Monday, March 10, 2008

McCain’s New TV Ad: Invoking Two Giants of the Imperial Age

Just in from Grady Glenn:

A new TV ad by the McCain campaign invokes two heroes from Anglo-American imperial lore, Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and provides us with a glimpse into a pompous head filled with anachronous imperial delusions.

For the neoconservatives, it is always 1938, and there is always an endless line of nefarious mini-Hitlers charging at us, bent on our destruction.

All political leaders, their pundits claim, fit into one of two camps: the “appeasers,” who, like poor Neville Chamberlain— their favorite whipping boy from the last century— appear weak for choosing prudence over impetuosity, and “the rest,” who boldly go on offense to defend (“offensive defense” they call it in hockey) freedom, liberty, democracy, peace, rule of law, and other once-meaningful abstractions.

For the neoconservatives, there are only two choices: Either abort these nascent Hitlers at once, or deal with them after they’ve become full-grown monsters. And the poster boy for what I call this “cult of imprudence” is the self-professed “Churchillian” candidate, John McCain, who has been the neoconservatives’ favorite since the 2000 Presidential election.

In his new TV ad, McCain again invokes Churchill by splicing in with his own speech snippets from Churchill’s famous “We Shall Fight Them On the Beaches” oration, which makes his own shrill gripe sound tedious by comparison.

McCain then goes on to liken himself to another one of his idols— the early hero of American imperial lore, Teddy Roosevelt.

In a way, the comparison to Churchill is an apt one, though not in the sense that the ad’s creators had intended. For like Churchill, who presided over a British Empire that was disintegrating far more quickly than anyone had imagined, McCain, too, if elected, could indeed, by doggedly clinging to the failed policies of military intervention around the globe (including a possible catastrophic war with Iran), bring about America’s economic collapse, thus putting an end to our global preponderance.

And the cameo by old Teddy Roosevelt— who in many ways began this century-old American imperial project— provides the McCain narrative with a starting point, as if to say: We began this project with Teddy Roosevelt, and we'll finish it with John McCain.

This bit of irony was, of course, unintended, and will probably go unnoticed by the punditry and the public. But when historians look back at the hundred-plus years spanning from the first President Roosevelt to President McCain (assuming, of course, that we fail to stop his White House bid), they might find it somewhat ironic that the man who effectively ended this century-old project of American Empire thought himself to be the reincarnation of the man who began it.

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