Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

February 18, 2000


A wave of nausea washed over me as I read the headline: "McCain Says South Carolina Could Make Him Unstoppable." It wasn't just the thought of him preening and flashing that rictus smile, grinning like a death's-head, as he proclaims the inevitability of victory. It wasn't just the mental picture of his besotted media retinue echoing and hailing this latest evidence of their candidate's megalomania – I mean, here is a man who routinely compares himself to Luke Skywalker, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan and never gets called on it. I felt sick, positively ill, because he's right.


Good God, I thought, can it be? Is my own prediction of "The Coming Implosion of the Bush Campaign," a column written before the New Hampshire primary, really coming true? That article, in which I gleefully forecast the New Hampshire upset – and another, in which I posited the end of the GOP as we know it – was largely an exercise in wish-fulfillment. Although there was some evidence to back up my conclusion, it was largely motivated by a desire to buck up the Buchanan Brigades. For if McCain could somehow succeed in swiping the crown from Dubya's head and taking his place at the coronation, then conservatives would leave the GOP in droves. And where would they go? Why, to Buchanan, of course, the real conservative in the race as well as the only major "peace candidate, the author of an eloquent noninterventionist manifesto and the keynote speaker at's upcoming Second Annual National Conference. What could be better? Right?


Wrong, wrong, wrong. In the heat of my zeal, and the zest of politics played as essentially a game, I forgot all about the one and only reason for writing about the subject in the first place, and that is wielding my pen as a moral instrument, a sword employed in self-defense to combat evil. Promoting the good is half the battle, but actively fighting and exposing evil accounts for the other – and perhaps even more vital – half of the equation. For the world can survive and even thrive with mediocrity in power, but is vulnerable to darker forces. And if evil exists as an active force in American politics, then surely it is embodied in the foreign policy of would-be President John McCain.


McCain was a loudmouth hawk during the Kosovo war, demanding that the President immediately unleash American ground troops and send them marching into Belgrade, but since then has kept his foreign policy views relatively low profile. Oh, I'm sure the candidate and his flock of journalistic groupies on the "Straight Talk Express" must spend some time talking about foreign policy: after all, this is a continuous "rap session," with teams of adoring reporters now being brought onto the bus in shifts. But since their coverage focuses on the McCain "narrative" as a hero and moral exemplar, and says little about the issues other than campaign finance reform and the candidate's opposition to a tax cut, the South Carolina debate moderated by Larry King was the first time large numbers of Americans had heard his answers to a substantive list of foreign policy questions. Anyone with draft-age children, or loved ones already in the military, or indeed anyone who cares about the issue of war and peace, could only be horrified at his answers. Naturally, the reporting of this signal event completely blanked out the first part of the debate, and focused exclusively on the second and third rounds, which were consumed with a petty dispute over campaign tactics: the story was basically a rerun of the same game being played by Gore and Bradley over in the Democratic wing of the two-party monopoly. But King started out the festivities with a question phrased in a very interesting way: "Since we're being seen all over the world – we're on CNN International – what area of American international policy would you change immediately as President?" In his answer, McCain echoed Bush's warmongering on the China front, and raised him by a factor of ten:

"But I would also look very – revise our policies concerning these rogue states: Iraq, Libya, North Korea – those countries that continue to try to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. As long...

"KING: And you'd do what?

"McCAIN: I'd institute a policy that I call "rogue state rollback." I would arm, train, equip, both from without and from within, forces that would eventually overthrow the governments and install free and democratically elected governments."


Iraq needs to be "liberated," according to the Senator, by US-funded "freedom fighters" – like the drug running contras in Nicaragua, and the Afghan mujahadeen that spawned Osama bin Laden as an Islamic leader, yet another dubious amalgam of "revolutionaries" is being funded by American taxpayers in a very overt covert action: McCain proudly takes credit for passing the Soviet-sounding "Iraqi Liberation Act" which provides for cell phones and probably dental insurance for the exceedingly small faction of the Iraqi exile community that will work openly with the Central Intelligence Agency. He touts this boondoggle, and then goes on to add Russia to the list of possible "rogue states." In a hyperbolic assessment of Vladimr Putin, the rising Russian strongman, that seemed to build up to a crescendo of hysteria, McCain declared:

"We know that he was an apparatchik. We know that he was a member of the KGB. We know that he came to power because of the military brutality and massacre that's been taking place in Russia today – I mean in Chechnya today. We know that he worked a deal with Yeltsin, so that Yeltsin would have immunity, and he would be assured of the presidency, rather than basically a contested – I'm very concerned about Mr. Putin. I'm afraid Mr. Putin might be one of those who wants to make the trains run on time."


