feingold’s staff crafted legislation. One telltale indicator of the bill’s toxicity was the selection of its co-sponsors as recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. McCain, of course, was the real point of the conferral. The bizarre idea that collaborating with liberals constituted heroism precisely fit the establishment’s long-maintained flimflam that joining it demands guts.

McCain always considered the act among his proudest achievements. In reality, it not only subjected political campaigns to a host of big-government intrusions, but also increased the media’s power to sway elections. The Heritage Foundation called it “wrongheaded and unconstitutional.” Even the Washington Post disapproved, noting that “…perversely, the ban on ‘soft money’ left individual and corporate donors free to direct their funds to outside groups, where donations are concealed from public scrutiny.” In 2010, the Supreme Court struck down the act’s more odoriferous sections, ruling that, “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.” The Left howled indignantly, as did McCain, as did President Obama, who managed to cram “Big Oil” “Wall Street Banks” and “Health insurers” into a single denunciatory sentence.  (READ MORE)

Standing tall against Big Oil!

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“You Keep Using that Word…” (In which WOOF takes Exception to Incorrect Political Correctness.)

In Hardcore lexicography forum on March 18, 2019 at 8:57 am

To clarify this screed’s rant, and the particularly annoying variety of left-wing “newspeak” that provoked it, it may help to explain what we aren’t ranting about–this time. The Internet is ablaze with lists of politically correct claptrap compiled by pathologically-officious arbiters of allowable speech. These lexical bullies infest faculty lounges across the land, united in their quest to denude American discourse of expressive scope by restricting it, in the name of social justice, to words they deem inoffensive, or, if offensive, offensive to practices. politics, or persons who are White, Christian, to the philosophical Right of Noam Chomsky, or otherwise deplorable. While we abhor these despots-manque, it is not our purpose here to catalog their verbal impositions. Anyone with a little nerve and a righteous abhorrence of gibberish can spot, list, and mock these lingual contaminants. And while ridicule is an entirely appropriate reaction to such taradiddle, we are pleased to note numerous lexicographic freedom fighters have taken up the work. Our business here involves a more refined grievance.

Our more refined grievance.

In this screed, we cavil about more than the Left’s enthusiasm for paralyzing our common tongue –we are particularly peeved by a substratum of usages so woefully misconstrued or wrongly etymologized as to give offense on two counts: First, as components of the balmy lexicon of tone-deaf PC idioms, and second, (here’s the important part) by adding a layer of fatuity insofar as they imply meanings contrary to or starkly different from the ones intended. To grasp our point precisely, one need only consider the line famously uttered by Mandy Patinkin in the role of Inigo Montoya from the 1987 romantic comedy “The Princess Bride,” since immortalized as a ubiquitous meme: “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” If you’ve seen the movie, you know the context, and if you haven’t, suffice it that for our purposes, the line speaks for itself—(forgive the anthropomorphism).To illustrate by example, let’s turn to the not-too-distant past, or what we might call the dawn of modern feminism. Many contemporary feminists tend to be unfamiliar with the details of this era, except to speak condescendingly of it as “Second Wave Feminism.” But we recall it vividly, together with the now forsaken term “Fem Lib” (short, of course, for Female Liberation). But that term is no longer in use, and not currently at issue. Our displeasure is incurred by a different, far more persistent coinage emblematic of those fractious times–although, to be historically exact, as early as the dawn of the 20th century there was similar deviltry afoot.

The slur’s the word!

In 1901, the editors of the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, preoccupied with niceties that seem quaint at this remove, fretted that “To call a maiden Mrs. is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts…” And in order that no married female be thenceforth addressed as “Miss,” the editors proposed a solution. “The abbreviation Ms is simple, it is easy to write,” they explained, and “for oral use it might be rendered as ‘Mizz,’ which would be a close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis’ does duty for Miss and Mrs. alike.” Simple enough, one might suppose, but in an era when “progressivism” meant Teddy Roosevelt, the idea went nowhere. Indeed, the editors of the Springfield Republican probably went to their graves lamenting their failure to save married women from the ignominy of being mistaken for single.

For the uninitiated: A character in “Pogo.”

There followed a dark age of indifference to such matters, during which women in every walk of life faced the daily risk of hymeneal mislabeling. Fortunately for humankind, during an otherwise lackluster interview on WBAI-radio in 1969, Feminist Sheila Michaels resurrected “Ms,” recommending it as a means of uniting the entire distaff sex within a single, collectivizing, Mao-jacket-ish sort of honorific, (and causing anyone enunciating it to be instantly remindful of a character from Pogo). Michaels credited the idea to a pamphlet she’d been handed by some Marxist group now lost to time, as might the entire idea have been, had not a friend of Gloria Steinem’s been listening and mentioned Michaels’s suggestion to Steinem, who pronounced it inspired.

