Wednesday, September 03, 2008

McCain the 'Great Man'

Matt Welch knocks it out of the park with this one (yet again):

Nowhere is McCain's militaristic conception of citizenship more on display than in his writings on Teddy Roosevelt, the interventionist and empire-building president whose video tribute at last night's convention was greeted mostly by stony silence.

"In the Roosevelt code," McCain writes in Worth the Fighting For, "the authentic meaning of freedom gave equal respect to self-interest and common purpose, to rights and duties. And it absolutely required that every loyal citizen take risks for the country's sake.... He distrusted leading financiers of his day who put profit before patriotism.... He respected the role business conglomerates played in America's emergence as a great economic power, but he also understood that unrestrained laissez-faire capitalism would crush competition from smaller businesses.... He fought the spirit of 'unrestricted individualism' that claimed the right 'to injure the future of all of us for his own temporary and immediate profit.'... He sought not to destroy the great wealth-creating institutions of capitalism, but to save them from their own excesses."

Roosevelt is McCain's great hero, the man he would most attempt to emulate in the White House. Yet his short and frantic life contains warnings McCain has never seemed to heed. Aside from the fact that the aggressive, Navy-led imperialism that McCain admires so much was fueled in part by outright racism (T.R. once wrote, for example, that "the most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages"), the grand tragedy of Roosevelt's Bully Boy career was that, at some point, he lost the ability to distinguish between his own personal ambitions and the general fortune of the country.

"It would be a mistake to nominate me," a White House re-seeking T.R. said in 1916, "unless the country has in its mood something of the heroic." Ninety-two years later, the grandson of one of Roosevelt's sailors is veering perilously close to the political narcissism he's long warned us about.