a speculation…

Posted on Saturday 30 August 2008

There was a time, a long time ago, when I liked McCain. I recall saying, "If I ever vote for a Republican, it’ll be John McCain." That would have been when he was more my own age [66]. For the life of me, I can’t recall why I said that. I think it was around some instance of his now fabled "Maverick-ness" or maybe when Bush/Rove were raping him with the "out of wedlock black baby" story in the 2000 South Carolina Primary.

But then it seemed like he drank Bush’s Koolade. Every time I saw his name, he started out as one of the good guys, but ended up caving in – like on the issue of Torture. I was always disappointed. Now, as I look back at his voting record, I wonder why I ever thought those more positive thoughts:
His record [as rated by the conservative American Conservative Union and the liberal Americans for Democratic Action] tells a different story. In his early days in the Senate, he was a lockstep Conservative Republican. Things changed slightly when he developed Presidential ambitions [1996, the short list for Dole’s VP choice]. The only time he voted remotely "our way" was during Bush’s first term [2000-2004]. Looking at this record now, I can explain that bump as his being mad at Bush for the outrageous dirty trick campaign in 2000 that derailed McCain’s Presidential run:
The Arizona Republic would write that the McCain-Bush primary contest in South Carolina "has entered national political lore as a low-water mark in presidential campaigns", while The New York Times called it "a painful symbol of the brutality of American politics". A variety of interest groups that McCain had challenged in the past ran negative ads. Bush borrowed McCain’s earlier language of reform, and declined to disassociate himself from a veterans activist who accused McCain (in Bush’s presence) of having "abandoned the veterans" on POW/MIA and Agent Orange issues.

Incensed, McCain ran ads accusing Bush of lying and comparing the governor to Bill Clinton, which Bush said was "about as low a blow as you can give in a Republican primary". An anonymous smear campaign began against McCain, delivered by push polls, faxes, e-mails, flyers, and audience plants. The smears claimed that McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock (the McCains’ dark-skinned daughter was adopted from Bangladesh), that his wife Cindy was a drug addict, that he was a homosexual, and that he was a "Manchurian Candidate" who was either a traitor or mentally unstable from his North Vietnam POW days. The Bush campaign strongly denied any involvement with the attacks.

McCain lost South Carolina on February 19, with 42 percent of the vote to Bush’s 53 percent, in part because Bush mobilized the state’s evangelical voters and outspent McCain. The win allowed Bush to regain lost momentum. McCain would say of the rumor spreaders, "I believe that there is a special place in hell for people like those." According to one report, the South Carolina experience left McCain in a "very dark place".
I’m no fan of armchair Psychoanalysis. As a practicing Psychoanalyst, one learns that the hypothetical formulations one makes in the clinical setting are meaningless mind games until they are confirmed by the patient – not just confirmed by agreement, but confirmed by a genuine change in understanding and behavior. But there is a piece of John McCain’s well known history that seems to bear on this man’s confusing persona and offer a tempting speculation:

John McCain’s capture and imprisonment began on October 26, 1967. He was flying his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam, when his A-4E Skyhawk was shot down by a missile over Hanoi. McCain fractured both arms and a leg, and then nearly drowned, when he parachuted into Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi. After he regained consciousness, a crowd attacked him, crushed his shoulder with a rifle butt, and bayoneted him. Lieutenant Commander McCain was then transported to Hanoi’s main Hoa Lo Prison, nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton".

Although McCain was badly wounded, his captors refused to treat his injuries, instead beating and interrogating him to get information, and he was given medical care only when the North Vietnamese discovered that his father was a top admiral. His status as a prisoner of war (POW) made the front pages of major newspapers.

McCain spent six weeks in the hospital while receiving marginal care. Now having lost 50 pounds, in a chest cast, and with his hair turned white, McCain was sent to a different camp on the outskirts of Hanoi in December 1967, into a cell with two other Americans who did not expect him to live a week. In March 1968, McCain was put into solitary confinement, where he would remain for two years.

In mid–1968, McCain’s father was named commander of all U.S. forces in the Vietnam theater, and McCain was offered early release. The North Vietnamese made that offer because they wanted to appear merciful for propaganda purposes, and also wanted to show other POWs that elites like McCain were willing to be treated preferentially. McCain turned down the offer of repatriation; he would only accept the offer if every man taken in before him was released as well.

