Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

The Man With the Shaky Hands

To be honest, John McCain never used to bother me that much as Republicans go. Sure, he would repeatedly make strong statements of a self-consciously "maverick" sort, then undermine most of the good he'd done by planting soft kisses on the rear ends of party leaders. But all successful American politicians do that. And sometimes his boldness lingered in the memory with positive effects. Even though he relented on his opposition to torture, for example, his initial critique of the Bush Administration helped to consolidate resistance to techniques like waterboarding. Indeed, I imagine that many voters remember the McCain who was against it better than the one who is for it.

I liked some of his quips, too, like the one he made about Vladimir Putin. Playing off of George W. Bush's assertion that he liked what he saw in Putin's eyes, McCain declared that he could discern only "K.G.B." There are other examples of his off-the-cuff wit recorded in David Foster Wallace's fine piece on his 2000 Presidential campaign. It's because I didn't harbor completely negative feelings about McCain in the past that I am so worried now. I'll be as blunt as I can: the man seems to be losing his mind. The choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate, even if it did consolidate his support in the conservative base, is looking increasingly loony.

I can understand that it would take an "outsider" like her, with little experience in national and international affairs, a little while to get up to speed. But the fact that she still couldn't come up with a single example of something McCain had done in the Senate on economic matters, after asserting to Katie Couric that he was a "maverick," is alarming. And her refusal to speak to the press outside of tightly scripted events or, to be more precise, the campaign's refusal to let her speak, is looking more and more like an indication that she just isn't ready for the office of Vice President. What distresses me even more than Palin, though, is the way that McCain's statements about the financial crisis in the United States have oscillated between vastly different positions. Either he is so desperate to curry favor that he'll say anything that might win a potential voter over, or he is simply out of his depth. I suspect it's the latter, as Ron Paul's mocking of him during the primary debates suggested.

Palin can count on the sympathy of a lot of working-class Americans who identify with her American Idol-like ascent from political amateur to prospective Vice President. But I don't think McCain will be afforded the same slack. For one thing, though it's easy to express admiration for his courage as a prisoner of war, that experience marks him as fundamentally different from most of his fellow citizens. Identifying with him is like identifying with one of the characters in Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn, all of whom, including Christian Bale's Dieter, seem unhinged. We know why they have been brought to that mental state. We sympathize, surely. That does not mean, however, that we want them running the country.

Stories about McCain's short fuse have come up now and again during his political career. He seems to have done a pretty good job so far of containing the negative effects of his rage. There's always the chance, though, as is often the case with people as they advance in years, that his powers of resistance are diminishing, perhaps even rapidly. Leaving aside the question of whether the risk of him dying in office is significant or not -- he has excellent genes, but physical maladies that potentially countervail them -- the vision of him sitting in the White House, unable to control his temper, changing his mind from moment to moment, is downright scary.
Tags: politics

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