Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Dangerous John McCain

"In America, our rights come before our duties, as well they should. We are a free people, and among our freedoms is the liberty to care or not care for our birthright. But those who claim their liberty but not their duty to the civilization that ensures it live a half-life, indulging their self-interest at the cost of their self-respect. The richest men and women possess nothing of real value if their lives have no greater object than themselves.

Success, wealth, celebrity gained and kept for private interest---these are small things. They make us comfortable, ease the way for our children, and purchase a fleeting regard for our lives, but not the self-respect that, in the end, matters most. Sacrifice for a cause greater than self-interest, however, and you invest your life with the eminence of that cause."

The above quote was uttered by Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain.

What he is saying here is that our “birthright”…our individual liberty, which is unalienable…is somehow separate from and above our private self-interest. This is a corruptive view of our Founding ideals, and in fact subverts them. What, exactly, is the meaning of the words “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” if not the pursuit of one’s own “Success, wealth, celebrity [?]”, in order to “make us comfortable, [and] ease the way for our children”…free from the need to “pay” for those rights through the imposition of some “duty”? These “private interests” are “small things,” he claims. One does not gain “self-respect,” according to the Senator, by the achievement of our goals by our own productive efforts, but by sacrificing our values to some “greater cause.”

That greater cause, he says, is a “duty to the civilization that ensures it.” What is that “civilization” that ensures it? Everyone, apparently, but oneself. Is it possible to utter a more collectivist phrase than that? The “civilization” doesn’t ensure your freedom. Your nature as a human being does. What protects your liberty? It is the government, which is your agent, or servant. “That to secure these rights,” says our Declaration of Independence, “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” It is not you who owe a duty to the “civilization”…i.e., the government. It is the government that owes a duty to you…the sole duty to protect your unalienable rights.

Indeed, the very concept of “duty” attached to the concept “liberty” obliterates the concept “unalienable.” A duty implies a positive…i.e., a requirement to take some action in order to justify and “earn” one’s rights. But if rights are natural and unalienable…i.e., inseparable from one’s own being…then there is no duty to perform. Socially, the only “duty” one owes, which in fact is not a duty at all, is to respect the rights of one’s fellow men. Which means simply, a negative…to refrain from violating the rights of…i.e., from initiating force against…one’s fellow human beings. To a rational person living in a free society, one’s own liberty is at the top of his hierarchy of values, because that makes the achievement and protection of all of his other values, including the freedom to think and act according to one’s own best judgement, possible. To fight in whatever capacity for the country, America, that embodies the ideals of individual rights is not a cause “greater than one’s own self-interest.” It is one’s self-interest…profoundly so.

John McCain betrays a dangerous nationalism that is as alien to the American concept of individual rights and limited government as any brand of collectivism. Nationalism is the doctrine that holds that one’s country has interests that supercede the interests of its people, as individuals, and that the individual citizen’s own self-interest must be subordinate to it. This attitude is most evident in his belief in the quest for “national greatness” built on the sacrifices of Americans “being constant to something greater than yourself.” In an in-depth examination of McCain’s affinity for government power, Matt Welsh writes:

McCain’s singular goal in public life is to restore citizens’ faith in their government, to give us the same object of belief—national greatness—that helped save his life after he gave up hope as a POW in Vietnam…[advocating] such National Greatness projects as the “forward strategy of freedom” in the Middle East, trying to drive money out of politics…[and] deploying a virtuous federal bureaucracy to purify unclean private transactions from the boardroom to the bedroom. And it would prosecute the nation’s post-9/11 wars with a militaristic zeal this country hasn’t seen in generations.

If you’re beginning to detect a rigid sense of citizenship and a skeptical attitude toward individual choice, you are beginning to understand what kind of president John McCain actually would make…For years McCain has warned that a draft will be necessary if we don’t boost military pay, and he has long agitated for mandatory national service.

McCain’s attitude toward individuals who choose paths he deems inappropriate is somewhere between inflexible and hostile. Nowhere is that more evident than when he writes about his hero Teddy Roosevelt…“In the Roosevelt code, the authentic meaning of freedom gave equal respect to self-interest and common purpose, to rights and duties,” McCain writes. “And it absolutely required that every loyal citizen take risks for the country’s sake.…His insistence that every citizen owed primary allegiance to American ideals, and to the symbols, habits, and consciousness of American citizenship, was as right then as it is now.”

(Be Afraid of President McCain:
The frightening mind of an authoritarian maverick
, Reason, April, 2007)

Do not confuse nationalism with rational patriotism. Patriotism, properly understood, is the proud adherence to one’s country based on its ideals. In other words, a patriotic American upholds individualism, capitalism, the rule of objective law, freedom of production and trade, and inalienable individual rights protected by a government limited to that purpose. It’s beside the point here that America never fully attained those ideals in practice, and is now in fact drifting farther than ever away from them. The point is that that is what America stands for. Furthermore, loyalty to those ideals (true patriotism) is seen as in one’s own self-interest. Subordinating one’s own self-interest to the “higher cause” of the national interest, as John McCain demands, is a full and thorough repudiation of American ideals.

The moral and philosophical underpinnings of nationalism are no different than that of socialism--altruism and collectivism. The theme of the McCain campaign and of his lifelong political career is service and sacrifice “to a cause greater than one’s own self-interest.”