This jeremiad is inaccurate as well as frenzied. Putin didn't come to power because of the war, but only because Yeltsin resigned. Aside from that, however, the question arises: what Russian leader is not an ex-apparatchick? The exemplar being Yeltsin, long touted by our State Department as the harbinger of Russian democracy, who along with most of the rest of the Soviet leadership (including Gorbachev) decided to throw in their lot with capitalism – or, at least, the oligarchic Russian version of it that reflects, in an especially crude way, the essential gangsterism of State capitalism everywhere. Secondly, McCain seems unaware that Putin will soon face the Russian electorate, and will have to answer for the conduct of the war in Chechnya. No one is "assured" in Russia today of winning the election – no more than George W. Bush was ever "assured" of winning the nomination of his party. The Russian people have yet to vote on the war in Chechnya – and when they do, it may come at a time when it will be increasingly hard for Putin and his pals to maintain the illusion of a glorious "victory."


Such ignorance is shocking in a serious presidential candidate, but even more appalling was the remark about "making the trains run on time." Are we to understand that a leading candidate for the White House is now accusing the President of nuclear-armed Russia of being a Slavic incarnation of Mussolini, a dangerous fascist who deserves to be hung by his heels? King phrased the question in terms of asking "would you meet with Putin" as a candidate, which made McCain's answer seem all the more vitriolic – and strange.


I've heard the rumors about John McCain's mental instability and his legendary temper, said to be the result of horrific experiences in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, and the more I see and hear him in action, the more I am convinced that these are not just rumors. Under the magnifying glass of television, where McCain comes across as a kind of walking time bomb waiting to go off, his brow furrowed with the effort of restraining an explosive anger, his strangeness is projected first as a visual impression – and is confirmed when he blurts out wildly inappropriate (and certainly unpresidential) historical analogies. If by some horrific set of circumstances McCain should ever be elected President, does he imagine that his painting Putin with the totalitarian brush will afford him any advantage when he comes face to face with the man he equated with a fascist dictator? The irony is that while everyone else is seriously contemplating the possibility of McCain in the White House, this remark underscores the odd fact that the candidate has yet to take his own presidential prospects seriously – another rather strange quirk that, in the end, could have unpleasant consequences for us all.


The same somewhat wacky theme came up again in his answer to the question of what (if anything) to do about Joerg Haider and his Freedom Party of Austria. King asked if McCain was "concerned" about Austria:

"I'm concerned. A guy who's name was Adolf Schicklgruber was born there, was a corporal in the German army in World War I, and obviously caused us great problems. But this was a free and fair election, Larry. This was a free and fair election by a sophisticated electorate. "

Larry chimed in by pointing out that "Hitler was elected in a free election." While McCain backed away from coming right out and endorsing US-EU military intervention, neither did he rule it out:

"We have to watch it, we have to pay close attention to what's happening in the middle of Europe in what is viewed by most people as one of the most sophisticated countries in Europe. Obviously we need to keep an eye on it. But I don't think the United States of America right now is prepared to overturn a free and fair election."


Not now – but maybe later. Like Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and the rest of the international Left, the "Republican" wing of the New World Order is beating the war drums against a supposed resurgence of Nazism – this at a time when "ex"-Communist leaders throughout Europe hold ministerial portfolios and are respected members of NATO or will shortly be inducted into the club. These days, it seems, the ghost of Hitler obsesses leftists and provides them with a justification for everything from the imposition of hate crimes laws to the bombing of Belgrade, and in this regard McCain has gone out of his way to prove his bona fides as a certified member of the club.


But looking beyond ideology, and getting into the realm of psychology, what is there to say about a future President of these United States who denounces Austria as a nation of potential Adolf Schicklgrubers? The facile way in which it was said, as a sarcastic crack, only underscores the careless and even reckless behavior of a man who thinks he can get away with anything. With his adoring fans in the media, and the complete lack of scrutiny or even the mildest critique, he is probably right. Of course, this won't last once he takes that oath of office – but by then it will be far too late.


One glaring symptom of mental disturbance is the inability to determine what is appropriate, a tendency to drop the context and even forget where you are: one such moment was highlighted when King asked everyone on what occasions would they use military force: Bush's answer, when "national security" is involved, fell well within the boundaries of post-cold war Republican orthodoxy, but McCain had a very different take:

"I just want to say, it's not that simple. It's not that simple because we are driven by Wilsonian principles as well as others. There are times when our principles and our values are so offended that we have to do what we can to resolve a terrible situation. Obviously, it's the last resort. But we can never say that a nation driven by Judeo-Christian principles will only intervene where our interests are threatened because we also have values. And those values are very important..."


