The Nation's Pulse

McCain’s Stagecoach

What is the matter with everybody?

By 10.20.08

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If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you...

What, I ask you, is the matter with everybody? The Democrats claim we are in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. This is ridiculous, but what is even more ridiculous is that otherwise educated people seem to be letting it pass.

We are the freest, most dynamic economy on earth. We have a problem because we allowed leftist demagogues to stick up bankers and force them to let shiftless rabble become homeowners, simultaneously (and not coincidentally) adopting a gimme-gimme ethos that by definition was insatiable, anti-civic and selfish. To the extent we allowed our own moral fiber to turn brittle, we can say the fault is certainly not in our stars -- after all, in the rest of the world, the vast majority of honest hard-working people consider themselves lucky if they have indoor plumbing and would like nothing better than to trade their problems for ours -- but in ourselves.
 
Not only liberals but conservatives too are at fault for neglecting the fundamentals. Conservatives grew complacent and fat, thought the battle of ideas was over. It is never over, any more than the fight for freedom. However, differences between conservatives and liberals are huge. Conservatives are sickened by the related threats to our free market system and our national security. Liberals by all evidence are sick of America as we have known it, and fat as they may be, they are on a roll, seem to have the wind in their sails and a clear game plan.

So conservatives stand by and let the nonsense being spewed about the causes of our present difficulties pass. We form the best engineers, the best managers, the best research physicists, the most life-saving organ-repairing health-sustaining doctors and the proof is they all come here, not only those yearning to be free (who still come) but those yearning to be doctors, physicists, engineers. And we have a problem? That is what liberals say, and in this campaign season the conservatives seem unable to deliver the response. You get all manners of clever responses (on this page for example, or the Wall Street Journal's legendary editorial page), but they apparently get no further. The Obama machine marches on. It is not impossible that self-described communists and America-haters will be in the highest circles of government in a few months.

How could this be?

We took things for granted. There was too much money. All kinds of reasons. Anyhow, it comes down to this: in 2008 we have the same problem Irving Kristol identified 20, 30 years ago -- we don't have a leadership class that reads Joseph Schumpeter, or for that matter that reads anything. They don't defend themselves. They don't fight back. They don't fight.

They let everything pass.

John McCain is a fighter. That is why he is the best chance of a party that fought, but not enough, to defend its record. How many Washington-based wise guys ran for the tall grass as soon as the going got tough in Iraq? How many ran for their mothers' aprons as soon as we ran ourselves, by our own inability to resist and fight back against creeping demagogic socialism, into a credit crunch? My gosh, credit crunch, savage war of peace -- can't we explain these things … and fight back? What happened to all those millions spent since the "conservative resurgence" to "fight the war of ideas"?

Although John McCain is a fighter, he is a nice man. I know: I've heard about his temper and his grudges. So what? I have a temper and I've known myself to hold grudges and I've even grudged myself for them. Don't hold grudges, my teacher Saul Bellow used to say to me, watching me steam, they'll get in the way. In the way of what? I asked with exasperation. What you're good at. What you should do.

It seems to me that until he won the primaries and began coasting to the formal nomination, John McCain understood he had to do what he should do. Then instead of steaming up and converting that energy into leadership, he ran out of steam.

More exactly, he ran into Republican political operatives and clever as these men and women are, they seem reluctant to let McCain be himself and take the battle to the enemy.


EVEN AS HE SAID the American elites -- the producers of wealth -- must learn to defend themselves, Irving Kristol wryly noted, and this was not especially original, that they would simultaneously sell their enemies the rope with which said enemies would hang them (this actually comes from Lenin, and was used as the title in a quite good essay in Commentary by Carl Gershman, who a few years later went to Washington and went to sleep, a symptom of the problem we are staring at). The enemies in question might be their own offspring. Viz. Bill Ayers, the son of one of the richest men in Chicago, and indeed viz. most of the Weather Whatsis and the other '60s radicals, though they were not all in the same league, moneywise, as the Ayers family. For that matter, Obama himself is a child of American privilege, which is why it is so easy for him to rail against the machinery (free markets and free men) and the talent and the know-how that make privilege possible.

It is not just us -- Dostoevsky saw it all very clearly, as Harold Rosenberg (for example) made you see in his seminars on the great Russian master. But we take this farther faster because we are the first modern country.

And the one on which the modern project -- freedom -- depends. If we fail, there goes the last, best hope on earth.

John McCain seems to be letting all this pass. He seems, when you think about it, to be giving Obama a pass. He is giving Pelosi and Frank and the rest of the screeching, screaming pack of self-hating privileged incendiary rope-makers and rope-sellers pass. They have a clear target: they have opponents who hob and nob with anti-American, anti-Semitic, Israel-despising phonies, people who want to United States to be an ordinary decadent social-welfare country where the world's rabble come and shop for the latest fashions.

He should be unleashing his running mate, and the two of them should be running like the cavalry at the end of the race in Stagecoach (which takes place in Arizona.) He can remind voters who was in that stagecoach. That stagecoach contained, remember, a cavalryman's beautiful (and pregnant) wife, a gallant gentleman still keeping faith with the Lost Cause, a drunk doctor -- who knows his stuff -- an embezzler, a whore with a big heart, drivers doing their job, a decent ordinary businessman (same business as Rick Wasmund) and… and the Ringo Kid.

That stagecoach was America.

Okay, okay, it didn't contain all the diverse members of the American community. As far I recall, it did not have a Polish Catholic among its passengers.

I never heard a complaint about this from a Polish Catholic.


ANYWAY, the Republicans, McCain in the lead, are finally leading the cavalry charge. They are warning of socialism. They are warning of over-regulation, excessively progressive taxation, constraints on choice, encroaching bureaucracies in education and everything else, the suffocating growth of government, and they are, too, reminding voters that, yo, there's still a war on and we have to win it.

Do you really want someone in the White House when we are at war who talks to Bill Ayers and David Axelrod and Bernardine Dohrn?

Do you think Israel will be safe with a president whose personal pastor said Louis Farrakhan is one of the great men of our times?

Do you want America to be a nation like any other -- or should we still have room for the Ringo Kid and traveling salesmen with samples of whiskey?

Kipling, I used to point out to my students, was a great friend and admirer of Theodore Roosevelt, like McCain a duty-honor-country soldier and lover of the great West. One can't know, but it's a fair bet whom Kipling would support in this race.

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken / Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, that's a good line, when you think of how they claim to be the party of the middle class when in fact they are the limousine liberals, as used to be said, pandering to the rabble at both ends of the social scale. But now look at me, I sound like I have grudges. Bellow would be laughing at me. And Kipling --

If you can make one heap of all your winnings / And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, -- okay then, let's give it our best shot and let's win and should we lose, well -- And lose, and start again at your beginnings / And never breath a word about your loss; -- we'll already be on the road back.

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About the Author

Roger Kaplan, a Washington-based writer, covers the Middle East and Africa (and tennis) for The American Spectator.