Gloria Steinem–undercover Bunny.

In 1969, Gloria Steinem was the most widely known champion of American feminism, largely—if somewhat ironically—because she was good-looking, a quality conspicuous by its absence among the majority of her confederates. Besides making her a favorite talk-show guest, Steinham’s looks sufficed to win her employment as a Playboy Bunny, a stunt she followed with a widely read exposé in Show magazine detailing the veritable hell on earth endured—apparently—by Playboy Bunnies. Her bunnyhood behind her, Steinem was eager to found a magazine devoted to the feminist cause and thought “Ms.” would make a perfect title—smacking of rebellion, liberation from prosaic sexual roles, and the kind of controversy that drives sales at the newsstands.

The 1970s stood in sharp contrast to the days when a stringent lexical conservatorship consigned silly ideas like “Ms” to the waste basket. The burgeoning influence of the radical Left in American media and higher education meant that Steinem’s advocacy of “Ms” became instantly vogue. If this seems incomprehensible, remind yourself: this was the decade that popularized Disco, earth shoes, mood rings, plaid polyester leisure suits, and Jimmy Carter.  Any doubt regarding the continued communist subversion of government and the arts was set to rest as the U.S. Printing Office raced to approve “Ms.” on all official government documents, while Marvel Comics announced a new superhero named Ms. Marvel, billing her as the “first feminist superhero.” Gloria Steinem was really the first, we think, but she probably refused to wear another costume.

Steinem, bunnyhood behind her, making way for Ms. Marvel..

So, what’s our quibble with Steinham’s epochal choice of magazine titles? Let’s hear from Australia’s ABC News (not to be confused with its execrable American homograph) where contributor James Valentine sums up our objection, writing: “If you choose Ms as your honorific, others may think you mean more than you do…and it may not be a meaning that applies to you or any way related to why you choose to be a Ms.” In other words, Valentine might as well have written, “You keep using that word…”

The very first issue of Manuscript Magazine

Besides its ties to Marxism, which probably bother no one at this point except us, there is the inevitable problem of disambiguation that follows the forced introduction of most nonce-words like a faithful skunk. For example, current polls showing “Ms” on the skids, indicate a sizable population of women believe the term applies exclusively to divorcees, particularly in the United Kingdom; speaking of which, Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage, disallows “Ms”, insisting that “”The ugly-sounding Ms is problematic. Although many women have assumed this bland epithet, it remains incorrect to use when addressing a social letter.” The Queen’s English Society likewise dismisses Ms as “an abbreviation that is not short for anything,” which would be concerning, if true, which it isn’t, really, which begs a further remonstrance.

Lacking any pedigree in popular usage. the term often confused even those determined to adopt it. People assumed the letters were separately pronounced, as in “Welcome to your interview, Em Ess Smith!” And the absence of formal standardization saw the term rendered in all caps as often as not. Capitalized, of course, the letters have long denoted Multiple Sclerosis, but in either format, as an exasperated (female) editor famously stormed at the height of the term’s popularity, “Ms means manuscript, look it up!” And so it did, and does, and will continue to—or are we unduly sanguine?

Using MS WORD…

Aside from the improbable existence of some editor at some publishing house, whose extraordinary skills at enhancing and correcting writers’ submissions have admiring coworkers calling her “Manuscript” Jones, it is impossible to imagine any woman, no matter her sociopolitical convictions, intentionally describing herself as a manuscript, or, for that matter, as somehow associated with an incurable neurological disease linked to double vision, psychiatric problems, loss of physical coordination, and death.  More recently, we have Bill Gates’s patriarchally insensitive usurpation of the term in his marketing of MS Word, which may seem relatively inconsequential until you review the 2010 census and note 6,177 Americans surnamed Word, assumedly half of whom are liable to being confused with the world’s first and most famous word processor, not to mention numerous iterations of its popular document format, (now available as an Office 365 app!) And if you don’t think this can spell trouble, consider the plight of the comely but demure young lady bearing this surname, obliged to work at a desk proximal to a bulletin board to which some heedless functionary has affixed a promotional poster emblazoned with: “Thank you for using MS WORD!”Very, very top of mind….

Right on, Sister! Err…brother..er…xe…zhe..or…okay, whatever.

