kottke.org posts about John McCain
In his Rolling Stone article on John McCain’s failed campaign for the 2000 Republican nomination for President, David Foster Wallace wrote about how not voting is like shooting yourself in the foot.
If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.
Please check your registration status and register to vote…it takes two minutes. Voter registration deadlines are fast approaching in many US states — there are deadlines tomorrow in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. If you don’t see your state in that list, don’t assume you have all the time in the world…check your status and register to vote anyway.
See also Dear Young People: “Don’t Vote”. (via nitch)
As I said recently in the newsletter and in my media diet post for March, I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace’s 2005 collection of nonfiction. Each story I listen to is somehow been better than the last, and Wallace’s piece on John McCain’s failed run for the Republican nomination in 2000 was no exception. You can the as-published article in Rolling Stone, but it’s worth seeking out the much longer unabridged version in Consider the Lobster or stand-alone in McCain’s Promise.
While the piece is a time capsule of circa 2000 Republican politics — which politics seem totally quaint by today’s standards; for instance, Wallace describes McCain as one of the most right-wing members of Congress — what makes it so great and relevant is the timelessness of Wallace’s conclusions about politics, why politicians run, why people vote (and don’t vote), and why anyone should care about all of this in the first place.
There are many elements of the McCain2000 campaign — naming the bus “Straight Talk,” the timely publication of Faith of My Fathers, the much-hyped “openness” and “spontaneity” of the Express’s media salon, the message-disciplined way McCain thumps “Always. Tell you. The truth” — that indicate that some very shrewd, clever marketers are trying to market this candidate’s rejection of shrewd, clever marketing. Is this bad? Or just confusing? Suppose, let’s say, you’ve got a candidate who says polls are bullshit and totally refuses to tailor his campaign style to polls, and suppose then that new polls start showing that people really like this candidate’s polls-are-bullshit stance and are thinking about voting for him because of it, and suppose the candidate reads these polls (who wouldn’t?) and then starts saying even more loudly and often that polls are bullshit and that he won’t use them to decide what to say, maybe turning “Polls are bullshit” into a campaign line and repeating it in every speech and even painting Polls Are Bullshit on the side of his bus….Is he a hypocrite? Is it hypocritical that one of McCain’s ads’ lines South Carolina is “Telling the truth even when it hurts him politically,” which of course since it’s an ad means that McCain is trying to get political benefit out of his indifference to political benefits? What’s the difference between hypocrisy and paradox?
That’s just one of the many passages that reminded me of the 2016 election and the appeal to voters of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders (and also of a certain Barack Obama in 2008 & 2012) but also makes you think deeply about how and why millions of people decide to put their support and faith and trust into a single person to represent their interests and identity in our national government.
See also Why’s This So (Damn) Good (and Topical)? David Foster Wallace and “McCain’s Promise”.
Arizona Senator John McCain has publicly come out against the latest Republican attempt to repeal the ACA. His statement begins:
As I have repeatedly stressed, health care reform legislation ought to be the product of regular order in the Senate. Committees of jurisdiction should mark up legislation with input from all committee members, and send their bill to the floor for debate and amendment. That is the only way we might achieve bipartisan consensus on lasting reform, without which a policy that affects one-fifth of our economy and every single American family will be subject to reversal with every change of administration and congressional majority.
I would consider supporting legislation similar to that offered by my friends Senators Graham and Cassidy were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment. But that has not been the case. Instead, the specter of September 30th budget reconciliation deadline has hung over this entire process.
Many opponents of the ACA repeal are hailing McCain as a hero for going against his party leadership on this issue. I don’t see it — he’d still support a bill like Graham-Cassidy that would take away healthcare coverage from millions of Americans if only it were the result of proper procedure — particularly because of what he says next (italics mine):
We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009.
This is false. The NY Times’ David Leonhardt explained back in March during another Republican repeal effort:
When Barack Obama ran for president, he faced a choice. He could continue moving the party to the center or tack back to the left. The second option would have focused on government programs, like expanding Medicare to start at age 55. But Obama and his team thought a plan that mixed government and markets — farther to the right of Clinton’s — could cover millions of people and had a realistic chance of passing.
