The Tragedy of John McCain

Read Michael Weiss in Jewcy:

Conservatism at its best means not being a “maverick,” but taking principled stances when popular opinion is ranged against them, putting yourself in the path of history, which you know is likely to mow you down and your feckless little Stop sign. “I am a man who, reluctantly, grudgingly, step by step, is destroying himself that this country and the faith by which it lives may continue to exist.” That’s how Whittaker Chambers, a true patriot of Dostoevskian complexity, explained his choice to become a national pariah rather than allow the dangers of international Communism go unnoticed. If McCain held my attention this year, it wasn’t only because of his Chambers-like willingness to destroy himself for his country in a southeast Asian prison cell long before I was born. It was also because of his willingness to destroy his political career by advocating an unpopular military policy designed to save a country other than his own, one that had been written off as lost to Hobbesian chaos. No revisionism, in light of the squalidness of his general campaign, will alter the fact that, had the surge failed, so too would have McCain in this year’s primaries.  He was at his most presidential in risking his chance to become president. He was also at his most conservative.

It would take a Sophocles or a Shakespeare to map the degeneration of a man who had got a handle on being “post-partisan” before it was fashionable or electorally remunerative. If I had to unearth the whole offence, I would say the trouble began in South Carolina, in 2000, when McCain witnessed just how nasty the game had got to be played, and just how badly he lost by choosing not to play it that way. Christopher Hitchens is wrong to say that McCain’s late turn into a merchant of anything-goes innuendo is the result of creeping “senility.” It’s classical political resentment: in his mind, he’s still losing to George W. Bush, just as Nixon thought he was losing to John F. Kennedy—in 1972.