September 6, 2018
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
Two Funerals: McCain and Jeremiah Denton:
One a Post-Mortem Orgy of Self-Promotion, the Other an Illustration of Piety and Genuine Love for Country
Despite several heralded published volumes of cultural and educational criticism and the editorship of the journal of literary and cultural affairs, The New Criterion, I have never been much taken with editor/publisher Roger Kimball. Author of the much-touted volume, Tenured Radicals (first published in 1990), Kimball has, over the years, used his position to further various aims of the dominant “conservative movement” and its globalist vision. And, in some ways, he could rightly be called a prig. Yet, even the devil deserves his due, and viewing the funeral ceremonies for the late Senator John McCain, Kimball makes some apt observations that merit reading and digesting.
I wrote back after McCain’s death (MY CORNER, August 28, accessed at: http://boydcatheyreviewofbooks.blogspot.com/2018/08/august-28-2018-my-corner-by-boyd-cathey.html) that the rule I had grown up with was not to speak ill of the dead. Yet, even so, one could not avoid examining McCain’s record…and that it was a horrendous record, a history that indirectly helped cause the deaths of thousands of American servicemen in misbegotten global adventurism and which assisted in the continuing precipitous decline of this nation politically and culturally.
In life McCain was a grandiose and calculating self-promoter, a bitter man, spiteful, angry, selfish, and revengeful. And, sadly—illustrated by his lavishly garish and self-planned funeral—he was equally so in death. Indeed, his funeral on Saturday, September 1, was one giant orgiastic display of both self-promotion and an attempt to “get even” with his opponents, even from the grave. Above all, it was a celebration of the Potomac River “swamp” establishment—an opportunity for those minions of the Deep State to gather both to celebrate a fallen icon (for them) but also to raise their alarums about the danger and their fears of “that usurper,” Donald Trump.
There was McCain’s frumpish left wing daughter, Meghan McCain, blasting the president’s Make America Great Again slogan and agenda (but never specifically naming the president, although everyone knew who she was talking about); there was the lobotomized George W. Bush prating on about eschewing “racism”; and other invited guests, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, chimed in with their unadulterated praise for the late senator as a man of “moderation” and “global vision.” In other words, it was one immense gathering of the elites…those very people who believe condescendingly they are destined to govern and rule the rest of us and who work feverishly for the creation of a one world globalist state where they will enjoy the perks of the catbird’s seat.
Despite Kimball’s own history, his essay is worth reading.
The second item I send along, written by former Reagan staffer Joseph Duggan, is a fascinating comparison between the funeral of the late Senator Jeremiah Denton of Alabama, and the orgasmic display of splenetic viciousness and spiteful hubris so much in full evidence at the McCain obsequies. The comparison is remarkable and demonstrates the difference between genuine piety and humility and love for one’s country, and the opposite which so characterized the McCain event, which was in fact far more a political rally than a funeral. The contrast could not be greater.
Note: Duggan appears to accept the McCain story that, as a POW, he was a hero; as the article passed on to you August 30 indicates (MY CORNER, accessed at: http://boydcatheyreviewofbooks.blogspot.com/2018/08/august-30-2018-my-corner-by-boydcathey.html), the Sydney Schanberg investigative piece casts considerable doubt on McCain’s account—more self-promotion?
I pass on, then, both essays:
Burying the Dead With Bile-Filled Histrionics
By Roger Kimball| September 3rd, 2018
The big news last week revolved around the funerals of a 1960s pop singer and an unreliable Republican senator with a cult following among masochistic conservatives and cynical leftists eager to capitalize on his capacity to spread dissension among his nominal allies.
I suppose the exploitation of funerals for grubby political ends is nothing new. Mark Antony did it with notable success when he eulogized Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. But there was something especially stomach-churning about the injection of partisan animus into the obsequies of Aretha Franklin and John McCain. Both were reminders—as if we needed any—of how these jangled, hyperpartisan times have the capacity to infect even the most solemn ceremonies of life with bile-filled histrionics, our latter-day version of the theater of the absurd.