They embarked on a bipartisan approach. They borrowed from Mitt Romney’s plan in Massachusetts, gave a big role to a bipartisan Senate working group, incorporated conservative ideas and won initial support from some Republicans. The bill also won over groups that had long blocked reform, like the American Medical Association.
But congressional Republicans ultimately decided that opposing any bill, regardless of its substance, was in their political interest. The consultant Frank Luntz wrote an influential memo in 2009 advising Republicans to talk positively about “reform” while also opposing actual solutions. McConnell, the Senate leader, persuaded his colleagues that they could make Obama look bad by denying him bipartisan cover.
Adam Jentleson, former Deputy Chief of Staff for Senator Harry Reid, said basically the same thing on Twitter:
The votes were party-line, but that was a front manufactured by McConnell. He bragged about it at the time. McConnell rarely gives much away but he let the mask slip here, saying he planned to oppose Obamacare regardless of what was in the bill. Those who worked on and covered the bill know there were GOP senators who wanted to support ACA — but McConnell twisted their arms. On Obamacare, Democrats spent months holding hearings and seeking GOP input — we accepted 200+ GOP amendments!
For reference, here was the Senate vote, straight down party lines. Hence the “ramming” charge…if you didn’t know any better. Luckily, Snopes does know better.
According to Mark Peterson, chair of the UCLA Department of Public Policy, one easy metric by which to judge transparency is the number of hearings held during the development of a bill, as well as the different voices heard during those hearings. So far, the GOP repeal efforts have been subject to zero public hearings.
In contrast, the ACA was debated in three House committees and two Senate committees, and subject to hours of bipartisan debate that allowed for the introduction of amendments. Peterson told us in an e-mail that he “can’t recall any major piece of legislation that was completely devoid of public forums of any kind, and that were crafted outside of the normal committee and subcommittee structure to this extent”.
The Wikipedia page about the ACA tells much the same story.
Senator John McCain has been diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. The tumor has been removed and McCain is recovering at home with his family. I wish Senator McCain well and hope for a speedy recovery.
In the wake of his diagnosis, many of those expressing support for McCain reference his considerable personal strength in his fight against cancer. President Obama said:
John McCain is an American hero & one of the bravest fighters I’ve ever known. Cancer doesn’t know what it’s up against. Give it hell, John.
McCain’s daughter Meghan references his toughness and fearlessness in a statement released yesterday. Vice-President Joe Biden expressed similar sentiments on Twitter:
John and I have been friends for 40 years. He’s gotten through so much difficulty with so much grace. He is strong — and he will beat this.
This is the right thing to say to those going through something like this, and hearing this encouragement and having the will & energy to meet this challenge will undoubtably increase McCain’s chances of survival. But what Biden said next is perhaps more relevant:
Incredible progress in cancer research and treatment in just the last year offers new promise and new hope. You can win this fight, John.
As with polio, smallpox, measles, and countless other diseases before it, beating cancer is not something an individual can do. Being afflicted with cancer is the individual’s burden to bear but society’s responsibility to cure. In his excellent biography of cancer from 2011, The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee talks about the progress we’ve made on cancer:
Incremental advances can add up to transformative changes. In 2005, an avalanche of papers cascading through the scientific literature converged on a remarkably consistent message — the national physiognomy of cancer had subtly but fundamentally changed. The mortality for nearly every major form of cancer — lung, breast, colon, and prostate — had continuously dropped for fifteen straight years. There had been no single, drastic turn but rather a steady and powerful attrition: mortality had declined by about 1 percent every year. The rate might sound modest, but its cumulative effect was remarkable: between 1990 and 2005, the cancer-specific death rate had dropped nearly 15 percent, a decline unprecedented in the history of the disease. The empire of cancer was still indubitably vast — more than half a million American men and women died of cancer in 2005 — but it was losing power, fraying at its borders.