The genesis of Senator McCain’s nationalism, as he has said many times, was his experience as a POW in North Vietnam. In his 2008 nominating acceptance speech, he said:

On an October morning, in the Gulf of Tonkin, I prepared for my 23rd mission over North Vietnam. I hadn't any worry I wouldn't come back safe and sound. I thought I was tougher than anyone. I was pretty independent then, too. I liked to bend a few rules, and pick a few fights for the fun of it. But I did it for my own pleasure; my own pride. I didn't think there was a cause more important than me….

I was in solitary confinement when my captors offered to release me. I knew why. If I went home, they would use it as propaganda to demoralize my fellow prisoners. Our Code said we could only go home in the order of our capture, and there were men who had been shot down before me. I thought about it, though. I wasn't in great shape, and I missed everything about America. But I turned it down.

It is because of men like John McCain that America is free today. And we…all of us…owe him and all veterans a debt of gratitude that can best be repaid by upholding the unique American values that he was defending. Unfortunately, Senator McCain misread the true meaning of his own heroism. He saw his refusal to return home, and the decision to endure additional suffering, as an act of selfless sacrifice to “a cause more important than me.” But in fact, that was one of the most profoundly selfish acts you will ever hear of. He placed his integrity and his honor above his own physical well-being, yes. But what would have been the result had he betrayed his highest values…his fellow American POWs and thus the country he loved? The result would have been a broken man who could not live with himself. Instead, he chose the rationally selfish, and incredibly courageous, course of action. Just as a parent who would give up his life for his child is acting selfishly…in the noble sense of the word…by defending his highest value, so it was with John McCain. Loyalty to one’s highest values, integrity, is a deeply egoistic virtue.

McCain’s misreading of his life-altering experience has set him on a political course that is dangerous for America and Americans. Despite a thin free-market veneer layering some of his policy proposals, he is fundamentally no different from Barack Obama. Both candidates believe service to others…not the pursuit of one’s own dreams, goals, well-being, and happiness…is the highest moral virtue. Both accept the creed of selflessness, altruism, and collectivism…and mean to enforce it through governmental coercion. Both explicitly renounce America’s founding ideals.

Just read the following quotes, and then try to distinguish between the two.

“Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself” [We] “must devote ourselves to causes greater than our self-interests.” “Every place there’s a hungry child, there’s a cause. Every place there’s a senior without life-saving prescription drugs, there’s a cause. Everywhere there’s a child without education, there’s a cause. Everywhere in the world where there’s ethnic, tribal or age-old hatreds, there’s a cause.”

[We have] “obligations towards one another.” [The] “problems of poverty, racism, the uninsured, and the unemployed are not simply technical problems”; [they are] “moral problems”; [they are] “rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness. . ..” [We must heed the] “call to sacrifice”; [We] “need to think in terms of ‘thou’ and not just ‘I.’ ’’ We must “reaffirm that fundamental belief—I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper—that makes us one people, and one nation.”

(As quoted in this op-ed by Craig Biddle. Specific references can be found here.)

Which candidate said what? Does it matter? The subordination of, and violation of the rights of, those whose achievements enabled them to achieve self-sufficiency for the sake of those whom, for whatever reason, did not is openly advocated by both candidates. It makes no difference whether one imposes the “solution” to the above-stated problems by openly statist measures (Obama), or by camouflaging his plans under a veneer of the “market-based” label (McCain). Once one accepts the premise that it is the government’s job to ensure the material well-being of anyone lacking medicine, food, shelter, education, etc…and that one’s life must be subordinate to these “causes greater than our self-interests” or supercede “societal indifference and individual callousness,” the die is cast. What one has embraced is the path to impoverishment….and, as history clearly demonstrates, to eventual enslavement. Both candidates embrace that fundamental premise. And note that McCain includes in his list of "causes" the sacrifice of American blood and money for the cleansing of all of the world’s people of ethnic, tribal or age-old hatreds! Such is the nature of his dangerous and scary quest for National Greatness.

John McCain is no champion of individual rights or of American ideals. His stand on issues ranging from the First Amendment, energy, the environment, national service (including a possible military draft!), the conditional nature of rights…to his railing against CEO pay, wall street “greed”, and “special interests”, to name a few…McCain reveals his strong affinity for government power. In other areas such as education, healthcare, and taxes, he appears to lean in the right direction. But his proposals are watered-down statist proposals at best.

The sad fact is, the nomination of John McCain is a demonstration of the Republican Party’s intellectual bankruptcy. The choice between Obama and McCain is no choice at all. Obama is clearly anti-American in his philosophy and his proposals, and must be defeated. But if McCain is elected president, the Democratic congress will have someone that they will have no problem working with, given his authoritarian leanings. This fact makes McCain perhaps a more dangerous choice than Obama. Obama’s extreme Left agenda would unite Republicans and Right-leaning independents into a solid block of opposition with a reasonable chance of thwarting his designs. But a McCain presidency would split and demoralize the disparate elements of the Right. The Left’s agenda could very well fare better under McCain than with Obama, just as happened under Bush 2 relative to Bill Clinton. It looks like a win-win situation for the Democrats.

It is often necessary to vote against, rather than for, a presidential candidate. It is necessary this year to vote against both major party candidates. Such is the “choice” we face this year.

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