But before we leave “Ms” to its fate, or at least Webster’s Third, we should mention another source of mounting dissatisfaction with the embattled abbreviation, namely, contemporary liberalism. The problem with “Ms,” nowadays, is that people who identify with it are women, and people who apply it, apply it to women. Social Justice, meanwhile, has outgrown such callow paradigms, meaning that societal efforts to confine people to restrictive sexual categories or to distinguish between such categories, is highly offensive. The Left’s current obsession with gender-fluidity engenders (sorry!) the corollary dogma that one can pretend one’s gender is whatever one prefers while requiring everyone else to behave as though identically deluded. Given this recent advance in progressive social doctrine, any honorific specifying an individual’s sex, no matter how radically chic in its day, is suddenly archaic and microaggressive.

Jane Solomon: A very very top mind.

“Sociolinguist” and Atlantic editor Ben Zimmer, for one, insists the lack of gender-neutral terminology in English “has caused a lot of headache over the years,” which we at WOOF confess we hadn’t realized. Fortunately, lexicographer Jane Solomon was more alert. “The need for a gender-neutral prefix seems to be very, very top of mind for people,” the language expert assured TIME magazine. To this end, Solomon is confident the uni sexual prefix “Mx” will prevail where previous efforts like xe,, thon, and zhe, inexplicably foundered.

Afire with the vision of Americans everywhere demanding a usable gender-neutral means of address, constituents of “Fourth Wave” feminism saw “Ms” for what it was–just another gender-specific tool of patriarchal oppression no better than Miss or Mrs. The way forward, they realized, entailed everyone using the prefix Mx, which Sociolinguist Zimmer helpfully instructs readers to pronounce “Mix,” rather than “Em Ex,” an emphasis meant, one assumes, to prevent anyone from accidentally self-identifying as a land-based intercontinental ballistic missile.

Blacklisting “Black!”

H. Rap Brown, where are you when we need you??

In a similar vein, the essayist Dallion Rew (himself African by ethnicity) writes that “Black” is now “becoming more and more disagreeable to people who read and study History!” We maintain the opposite. The Black and certifiably-liberal essayist Kimberly Alexander points out that the problem is not history, but rather “whiney sensitive snowflakes [who] chose ‘black’ as something they can no longer say.”  Right! The problem is that Black political perceptions are influenced far more than anyone dares acknowledge by White, “whiney sensitive snowflakes” who are also media mavens, political leaders, and university professors. So we are now beset by a “fourth wave” (more or less) of Black militants protesting the descriptor “Black” as “racist” because snowflakes in Birkenstocks miseducated them to believe the term was at some juncture foisted upon them by their White oppressors.  Pamela Oliver, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, points out that ballooning numbers of graduates “…educated in predominantly-White schools…have been taught that Black is insulting or that the only correct term is African American.”

Stokely Carmichael: So smart he was hard to debate–so Black he turned into Kwame Ture.

Calling Blacks “Black,” rather than Negroes (the preferred term throughout the ‘50s and early ‘60s, tarnished beyond retrieval by President Lyndon Johnson’s propensity for pronouncing it “Nigras”) is in fact ascribable entirely to Blacks—and radical Blacks, at that. Advocacy for the term ran the gamut from the erudite young SNCC spokesman, Stokely Carmichael, to the barely comprehensible  H. Rap Brown. Malcolm X advocated “Black,” and the Black Panthers insisted on it. The entire Black Power movement demanded it—yet only a few decades later we find Blacks eschewing it because Whites (who are, after all, the tenants of radical chic) misremember it as an insult.

African Americans from Haiti, and beyond…

Gary Player, African

Which brings us to “African American,” the usage most often invoked in place of the spuriously-maligned “Black.” Jesse Jackson, in fact, began advocating this term as superior to Black in the ‘80s, because it de-emphasized color. Today, however, the “woke” custodians of permitted verbiage apply it as synonymous with “Black,” defeating the logic that drove Jackson to recommend it, while conjuring a host of fresh inconsistencies. The decorum impelling us to call any dark-complected individual “African American” is now rampant in our culture—thus students submit essays littered with absurdities like “2.5 billion African Americans currently populate Africa”—or that Haitian refugees are discriminated against because they are “African American.”  But Gary Player, the White golfer who hails from Johannesburg, is African. In fact, numerous African American golf stars have gained fame, but with the notable exception of Tiger Woods, who isn’t really from Africa, they are all White men.  Someone should look into that.

The late Nelson Mandela, addressing his fellow African Americans.

South African President Nelson Mandela was Black, which may explain why a US News reporter notoriously eulogized him as “a famous African American.” And how does one politely strive to mitigate the outrage expressed by Jamaicans and other citizens of the West Indies who come here to study and find themselves enrolled as African Americans, when, in point of fact, they are neither?

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