What precipitated this steady decline? There was no single answer but rather a multitude. For lung cancer, the driver of decline was primarily prevention — a slow attrition in smoking sparked off by the Doll-Hill and Wynder-Graham studies, fueled by the surgeon general’s report, and brought to its full boil by a combination of political activism (the FTC action on warning labels), inventive litigation (the Banzhaf and Cipollone cases), medical advocacy, and countermarketing (the antitobacco advertisements). For colon and cervical cancer, the declines were almost certainly due to the successes of secondary prevention — cancer screening. Colon cancers were detected at earlier and earlier stages in their evolution, often in the premalignant state, and treated with relatively minor surgeries. Cervical cancer screening using Papanicolaou’s smearing technique was being offered at primary-care centers throughout the nation, and as with colon cancer, premalignant lesions were excised using relatively minor surgeries. For leukemia, lymphoma, and testicular cancer, in contrast, the declining numbers reflected the successes of chemotherapeutic treatment. In childhood ALL, cure rates of 80 percent were routinely being achieved. Hodgkin’s disease was similarly curable, and so, too, were some large-cell aggressive lymphomas. Indeed, for Hodgkin’s disease, testicular cancer, and childhood leukemias, the burning question was not how much chemotherapy was curative, but how little: trials were addressing whether milder and less toxic doses of drugs, scaled back from the original protocols, could achieve equivalent cure rates.
Perhaps most symbolically, the decline in breast cancer mortality epitomized the cumulative and collaborative nature of these victories — and the importance of attacking cancer using multiple independent prongs. Between 1990 and 2005, breast cancer mortality had dwindled an unprecedented 24 percent. Three interventions had potentially driven down the breast cancer death rate-mammography (screening to catch early breast cancer and thereby prevent invasive breast cancer), surgery, and adjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy after surgery to remove remnant cancer cells).
Understanding how to defeat cancer is an instance where America’s fierce insistence on individualism does us a disservice. Individuals with freedom to pursue their own goals are capable of a great deal, but some problems require massive collective coordination and effort. Beating cancer is a team sport; it can only be defeated by a diverse collection of people and institutions working hard toward the same goal. It will take government-funded research, privately funded research, a strong educational system, philanthropy, and government agencies from around the world working together. This effort also requires a system of healthcare that’s available to everybody, not just to those who can afford it. Although cancer is not a contagious disease like measles or smallpox, the diagnosis and treatment of each and every case brings us closer to understanding how to defeat it. We make this effort together, we spend this time, energy, and money, so that 10, 20, or 30 years from now, our children and grandchildren won’t have to suffer like our friends and family do now.
President Obama announces a ban on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons.
How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.
Here’s Obama’s Op-Ed on the topic.
“It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” That’s a quote on solitary from John McCain from an old New Yorker piece from Atul Gawande: Hellhole. (via nextdraft)
This article on why Americans don’t want to compromise was pretty dumb, but this is an interesting tidbit:
89 percent of the Whole Foods stores in the United States were in counties carried by Barack Obama in 2008, while 62 percent of Cracker Barrel restaurants were in counties carried by John McCain.
For what it’s worth, I was seriously disappointed by the biscuits at Cracker Barrel when I had them the first time.
I love this…Barack Obama has been asking John McCain for his advice over the past few weeks.
Over the last three months, Mr. Obama has quietly consulted Mr. McCain about many of the new administration’s potential nominees to top national security jobs and about other issues — in one case relaying back a contender’s answers to questions Mr. McCain had suggested.
McCain, though it was his own fault (or that of his handlers), didn’t represent himself well during the presidential campaign and it’s nice to see that the very able Senator isn’t being sidelined because of it. Also, it’s quite savvy of Obama to seek out his support. He’s essentially buying McCain stock at a low point and will presumably leverage that purchase when that stock inevitably rises.
Update: A letter to the Times editor notes that there is a precedent for the Obama/McCain connection: FDR and Wendell Willkie after the 1940 election.
After Franklin D. Roosevelt won the 1940 election, he invited his opponent, the Republican Wendell L. Willkie, to meet with him in the White House. “You know, he is a very good fellow,” F.D.R. said afterward to his secretary of labor, Frances Perkins. “He has lots of talent. I want to use him somehow.”
