Thursday, May 18, 2006

Vietnam Now, Vietnam Tomorrow, Vietnam Forever: John McCain's Demons

There were moments during his speech to the Republican National Convention on Aug. 30, 2004, when John McCain sounded possessed. His demons weren’t the Democrats; they never have been—“I’m fortunate to call many of them my friends,” he assured us—but a fixation of a slightly greater order of magnitude: the itch for payback dating back to his POW days at the Hanoi Hilton. It happened moments into his speech when he first referred to the war on terror: “Only the most deluded of us could doubt the necessity of this war. Like all wars, this one will have its ups and downs. But we must fight. We must.” The cadence as he delivered it in those three words, we must fight, had an undertone I can only describe as a Nabokovian obsession, and an obsession no less lust-ridden, no less perverse, than the cadenced play of Lolita’s name on Humbert Humbert’s tongue at the opening of the novel: “My sin, my soul. Lo-Lee-Ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” Or in McCain’s case, Tet.

His war has never ended. His loss, embedded in America’s, has never abandoned him. It has encrusted itself in him like his bitter and by now regressively infantile fondness for the word gook. The repeat of the words we must (two of eight times he used the word must) had nothing of the rational about it. The words were for McCain an echo of his tendency not only to repeat fighting words, metaphorically and literally, but to revel in the repetition. At the convention what came through, besides the hostility of his heart’s biometrics, was his compulsive need for a fight, and the kind of fight that made two things clear: First, Democrats were not up to the task—not to fight the war on terror, but to fight Republicans, so they were not worthy of McCain’s contempt. He proved to be right. Second, al-Qaeda could not possibly be the worthy enemy he was looking for. Read the rest...