The race hustling reverends Al Sharpton and Michael Eric Dyson led the bandwagon at Franklin’s funeral, loading their praise of the soul singer with vicious anti-Trump rhetoric. Dyson described the president of the United States as an “orange apparition,” a “lugubrious leech,” a “dictator” and “fascist.” Nicely done, Reverend!
The tone at John McCain’s spectacle was more restrained but the message of hatred and contempt for the president was just as patent. The professional NeverTrumper and Twitter activist Bill Kristol sniffed that “I don’t believe the name of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was mentioned during the service for John McCain, and I’ll continue that practice, in McCain’s honor, for the rest of the day. Today was a moment to celebrate, appreciate and reflect on what is admirable.”
I’ll come back the question of “what is admirable” in a moment. But first, I think it worth pointing out how disingenuous Kristol’s tweet was. The name “Trump” may not have been publicly uttered at that orgy of self-congratulatory vituperation, but the reality of the man was palpable everywhere. Curiously, he was the star of the show in which John McCain had the title role.
The president had been asked pointedly not to attend the event. He respected the wishes of the family and stayed away. Then the media went wild reporting that he had taken himself off to the links to play golf. Instead of what, exactly? Sitting at home and watching himself be not-so-subtly abused first by Meghan McCain, then Barack Obama and George W. Bush?
“The America of John McCain,” said the senator’s daughter, “has no need to be made great again because America was always great.” Get it? Get it?
Barack Obama, in a tribute that instantiated to the letter what it pretended to abhor, lamented how “So much of our politics can seem small and mean and petty. Trafficking in bombast and insult, phony controversies and manufactured outrage. [You get a gold star for brazenness for that one, Mr. President!] It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but is instead born of fear [Oh, dear]. John called on us to be bigger than that, to be better than that.” Right.
For his part, President Bush instructed the assembled mourners that McCain “detested the abuse of power and could not abide bigots and swaggering despots.” Anyone particular in mind, sir?
One and all, they came not to praise McCain but to bury Trump.
But let us return to Bill Kristol’s invocation of “what is admirable,” that call-of-the-wild to be “bigger” and “better” that Barack Obama claims to have discerned in John McCain’s example.
Joseph Duggan, a former State Department and White House staffer in the Reagan and first Bush Administrations, offers an instructive comparison between McCain and Jeremiah Denton, the first Republican to win a direct popular election to the Senate in Alabama.
Like McCain, Denton was a war hero. He, too, had been shot down over Vietnam and endured years of torture. (It was Denton who, when paraded in front of television cameras by his captors, famously spelled out T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse code by blinking his eyes.)
But the contrasts between the two men were even more notable. Denton was a consistent conservative. McCain prided himself on being “bipartisan” and “a maverick.” In reality, he was an erratic and self-aggrandizing party of one. As Duggan observes, “What McCain actually did, again and again, was to sabotage consensus within his own party out of an impulse for gaining attention and increasing his negotiating position in regard to other interests.”
Is that admirable?
President Trump has made good on an astonishing number of his campaign promises, from moving our Israeli embassy to Jerusalem to enacting across-the-board tax cuts, resuscitating the American military, enforcing our immigration laws, and rolling back the smothering, counterproductive regulatory environment excreted like a sticky jelly by the administrative state.
One promise he nearly fulfilled early on was scrapping the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. I say “nearly” because the president came up one vote short in his effort to rescue the American people from that ruinously expensive, state-run bureaucratic nightmare. Who was it who withheld the vote? Why, Senator Maverick McCain, of course. As Duggan put it, “With no discernible principle or regard for the public interest on his side, McCain single-handedly sabotaged the repeal of Obamacare. No one can say honestly that his motivation was anything other than spite for President Trump.” Was that action “bigger” and “better” than those of the Voldemort that President Obama invoked without quite naming? Was it “admirable”?
