Monday, March 19, 2007

Monday with McKenna: Dissent is Developmental

Dissent is developmental: It's one of the guiding principles of this blog, and of many like it, that dissent makes government, corporations, and society in general more alive, more responsive to the people. Therefore, they are more popular and usually more profitable, whenever they give dissenters a free voice.

This is, to me, such a self-evident truth (to borrow an old phrase) that it always astonishes me to discover that many people can't understand it. Yet on Saturday in Washington, there were the wingnuts, insulting protesters and accusing them of treason—as they "guarded" national monuments threatened by defamatory rumors that almost certainly started from within their own disordered brains.

Fortunately, we had no such business here in New York on Sunday. Overall, it seemed a tad smaller than last April's; yet spirited and vibrant nonetheless. I walked the whole route and saw no signs of disorder or conflict—even the cops lining the route seemed relaxed. At the very end, two lonely counter-protesters held up a sign labeling the other 50,000 or so of us "left-wing protesters bent on demoralizing our troops."

I'll have more on the march and its meaning later this week, along with more pictures. But today is Monday with McKenna, always a celebration of dissent in itself. Today, he takes on the image of "straight-talking" John McCain, and finds little, if anything, of substance.

A public figure caught in a lie.  Don’t you just love when that happens?  This week, the news highlighted two more such public figures, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former straight talker, John McCain
Mr. Gonzales was in the news in a big way until out of nowhere, the US released a transcript of terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s testimony.  It seems that the good Shaikh has admitted complicity for nearly every terrorist act committed against US interests, as well as many more that he may only have imagined.  So this bit of manufactured news knocked Al Gonzales and his lies off the front page.  On the other hand, John McCain’s verbal misdeeds have garnered scant interest.  Still, his faltering presidential campaign is so desperate that it has resurrected the STRAIGHT TALK EXPRESS – a campaign bus decorated with that formerly apt slogan.  But this time, the bus’s incumbent is no longer quite the reporter’s friend that he was 7 years ago. 

It is easy to make light of Mr. Gonzales’ lies.  Who expected better from a person whose entire career has consisted of crafting false or exaggerated claims.  He is, after all, a lawyer. In his public role as the president’s counsel, we’ve all become familiar with Al Gonzales’s frozen grin (or is it a shit eating grin?).  And if Americans of ten years ago were once titillated by Bill Clinton’s Socratic dialogue over the meaning of “IS,” then we should now be in perpetual stitches over Al Gonzales’ tautological defense of our use of torture - first he defined torture out of existence, then he assured us that America doesn’t use torture… (because we’ve defined it out of existence!)  This grandchild of illegal immigrants achieved his American Dream when he became Attorney General; now it’s about to come an American nightmare.  If he survives in office, it will be as a shriveled and powerless figure.
The lies of John McCain are more troubling.  The son of an Admiral, and the grandson of another, success was his birthright.  He graduated from Annapolis, and began his naval career as a pilot.  Shot down during the Viet Nam war, he served honorably as a prisoner of war, inspiring his fellow prisoners, and gaining fame when his inspiring story became better known.  After leaving the Navy, he attained quick political success, and until recently was known as a maverick and gadfly.    
His troubles began after his 2000 campaign loss.  Having learned that honesty is not the best policy after all, he morphed into a strong Bush supporter, but at first he kept his independence.  As we got closer to the 2008 campaign, McCain has moved ever closer to the right wing ideologues he formerly inveighed against.    
Am I being too hard on John McCain?  He is hardly the first person to sell his soul for the big prize.  Ronald Reagan began his presidential bid in 1981 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, heart of the segregationist south.  And even John McCain’s STRAIGHT TALK EXPRESS faltered briefly in the 2000 primary season over the use of images of the confederate flag in Southern states.. 
But is McCain a liar? While Mr. Gonzales’ statements would probably meet anyone’s definition of lie, John McCain’s would not.  But McCain’s strange transition from giving open explanations to speaking political Newspeak is a sad one to his admirers.  Those on the right who are being persuaded to vote for him now, must somehow be made to think of McCain’s past as a lie.  The political moderates who have admired him must instead think of his current statements as untrue – and that if elected, that the old John McCain would emerge.  Thus the entire McCain campaign is embedded with deceit.  His new positions have been crafted carefully to hide the truth behind a political smokescreen.  Thus, from a big picture point of view, John McCain is lying.  His deceit started a few years ago, when he reversed course on the president’s tax cuts.  Now he can’t give a straight answer to a reporter’s simple question about HIV.
I recommend that you go and study his website. On a superficial basis it looks harmless enough, but when you delve into the articles, you see right wing poison.  Try the article “Addressing the Moral Concerns of Advanced Technology.”  Dealing with a number of issues, the article highlights McCain’s supposed concern about "fetal farming."   This is a straw man, raised to scare voters away from a sober consideration of the issue.  Stem cells were unknown except in theory as late as two decades ago.  We still know little about them, but research on embryonic stem cells seems the likeliest avenue to gain new knowledge, since the stem cell represents an embryonic state – before cells specialize.  We are lying to ourselves if we believe that by avoiding such research, we have preserved the least shred of human dignity for the thousands of embryos locked in cold storage.  If these cells have dignity, then how dare we consign them to eternal nothingness.  But they are not human life, only potential.  Until successfully implanted in a healthy uterus, they do not deserve the least legal protection.  But troglodytes on the political right have managed to sway a media too poorly educated in the sciences to understand that they are being spun. 
There you have it.  Two men and dreams either broken or about to break.  And you have to ask – especially with regard to John McCain: was it really, really worth it?
A note to a few of my young friends who read the blog and often point out the seeming extremity of my arguments. The blog is a polemic.  We present short arguments with an intense point of view.  Yes, I do gloss over a few of the details, and stretch my points for effect.  And yes, lawyers are not all liars (though I stand by my characterization of many of them).  And I’m still willing to hope that if elected, which I see as unlikely, the real John McCain will emerge.

—T. McKenna

Site Note: Our new banner graphic is a Photoshopped selection from some eclipse photography I found at APOD. I think it's cool, and anyway, the poor cat needs a break.

Now as this is my last free week before returning nose to corporate grindstone, there will be a content-fest here. More from the weekend protests; a fascinating look on Geek Wednesday at how a Microsoft exec bashes his company better than I could ever hope to; and some selections from a new book I'm working on about corporate America, its alternatives, and how we might go about tranforming the former through aligning ourselves with the latter. I suspect it's also going to be a fairly busy week in the news.

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