Conrad Black on John McCain and others

Written by  //  January 12, 2008  //  Media  //  1 Comment

A nation seeking a hero
Conrad Black: Why John McCain comes from a long, fine tradition of military men turned leaders , National Post

The New Hampshire primary was a great triumph of American democracy. The Granite State, with the licence plate slogan “Live Free or Die,” humbled and preemptively disencumbered of its influence and credibility the entire over-stuffed talking-shop of American political commentators. They almost all announced the political demise of the Clintons, whom most of them had strenuously supported for 15 years; after Hillary Clinton lost to Barack Obama by a few thousand votes in a sub-primary delegate-selection process in Iowa. This state has 2% of the country’s population, and the Democrats have only carried it four times in nearly a hundred years (Franklin Roosevelt twice, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson.)
This was all most of the Clintons’ long-serving media claque needed to scurry out the back door into the tall grass and start debunking the Clintons as washed-up, pseudo-dynasts. The great oracular experts of the American media floundered like halibut. Many reached for the safety net of Senator Clinton’s quasi-tearful 30 seconds of the day before. This was the rope-ladder: Sen. Clinton allegedly had moist eyes but not cheeks and a momentarily, slightly, constricted voice. So a supposed 13% Obama lead evaporated because the Senator from New York and wife of the former president was “human,” having, pre-Iowa, in the minds of the same authorities, been virtually super-human. Lacrima Hillary.
Though quite enterprising, Wolf Blitzer, when he worked for us at the Jerusalem Post, was one of the most avaricious journalists I have known. After about 40 assertions from him in 20 minutes on New Hampshire night, that CNN has “the top news team on television,” I had either to change channels or find a sick bag. Prevention prevailed over convalescence, but the other channels weren’t much better.
On this primary night, almost the only pundit who used his many hours of over-exposure on our screens as a confessional, was a man sorely in need of repentance, the greatest American political myth-maker of the last 35 years, Bob Woodward.
He it was who first gave us the story of the cloven-footed, horned, trident-tailed Richard Nixon, (undoubtedly, in fact, one of America’s 10 greatest presidents, despite his ethical and stylistic frailties). Woodward completely fabricated a visit to the hospital room of dying CIA chief William Casey, after the Iran-Contra side-show in 1987, in his supposedly non-fiction book, Veil. But Last Tuesday night, he not only admitted error, but volunteered what he had expected to say when Obama had won. He was the only honest commentator that I saw in hours of almost prayerful channel-surfing in search of one.
New Hampshire showed that the Emperor Punditry has no clothes, and is unattractive without them. In this, the debunked emperor is unlike, one dares respectfully to imagine, the comely Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain.
With trepidation, but not embarrassment, I offer the thought that Mrs. Obama, a formerly disadvantaged alumna of Princeton and Harvard, to judge from her well-strategized appearances on national television in exiguous dresses and trousers, is as callipygian as Jennifer Lopez. (That is my only concession to political correctness for 2008; you look it up if you must.) I saw her on YouTube saying that, “Reform must be from the bottom up.” In her well-favoured case, this could be a double-entendre.
In policy terms, Senator Obama is a $3 bill. He is an attractive and intelligent man, speaks well and has some of the cadences and inflection, though little of the justified moral outrage, (though he tries to simulate it), of Martin Luther King Jr. His program, disinterred from all the bunk about “change,” which the country doesn’t need or want, (apart from the reduction of the $800-billion current account deficit and its implications); is 1) The largest tax increase in world history; 2) A complete and instant bug-out in Iraq; 3) Dealing with terrorism by sitting down and rapping with the terrorists; 4) An unholy war on the drug, insurance, banking and oil industries.
Unless Rudy Giuliani cleans up in the Florida, California and Illinois primaries on Feb. 5, which I doubt, it is Clinton vs. John McCain. If the economy doesn’t wobble badly, and the progress in Iraq doesn’t come unstuck, McCain should win, though probably almost as narrowly as Kennedy in 1960, Nixon in 1968, Carter in 1976, or the present Bush in 2000.
In 29 of the 43 U.S. presidential elections prior to 1960, someone best known as a senior army officer was a serious nominee for national office and winner of electoral votes; successfully in 19 of those elections. These included some of the greatest names of U.S. history: Washington, Jackson, Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, (successful, as a group, in 10 of 12 national elections.) Being demonstrably patriotic, brave, successfully commanding in crises and untainted by political log-rolling has never lost its appeal to Americans.
Since the Second World War, the only popular and successful war the country has had, the first Gulf War, yielded a hero who did not choose to run, General Colin Powell, (though he probably would have won if he had run). So since 1960, the parties have usually nominated men proud of their military background, but not in high command positions: Kennedy, Nixon, Johnson, Goldwater, McGovern, Ford, Carter, Bush Senior, Dole, Gore and Kerry (not to mention George Wallace’s 1968 vice-presidential running mate, Air Force General Curtis “Lob one into the men’s room in the Kremlin … and turn North Vietnam into a parking lot” Lemay).
Successful nominees with military backgrounds also included now obscure people, such as vice-president (Colonel) Richard M. Johnson, renowned for living for decades with a black slave as an unemancipated wife-equivalent and co-parent, half a mile from the D.C. slave market; and for supposedly having killed the Shawnee chief, Tecumseh. His vice-presidential election slogan in 1836, “Rumpsey, dumpsey, who killed Tecumseh?” though tasteless and childish, (and possibly false), was more original than this endless current mantra about “change.”
For all its tawdriness and philistinism, the American electoral process is ultimately democracy, and it works relatively well. It is part of the greatness of America that the gender, pigmentation, religious background, marital history and age of Clinton, Obama, Giuliani and McCain, (and New York’s current mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, if he runs), will not figure significantly in the result (both sexes and original races, four religions and four divorces, and an age-range of 25 years).
McCain, an authentic hero, though irascible and burdened with a bogus campaign-finance bill and unacceptable views on immigration, is in the best of the military-political tradition of integrity. He doesn’t speak in clichés or adjust his views for the fluctuating polls, and he does have a sense of humour. If he is the presidential nominee, the genius move would be to invite Bloomberg to be his running mate. At this early point, if the office, in a phrase from Washington’s time, is seeking anyone, (i.e. being successfully sought by anyone), it is John McCain.

National Post

One Comment on "Conrad Black on John McCain and others"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson January 13, 2008 at 10:35 pm · Reply

    Black writes zippy prose, but he badly needs a fact-checker. To take just one example, Obama plans to spend EIGHTEEN MONTHS withdrawing American forces from Iraq. JH

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