There were other things that distinguished Jeremiah Denton from John McCain. When Denton died in 2014 at 89, he, like McCain, received full military honors. But as Duggan notes, “His funeral did not preempt television coverage of soap-operas, sitcoms, or sporting events. His pallbearers did not include Warren Beatty, [and] no one, obscure or famous, was told not to attend the ceremony.”
There are a few morals to be absorbed by the sorry spectacles that the funerals of Aretha Franklin and John McCain afforded.
One is the old familiar that Leftists will praise Republicans as “bipartisan” and public spirited just so long as they act and vote like leftists. At the same time, they will instantly punish any dissension in their own ranks with ostracism. Many commentators (including your humble correspondent) have indulged in the sport of contrasting the Hosannahs of praise slathered on John McCain by leftists in recent months with the blistering attacks made upon him during those intermittent episodes when he supported conservative causes. At the end of his life, McCain was the enemy of their enemy, Donald Trump. Therefore, on this battlefield, he was their friend.
Another moral concerns the cacophonous tintinnabulations of the echo-chamber that has installed itself in the center of our public life. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says that politics is the “master art,” the ultimate good at which virtuous human action aims because politics is that which orders all the subordinate activities that nurture the “good for man.” It is interesting to speculate about what Aristotle would have to say about the practice—not to say “the perversion”—of politics today. Wither phronesis (practical judgment)? What price sophrosune (moderation)?
“But, but, surely you are not suggesting that Donald Trump somehow epitomizes the political virtues Aristotle extols?”
No, I am not. At least, not exactly. Trump is a loud and brazen personality. He has faults and flaws (unlike the rest of us, of course). Above all, he is a disruptive force. He has, in the most thoroughgoing way in my lifetime, challenged the status quo in American politics. If you believed that the status quo was a good thing, that, fundamentally, the ship of state was sailing on in the right direction, sails trimmed correctly for the prevailing weather, with the right amount of ballast appropriately distributed—if you thought that then not only are you right to be alarmed by Donald Trump but also I have a large bridge that I would like to sell you.
Of course, many if not most political actors regularly said that the ship of state was in danger of foundering, but that was only when on the hustings. Once safely ensconced in office, they acted in ways that kept the ship lumbering along its perilous course, gunwales nearly submerged. Donald Trump, “standing athwart history, yelling Stop, when no one else is inclined to do so,” has produced a powerful counter current that may yet, might just, alter the course of the vessel in which America finds itself proceeding. It is a gigantic, lumbering barge of a ship, slow to turn, difficult to maneuver, and inertia is such powerful thing.
Notwithstanding the president’s many successes, it is too early to say how fundamental or lasting his reforms will be. But almost everyone by now would agree that Trump has precipitated a sharp change in the climate, the emotional and rhetorical weather, of our culture. Many commentators focus on the president’s tweets and his sometimes Tabasco obiter dicta. Doubtless those interventions can be eyebrow-raising.
What strikes me as more noteworthy, however, is the incontinent fury with which the president’s rhetoric has been met. This is where that cacophonous echo-chamber I mentioned makes its debut. One of the many ironies attending the operation of the Trump Administration is the extent to which his opponents, in their loud and adamantine opposition to the president, are guilty of the very things of which they accuse him. I know it seems odd to say, but their behavior has had the effect of making Donald Trump appear as a calming, a moderating force. Who would have thought it possible?
The anti-Trump hysteria has had a much longer run than I would have thought possible. Partly, that’s because it has been assiduously fed by a corrupt and partisan media. Partly, it is because of the self-engorging denizens of the Washington swamp—the cadres of bureaucrats, scribblers, and talking heads who have a vested interest in perpetuating and extending the swamp.
If they have been more persistent than I would have predicted, I nevertheless see them as the grasshoppers in this little fable from Edmund Burke: “Because half-a-dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field, that of course they are many in number, or that after all they are other than the little, shriveled, meager, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour.”
THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR
The Senate’s Unremembered Ex-POW
Joseph P. Duggan September 2, 2018, 12:05 am
Such a contrast to the excess of the last several days.
Such a contrast to the excess of the last several days.
