Sunday, August 17, 2008

McCain finds a Christian Crusade in Georgia's misfortune

Among the great disgusting moments in U.S. presidential campaign history, ring up John McCain recasting the Russian invasion of Georgia as a religious war in last night's Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency, hosted by megapastor Pastor Rick Warren. In a great pandering mush, McCain managed to fuse democratic evangelicalism with Christian evangelicalism in a fairy tale version of the current catastrophe (excuse the caps; that's how the available transcript is formatted):
I'M VERY SADDENED HERE TO BE WITH YOU AND TALK ABOUT A RUSSIA REEMERGENCE IN THE CENTURIES OLD AMBITION OF THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE TO DOMINATE THAT PART OF THE WORLD. KILLINGS, MURDER, VILLAGES ARE BEING BURNED. PEOPLE ARE BEING WANTONLY EJECTED FROM THEIR HOMES. LATEST FIGURE IS FROM HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION IS 118,000 PEOPLE FROM THAT SMALL COUNTRY. IT WAS ONE OF THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN NATIONS. THE KING OF THEN GEORGIA IN THE THIRD CENTURY CONVERTED TO CHRISTIANITY. YOU GO TO GEORGIA AND YOU SEE THESE OLD CHURCHES THAT GO BACK TO THE FOURTH AND FIFTH CENTURY. IN FACT THE PRESIDENT SAAKZSHVILI IS A MAN WHO IS EDUCATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ON A SCHOLARSHIP. HE WENT BACK TO GEORGIA AND WITH OTHER YOUNG PEOPLE WHO HAD ALSO RECEIVED AN EDUCATION THEY ACHIEVED A REVOLUTION THEY HAD DEMOCRACY PROSPERITY AND A GREAT ALSO NATION AND NOW THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING IN THERE IN AN ACT OF AGGRESSION AND WE HAVE TO NOT ONLY BRING ABOUT CEASE FIRE BUT WE HAVE TO HAVE HONORED ONE OF THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS OF ANY NATION AND THAT IS TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY. WE MUST RESPECT THE ENTIRE TERRITORY OF RUSSIA -- EXCUSE ME -- THE RUSSIANS MUST RESPECT THE ENTIRE TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY OF GEORGIA AND THERE'S ONLY 4 MILLION PEOPLE IN GEORGIA MY FRIENDS. I'VE BEEN THERE. IT'S A BEAUTIFUL LITTLE COUNTRY THEY ARE WONDERFUL PEOPLE. THEY ARE SUFFERING TERRIBLY NOW (my emphasis).
Never mind that Georgia's current nominal territory was cobbled together by none other but Stalin, and so its "territorial integrity" supports about as much social cohesion as that Yugoslavia or Iraq. Never mind that vast majorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia no more want to be part of Georgia than Georgia wants to be part of Greater Russia. (Yes, the situation is complicated; Georgians were ethnnically cleansed from Abkhazia in the early '90s, and Russian proxies largely run both provinces. But McCain doesn't do nuance.) Never mind that that young western-educated paragon Saakashvili - who held up McCain as a political model for himself shortly after his election* -- recklessly started the current war with an invasion and bombardment of South Ossetia.

What is the relevance of Georgia's status as "one of the earliest Christian nations"? Is that a simple pander to an Evangelical audience - we have to take care of one of our own? Pander yes, simple no. In McCain's comic-book historical narrative, there's a straight line from Christianity to democracy; arrayed on the other side are the Godless communists and autocratic Muslims. Unfortunately he can't tie Russia to radical Islam (though maybe Russia is less Christian than Georgia, since Christianity didn't come to Russia till around 1000?), but in his universe the Russians are still Godless communists. And the U.S. can return to the simple imagined moral clarity of Ronald Reagan's "evil empire" stance early in his presidency:
THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES HAS THE GREATEST ASSET IS THE BULLY PULPIT. THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND I GO BACK AGAIN TO RONALD REAGAN HE WENT TO THE BERLIN WALL AND SAID TAKE DOWN THIS WALL. CALLED THEM AN EVIL EMPIRE. MANY SAID DON'T, DON'T ANTAGONIZE THE RUSSIANS OR DON'T CAUSE A CONFRONTATION WITH THE SOVIET UNION. HE STOOD FOR WHAT HE BELIEVED AND HE SAID WHAT HE BELIEVED AND HE SAID THAT TO THOSE PEOPLE WHO WERE THEN CAPTIVE NATIONS THE DAY WILL COME WHEN YOU WILL KNOW FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY AND THE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS OF MAN. OUR JUDEO CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES DICTATE THAT WE DO WHAT WE CAN TO HELP PEOPLE WHO ARE PRESSED THROUGHOUT THE WORLD AND I WOULD LIKE TO TELL YOU THAT I STILL THINK THAT EVEN IN THE WORSE PLACES IN THE WORLD TODAY IN THE DARKEST CORNERS LITTLE COUNTRIES LIKE BELARUS, THEY STILL HARBOR THIS HOPE AND DREAM SOME DAY TO BE LIKE US AND HAVE FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY AND WE HAVE OUR FLAWS AND WE HAVE OUR FAILINGS AND WE TALK ABOUT THEM ALL THE TIME AND WE SHOULD, BUT WE REMAIN MY FRIENDS THE MOST UNUSUAL EXPERIMENT IN HISTORY AND I'M PRIVILEGED TO SPEND EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE IN IT. I KNOW WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE WITHOUT IT.
Never mind that the revered Reagan negotiated over many years with Gorbachev, establishing trust over time, supporting his reforms within the Soviet Union, and proceeding with caution and tact as communism unraveled in Eastern Europe. In the aureate glow of McCain's nostalgia, Reagan simply shouted ant the Wall came tumbling down.

My friends (as McCain loves to say), this is dangerous stuff. McCain for years has advocated kicking Russia out of the G-8. He continues to promote the fantasy of a League of Democracies (Judeo-Christian democracies?) as a way to undercut the global influence of Russia and China. For years, he's championed Georgia's admiission into NATO and egged Saakashvili on in his quest to restore "terrotorial integrity" to Georgia; indeed, he's as responsible as anyone other than Saakashvili himself for the current debacle. A few days ago he even suggested, in a somewhat muted way, that NATO should consider sending troops to Georgia.

McCain is by this point a more extreme historical fabulist than George W. Bush himself. He is indeed likely, as Patrick Buchanan warned us with a laugh, to "make Cheney look like Gandhi."

* Saakashvili, Nov. 30, 2003, quoted by Peter Baker in The Washington Post: "I was really raised on American democracy, not only my studies but much more," he said. "JFK is my political idol." In modern terms, he patterns himself after another American politician. "For me, the closest thing in terms of political orientation is John McCain," the renegade Republican senator from Arizona.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Andrew. My current response to wealthy friends who ask why they should vote to increase their taxes is this: so you'll decrease the chances that your son ends up in a body bag. Sorry for the bluntness of that comment, but it's my honest assessment of the situation.

    Bill

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