Did he say Wilsonian principles? Having already compared himself to Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, and even John F. Kennedy, McCain is now resurrecting the shade of none other than Woodrow Wilson in his campaign of wholesale historical appropriation. Here is a man so blinded by power lust, so lacking in loyalty to anything remotely resembling Republican principles, that he momentarily forgets which party he is asking to nominate him for the highest office in the land.


It was only the presence of Alan Keyes at that debate that managed to inject a note of sanity into the proceedings. As Bush burbled ineffectual generalities and said we ought not to get involved in Rwanda, Keyes attacked globalism and interventionism, eloquently denouncing US foreign policy as "a danger to peace." McCain's reaction was strange, to say the least:

"Obviously we have too much deployment. We should have our troops coming home from Bosnia. We shouldn't have gone into Kosovo – or shouldn't have stumbled into Kosovo. There was no need to intervene there. But look, there's only one superpower, and that's the United States of America. And there will be times when the superpower has to do things that other nations don't have to do. And I am convinced that the best way to prevent the loss of blood certainly – certainly the lessons of the last century showed us is that there may be times when we have to come in early so that we will prevent a recurrence of what happened with the rise of Nazi Germany..."


For those of us who watched in horror as McCain bellowed that we ought to bomb Belgrade into a mass of rubble, and demanded that the President launch an immediate invasion, appearing on practically every talking heads program for the entire duration of the Kosovo War, such a statement surpasses the merely strange: this kind of moral and political ambidexterity is nothing less than downright spooky. If we shouldn't have gone into Kosovo in the first place, then how could anyone justify the deaths that resulted from that ill-advised and ill-fated intervention? Since "there was no need to intervene there," then weren't these needless deaths?


But that is only scratching the surface of the mass of sociopathic impulses McCain put on full display in this debate. In practice, the idea that "there will be times when a superpower has to do things that other nations don't have to do" really means that the US is permitted to do things that would brand the leaders of any other nation as war criminals. The leitmotif of the sociopathic personality is the belief that they are exempt from the rules followed by ordinary humans, immune to the punishments visited on mere mortals, and endowed with a godlike power to determine the destiny of others – for their own good, of course. McCain's comment that "there may be times when we have to come in early so that we will prevent a recurrence of what happened with the rise of Nazi Germany" reflects the messianic streak often found in delusional personalities. Again the obsessive theme of Nazism resurgent is reiterated, which by this time bears all the hallmarks of a full-blown delusional system.


The portrait of John McCain that emerges, in spite of the media hype, is of a deluded monomaniac, whose overweening arrogance is a danger to himself – and now to the country and the rest of the world. If and when he gets into the White House, it is time to bring back a fad popular in the middle of the 20th century – the building of back yard bomb shelters. Because this time we may actually get to use them. I was delighted to read that my fellow columnist, Emmanuel Goldstein, has the right line on the McCain question, and I can only concur with his excellent and wildly funny piece on the subject. I stayed a registered Republican after Buchanan walked out of the GOP for the pleasure of voting against McCain in the California Republican primary – and having my vote count. Unfortunately, by the time the Republican roadshow gets to the Golden State, it will already be too late. . . .


The implosion I predicted before a single vote was cast in New Hampshire is proceeding on schedule, with Bush in an almost impossible position. In order to blow McCain out of the water, or at least cut him down to size, he needs to win by a substantial margin in South Carolina – a highly unlikely occurrence. McCain has what Dubya's father once called "the big mo"; the momentum is with his phony media-driven "insurgency" and so is the "open primary" system that lets Democrats and Independents nominate the Republican Party's presidential candidate. This was a "reform" introduced in many states since the last election, with the full support of the Republican establishment, in order to minimize the influence of the conservative wing of the GOP. It has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the Republican moderates – including the Bush camp – which sought to make a replay of the Buchanan insurgencies of 1992 and '96 an impossibility – and now become their living nightmare. Sure, they accomplished their purpose, but right now they have to be asking themselves: at what cost?


It is almost be funny to watch the consternation of the Bushies as they flail about helplessly, gasping and groaning like fish out of water, while McCain reels in the nomination. Or at least it would be hilarious if it didn't mean that Mad John McCain, a man with a hair-trigger temper who sees enemies everywhere and is haunted by the ghost of a dead demonic dictator, will now have his finger on the nuclear trigger. And in that case you can kiss your ass goodbye.

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