His path to distinguished service in the United States Senate led through the Naval Academy, aerial combat over hostile territory, and long years of confinement, beatings, and torture in the Hanoi Hilton.
He was a man worth remembering. No, his name was not John McCain.
Six years before McCain’s election to the Senate, Alabama voters sent retired Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton to Washington’s upper chamber.
Both the parallels and the divergences in Denton and McCain’s lives tell something about the last few decades of our political history.
Twelve years older than McCain, Denton was born in Mobile in 1924, the same year as George Herbert Walker Bush. After studies at the Jesuits’ Spring Hill College, Denton transferred to Annapolis where in 1946 he graduated in a class that included a young man from Americus, Georgia, named Jimmy Carter. Denton excelled academically, earning a master’s in international relations from George Washington University and winning the Naval War College’s award for best thesis. Diligent in his study of philosophy and history, he was respected as a strategic thinker.
Denton, at 41, was one of the oldest active American pilots in Vietnam when his A6A Intruder, leading a squadron of 27 other aircraft, was shot down over North Vietnam in 1965. (His friend and contemporary, George H.W. Bush, meanwhile was one of the youngest American pilots in the Second World War.)
McCain, the son and grandson of four-star admirals, was erratic as a student at Annapolis. He graduated number 894 out of 899 members of his class. When he was shot down in 1967 he was 31 years old.
Denton suffered imprisonment for nearly eight years, McCain for nearly six. Both men gained national and international attention for defiant courage during their ordeals. As son of the admiral commanding the U.S. Pacific fleet, McCain spurned Communist Vietnamese efforts to manipulate him for propaganda purposes. Denton, as one of the top-ranking officers, outwitted the enemy when they featured him in a televised propaganda news conference. Unbeknownst to his captors, he blinked his eyes with the Morse Code letters T-O-R-T-U-R-E as he answered questions.
After their release in 1973, Denton and McCain continued naval service. Denton was promoted to rear admiral and served as commandant of the Armed Services Staff College before retiring in 1977. McCain overcame catastrophic injuries and torture to return to the air pilot’s seat. In 1977, the Navy assigned him to Capitol Hill as its liaison (de facto lobbyist) to the Senate.
In civilian life, Denton found a place as one of the first Catholic intellectuals to make common cause with the populist, largely Evangelical Protestant “religious right” of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Pat Robertson’s movement. He moved to his native Mobile, where he turned down suggestions to run for the Senate in 1978 for the seat won that year by Democrat Howell Heflin.
Two years later, Denton decided to run for the Senate as a Republican. Despite a huge disadvantage in fundraising, he stunned the GOP establishment by winning the primary against its anointed favorite, a former Democratic congressman who had switched parties after leaving office and as the conservative state gravitated towards the Republican column.
He campaigned effectively on his pro-life, pro-family issues platform as well as his well-informed critique of the national security record of his Annapolis classmate Carter. When Reagan defeated Carter in November, Denton squeaked into office as the first Alabama Republican in history to win direct popular election to the Senate.
The national mainstream media welcomed Senator Denton to the capital with the same sort of respect and affection they always have shown to other Alabama social-issues conservatives such as Roy Moore or the pre-recusant Jeff Sessions.
Big Media mocked his first signature effort at legislation, the Adolescent Family Life Act. His proposal was an adaptation of existing legislation enacted under sponsorship of Democratic icon Ted Kennedy. Denton’s bill modified the Kennedy program to increase emphasis on reaching teenagers before they had sexual experience with the message that abstinence is not to be devalued as a means of preventing pregnancy and disease.
Denton shrewdly enlisted support from Kennedy’s sister, Eunice Shriver. Kennedy cooperated with Denton in passage of the bill. Ignoring the overwhelming support Denton negotiated, the cultural left had a raucous good time lampooning his efforts. No clearer sign of the times was that Garry Trudeau devoted an entire Sunday “Doonesbury” ridiculing Denton’s “chastity bill.”
In this and other instances, Denton worked carefully and discreetly to bring about success for conservative policies through sincere bipartisan negotiation.