If you followed or were at all interested in the 2008 presidential election, this seven-part series by a group of Newsweek reporters is a must read. The reporters were granted exclusive access to the campaigns of Barack Obama, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton for a year on the condition that they wouldn’t print anything until after the election was over. The series, of which the first three parts are currently up on the Newsweek site, is a fascinating look at how the political process works and contains all manner of salacious political gossip.
Part One: How Obama was persuaded to run and found his campaigning rhythm and his first scuffles with the Clinton campaign.
In some ways, running for president was a preposterous idea for someone who had served as a two-term state legislator and had spent only two years in the United States Senate. But Obama, a careful student of his own unique journey, could see the stars coming into alignment-the country was exhausted by the Iraq War (which he, alone among leading candidates, had opposed as “dumb” from the outset). As Obama saw it, the conservative tide in America was ebbing, and voters were turning away from the Republican Party. People were sick of politicians of the standard variety and yearned for someone new-truly new and different. Another politician with a superb sense of timing, Bill Clinton, perfectly understood why Obama saw a golden, possibly once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity. The former president believed that the mainstream press, whose liberal guilt Clinton understood and had exploited from time to time, would act as Obama’s personal chauffeur on the long journey ahead. “If somebody pulled up a Rolls-Royce to me and said, ‘Get in’,” Clinton liked to say, with admiration and maybe a little envy, “I’d get in it, too.”
Part Two: John McCain’s campaign gets off to a terrible start and then suddenly recovers.
Along about Thanksgiving, reporters began to notice a change. The size of the crowds was increasing, and McCain began to creep up in the polls, especially in New Hampshire. He was blessed by the quality of his opponents. In the grim days of summer, when a NEWSWEEK reporter had asked why he shouldn’t join the rest of the press corps in reading the last rites for McCain’s presidential aspirations, Rick Davis had responded with an incongruously cheerful smile. Nothing personal, he said; our opponents are all good men, some of them are my friends-but politically speaking? “Look, at the end of the day,” he said, “the rest of these guys suck.” However crude, his judgment was not off base. Ex-businessman Mitt Romney seemed to treat the campaign as a management-consulting project, as if he were selling a product and trying to increase market share. He had no fingertips as a politician and came off as a phony, even when he was perfectly sincere. Rudy Giuliani seemed to be building a cult of Rudy, constantly talking about his performance on 9/11 to a nation that wanted to forget about the terrorist attacks, and he badly miscalculated by believing that he could wait until the Florida primary in late January to make his move. Former senator Fred Thompson seemed old and half asleep. Former governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas was emerging as an engaging showman and a lively dark horse-but as an evangelical minister with no foreign-policy experience, he almost certainly could not win.
Part Three: The role of the candidates’ spouses, the continuing clashes between the Obama and Clinton campaigns, and Obama’s Star Trek joke.
Obama carefully conserved his energy. He was not a man of appetites, like Bill Clinton, who would grab whatever goodie passed by on the tray. Obama was abstemious. Indeed, to the reporters following him, he appeared very nearly anorexic. Most candidates gain the Campaign 10 (or 15). Hillary was struggling with her waistline, as she gamely knocked back shots and beers in working-class bars and gobbled the obligatory sausage sandwiches thrust at her in greasy spoons along the Trail of the White Working-Class Voter. Obama, by contrast, lost weight. He regularly ate the same dinner of salmon, rice and broccoli. At Schoop’s Hamburgers, a diner in Portage, Ind., he munched a single french fry and ordered four hamburgers-to go. At the Copper Dome Restaurant, a pancake house in St. Paul, Minn., he ordered pancakes-to go. (An AP reporter wondered: who gets pancakes for the road?) A waiter reeled off a long list of richly topped flapjacks, but Obama went for the plain buttermilk, saying, “I’m kind of traditionalist.” Reporters joked that if he ate a single bite of burger or pancake once the doors of his dark-tinted SUV closed, they’d eat their BlackBerrys. Frustrated by reporters fishing for trivial “gaffes,” Obama did not like coming back to the plane to talk to the press. As he trudged back from time to time to deal with the reporters’ incessant questions, he looked like a suburban dad, slump-shouldered after a long day at the office, taking out the trash.
