Scary McCain

With McCain you get the

 real thing while with Obama you may get an audacity of rhetoric based on nothing but political expediency and imagined racial grievances. Recent polls reveal that the American people are beginning to get it and that scares not only McCain's Democrat opponents but also European leftists, especially following his successful stops in Britain and France.

These European McCain foes recognize the inherent weakness of the main ammunition their American counter parts have been using, his age. Late night comedians' tasteless jokes aside, in an era where 60 is the new 40 and 70 the new 50, too many Americans can look at the vitality of their own 72 year old parents, aunts and uncles or grandparents, as well as McCain's own performance on the campaign trail, and recognize the absurdity of the feebleness charge.

It is this context that we should read the Financial Times column written by Cambridge historian  and New American Foundation senior fellow, Anatol Lieven entitled: Why we should fear a McCain presidency? His intriguing answer which appears in bold print in the paper edition is:

Some of the worst 20th century catastrophes were caused by brave men with passionate sense of national mission.

Really? I was curious. Who could he mean? I could not think of an example. Apparently, neither could he. The closest he came to naming names is comparing McCain to Andrew Jackson, a highly regarded 19th century Democrat president and not a particularly scary one. He does tell us that so extreme is the McCain presidency going to be that it will make leftists look back with nostalgia at George W. Bush.  Indeed, European governments should start immediately planning on "how they could either prevent a McCain administration from pursuing pyromaniac policies or, if necessary, protect Europe from the ensuing conflagration." 

No, Lieven does not merely worry that McCain may bomb Iran (though he does worry about that) but that he will "not know how to deal cautiously and diplomatically with Russia and China." Well, Lieven seems desperate, indeed. You see, he argues that McCain shares "the American establishment's hatred of Russia" and, hence, may offer more support than Bush to Georgia's wish to restore its rule over Abkhazia and South Ossetia leading to a Georgian-Russian war. The notion of a severe deterioration of US relations with China is just thrown in for good measure.

But why should Americans believe that as experienced and knowledgeable a warrior as John McCain would behave so irresponsibly? Because he has an ungovernable temper, Lieven answers

"Mr McCain's policies would not be so worrying were it not for his notorious quickness to fury in the face of perceived insults to himself or his country. Even Thad Cochran, a fellow Republican senator, has said: ‘I certainly know no other president since I've been here who's had a temperament like that.'"

Well, let me enlighten him.  World War II hero and two term president Dwight Eisenhower was another military man with a lightning temper.  In her book First Mothers, Bonnie Angelo describes his mother's failure to teach him temper control. "From childhood those lightning flashes were as much a part of Ike as the contagious smile," she writes.

Biographer Carlo D'este
describes  instances when "he totally lost his self-control -- whether beating an apple tree with his fists as a child, banging his head against a wall when playing poor tennis, or punching his fist through the wall of a cafe."  White House seamstress Lillian Rogers Parks tells how his wife Mamie lived in constant fear of his outbursts. Angelo reports that presidential aides became most familiar with a vein in his forehead which would noticeably stand out during press conference he found annoying as signaling, "Caution: high voltage temper."

White house advisor Merlo Pusey wrote:

Sometimes his anger is aroused and it may set off a geyser of hot words. The President's emotions are close to the surface and his irritations are registered on his face almost as readily as his general good humor.

That said, Eisenhower did help win World War II but did not start World War III. He, merely, ended the Korean War and presided over 8 years of relative peace and prosperity. Not a bad record for a brave honorable, if temperamental, warrior.  If temperamental McCain does as well we should all be very happy.

It is not McCain's age or temperament that truly scares Lieven but McCain's unapologetic pursuit of American national interest as well as his conviction that American national interest is irrevocably tied  to the interest of other democracies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.  For Lieven, realism means appeasement and McCain, like another "old and scary" American president named Ronald Reagan, refuses to appease.  

Dr. Judith Apter Klinghoffer is the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences, the co-author of International Citizens' Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights and  a  History News Network  blogger.
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