In August 1968, a program of severe torture began on McCain. He was subjected to rope bindings and repeated beatings every two hours, at the same time as he was suffering from dysentery. Further injuries led to the beginning of a suicide attempt, which was stopped by guards. After four days, McCain made an anti-American propaganda "confession". He has always felt that his statement was dishonorable, but as he would later write, "I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine." His injuries left him permanently incapable of raising his arms above his head. He subsequently received two to three beatings per week because of his continued refusal to sign additional statements. Other American POWs were similarly tortured and maltreated in order to extract "confessions" and propaganda statements.
This is a tragic story. It’s an experience that could not possibly be "gotten over." And it’s just the nature of traumatic life experiences to leave an indelible imprint on his persona. In McCain’s case, it’s a story of heroic defiance followed by "breaking." When we read this story, we would hardly use the word "break," to describe it. I think we would see it as an example of a person being reduced to a level where the only motivator is survival. And then he was moved to a level below that – a level where he chose suicide as a more desirable alternative.

His pattern in the Senate seems to parallel his story of captivity. He both defied and accepted the Bush/Rove assault in 2000. He’s a Maverick in the Senate who stands up to the establishment, but then caves in – "breaks." I need not go on with all the parallels, they’re patently obvious. It is typical for traumatized people to re-enact their traumatic experience over and over in their post-traumatic lives. Frankly, I have little doubt that these forces remain active – defiance and acceptance coexisting paradoxically in his everyday life. That doesn’t seem like a speculation to me.

There is something about McCain, however, that I would propose as a speculation. He makes very "quirky" decisions and "flip" comments that just seem to come out of nowhere. He says that we could occupy Iraq for a "hundred years." When challenged about this absurd comment, he says that the conditions for occupation would be that there’s no violence there – no Americans dying. When challenged on this equally absurd statement [if there’s no violence, why would we stay?], he just sort of trails off. It happens over and over – he holds two irreconcilable opinions and fails to see the conflict that we all see. My speculation is that this is a version of what is called dissociation – a symptom that is typical in post-traumatic stress disorders. In it’s simplest form, it’s an "unseeing" of a part of the world. And it is typical of John McCain to "unsee" a lot of things.

I’m conflicted about saying these things because these are speculations that I can never confirm. Likewise, I’m a liberal democrat so my bias is unquestioned. On the other hand, in my own mind, McCain’s P.O.W. experience seems to explain a lot about the things that are so confusing in his personality. This line of thought makes me more sympathetic to him as a person. However, there’s a really large "but" in all of this. Unseeing is hardly a desirable quality for a President and Commander in Chief. I’m afraid that I think even beyond Wesley Clark [McCain’s P.O.W. experience doesn’t qualify him to be President]. I think it might disqualify him…
    August 30, 2008 | 3:53 PM

    Senator McCain met Gov. Palin met precisely ONCE at a national governor’s meeting last year. Their second-ever meeting occurred days ago in Sedona after she had been further vetted by a couple of staffers at the home of the guy who runs Cindy McCain’s corporation. It has been months and months and months that he and his staff had the “luxury” of making a strategic (unquirky) and/or competitive choice. He was the “presumptive” nominee and almost off the radar while the Obama/Clinton drama played out. Hell, he could have appointed a shadow cabinet by now but pulls this arctic hare out of his hat at what appears to be almost the last minute. Thus, do I feel there is credence to your “unseeing” and “quirky” speculations. Thank you for the analysis – I thought I’d got the story but was missing some bits which you’ve fixed for me.

    August 30, 2008 | 6:54 PM

    [if there’s no violence, why would we stay?]
    Remember, Karen Kwiatkowski pointed to the BASES.

    “Certainly, the neoconservatives never bothered to sell the rest of the country on the real reasons for occupation of Iraq-more bases from which to flex U.S. muscle with Syria and Iran, better positioning for the inevitable fall of the regional sheikdoms, maintaining OPEC on a dollar track, and fulfilling a half-baked imperial vision.”

    She said it even better somewhere else/ can’t find the piece where she plainly states that many/most of our Congress-folks are tickled pink with the 4 bases we’ve built and WILL NOT be leaving them in the forseeable future.

    I’ll look again for that particular interview. Quote above is hers from my notes.

    September 4, 2008 | 10:11 PM

    […] down on all the big ones – Torture, G.I. benefits, etc. He just fizzled out. As I’ve said elsewhere, I speculated that it’s a re-enactment of his P.O.W. experience – standing strong, then […]

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