This contrasts with McCain’s vaunted reputation for what his apologists wrongly called bipartisanship. What McCain actually did, again and again, was to sabotage consensus within his own party out of an impulse for gaining attention and increasing his negotiating position in regard to other interests.
With no discernible principle or regard for the public interest on his side, McCain single-handedly sabotaged the repeal of Obamacare. No one can say honestly that his motivation was anything other than spite for President Trump.
McCain showed this character trait throughout his Senate career, even when the issues were more arcane — although extremely important to special interests — and were not gaining top-of-the-news publicity. This is something I witnessed in 1995, when I was communications director of the Senate Commerce Committee. Superficially, the committee was divided into two caucuses, the Republican majority and the Democratic minority. Beneath the surface, there was a third caucus: McCain.
Before my tenure on the Senate staff, I had never been a fan of Bob Dole, who was uncharismatic and inarticulate compared with the gold standard, Ronald Reagan. But in 1995 I had occasion to see and hear Bob Dole as the masterful political leader that he was in his proper venue.
Behind the closed doors of the majority leader’s office, I observed as Dole brilliantly performed tedious but important work, forging consensus on legislation among senators as individually powerful and politically disparate as Bob Packwood and Jesse Helms, Ted Stevens and Trent Lott. These extremely powerful men submitted to Bob Dole’s leadership to bring about consensus on important legislation. This kind of exercise in party loyalty was edifying, and it was for the public good. It evinces clarity, coherence, and a certain amount of respect for the will of the voters.
This was not John McCain’s way. He insisted on a playing a game of self-aggrandizement, all by himself.
Jeremiah Denton ran a complacent and half-hearted re-election campaign in 1986. Still, he was almost re-elected. In a wave election that removed all of the Republican senators who had been newly elected with Reagan’s 1980 victory, Denton managed to lose by one of the narrowest margins in history. The winner in November was a moderate Democratic congressman, Richard Shelby. Eight years later, Shelby switched to the Republican Party and has been a reliable conservative vote in the Senate ever since.
That same November, John McCain won the Arizona Senate seat vacated by the retirement of Barry Goldwater.
When January came around, Denton and McCain became lifelong swamp dwellers. The latter became a fixture in the green rooms and cocktail parties of Washington’s “Permanent Village,” while the former literally went fishing, retiring to an angler’s life on a lazy bayou beside his modest dwelling amid the Gulf Coast marshes outside of Mobile.
What if Denton had remained in the Senate alongside McCain?
I believe he would have stayed consistent with the values and priorities he stressed during his only term in office, while accruing the added power that comes with seniority.
Both men proclaimed their patriotism and their support for an internationalism led by American strength. But a critical difference between Denton and McCain was in the deeper meaning of these affirmations.
Another difference is in the 32 years since Denton left the Senate and McCain joined it. Today the “West” no longer has the Soviet threat to unite it for self-defense. During the past three decades, too, Western Europe and the United States have become drastically more deracinated, more catastrophically cut off from their Christian roots.
Denton’s cause was explicitly the preservation of Western Civilization. As he understood it, this was a civilization with deep, ancient, theological, philosophical, and cultural roots. This traditional order for which Denton fought and legislated, which scarcely exists anymore, is about much more than democracy, even much more than liberty.
McCain’s attachment was to a shallower, less developed political posture.It was a conflation of militaristic American patriotism with international ideological campaigns for installing democratic electoral systems anywhere and everywhere, even where plainly there exists no cultural environment in which true democracy or the rule of law might take root.
At the intellectual level, the defining difference was between solid substance and hollow form, between reality and ideology.
Another difference was in character. Senators normally have very big egos, and Denton was normal in this sense. McCain was an outlier — an extraordinary egomaniac — even within a universe of enormous egos.
Jeremiah Denton died in 2014 at the age of 89. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. His funeral did not preempt television coverage of soap-operas, sitcoms, or sporting events. His pallbearers did not include Warren Beatty, but no one, obscure or famous, was told not to attend the ceremony.