The bit about Obama’s conservation of energy reminded me of this article about Roger Federer’s own conservation.
I got another sense, however: a sense that he was conserving focus. Fed went through all his subsidiary responsibilities as the President of Tennis (as Steve Tignor calls him) without concentrating on anything, or at least on as few things as possible.
Concentration takes mental energy, as anyone who has fought off five break points before shanking a ball on the sixth knows. And whenever I saw Federer on the grounds, he seemed to be using as little of it as possible. Practicing with Nicolas Kiefer on Ashe a few days before the tournament, he mostly just messed around. He would hit a few familiar Federer shots, the heavy forehand, the penetrating slice, then shank a ball and grin, or yell. Either way, he wasn’t really concentrating all that hard.
Update: Part Four was just posted.
I don’t know if this has been linked around everywhere or not, but this surprisingly realistic video of a dance-off between Barack Obama and John McCain tickled every last bone in my body. I watched it at least four times.
Christopher Hitchens endorses Obama for President.
To summarize what little I learned from all this: A candidate may well change his or her position on, say, universal health care or Bosnia. But he or she cannot change the fact — if it happens to be a fact — that he or she is a pathological liar, or a dimwit, or a proud ignoramus. And even in the short run, this must and will tell.
To hammer home his point, Hitchens compares McCain to Admiral James Stockdale, Ross Perot’s running mate in 1992. Oh yes, he went there.
The New Yorker devotes the entire Talk of the Town section in their latest issue to their endorsement for President. As you might guess, Obama gets the endorsement and John McCain receives no quarter from the editors. The key part of the article concerns the candidates’ possible appointments to the Supreme Court and their consequences. A more conservative court scares the shit out of me.
On the occasion of the release of his 2000 Rolling Stone essay on John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign in unabridged and expanded book form, David Foster Wallace gives a short interview to the WSJ.
McCain himself has obviously changed [since the 2000 campaign]; his flipperoos and weaselings on Roe v. Wade, campaign finance, the toxicity of lobbyists, Iraq timetables, etc. are just some of what make him a less interesting, more depressing political figure now — for me, at least. It’s all understandable, of course — he’s the GOP nominee now, not an insurgent maverick. Understandable, but depressing. As part of the essay talks about, there’s an enormous difference between running an insurgent Hail-Mary-type longshot campaign and being a viable candidate (it was right around New Hampshire in 2000 that McCain began to change from the former to the latter), and there are some deep, really rather troubling questions about whether serious honor and candor and principle remain possible for someone who wants to really maybe win.
Can John McCain, born outside the 50 United States in the Panama Canal Zone, hold the office of President?
Mr. McCain is not the first person to find himself in these circumstances. The last Arizona Republican to be a presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, faced the issue. He was born in the Arizona territory in 1909, three years before it became a state. But Goldwater did not win, and the view at the time was that since he was born in a continental territory that later became a state, he probably met the standard.
Three of the candidates in the recent Republican presidential debate said they don’t believe in evolution: Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Hard to believe that this is 2007 and not 1807. John McCain said he did believe in evolution but that “I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also”.
Update: An earlier version of this post wrongly stated that Mitt Romney raised his hand when asked about disbelieving evolution…Tom Tancredo was the third person. (thx to several who wrote in about this)
John McCain is using Mike Davidson’s MySpace template (without attribution) and pulling some images directly from Davidson’s server, which is a big no-no in webmaster land. So Davidson modified one of his images displaying on McCain’s MySpace page to say that he’d reversed his position on gay marriage, especially “marriage between passionate females”.
I think it’s perfectly OK for John McCain and Barack Obama to say that the US is wasting the lives of the American troops that have been killed in Iraq. In the ignoble pursuit of politics, people are penalized for telling the truth, or at least for telling their honest opinions. Words are twisted by the media and opponents to take on other meanings. In this case, we’re supposed to be outraged for McCain and Obama suggesting that those who have chosen to serve in the armed forces are wasting their lives. Does anyone honestly believe that either of these two guys really meant to say that?