McCain Runs Unopposed

Friday, April 11, 2008

Steve Huntley of the Chicago Sun-Times issues a warning to the Democrats: Keep attacking McCain like this and you will lose the Presidency -- again -- to the Republicans.

The best indicator of Republican John McCain's surprisingly strong presidential prospects in what should be a slam-dunk Democratic year is not his solid general-election poll numbers but rather the increasingly shrill attacks from Democrats.

The latest was a grotesque slam from Barack Obama supporter Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia. In a newspaper interview in his home state, Rockefeller let loose this stinker: "McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet. He was long gone when they hit. What happened when they get to the ground? He doesn't know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues."

Never mind that laser-guided missiles hadn't been invented during the Vietnam war. Bombing is a part of warfare, and McCain was serving his country as have legions of other bomber airmen. Rockefeller smeared them all. One further point: McCain was a prisoner of war in Hanoi when U.S. planes bombed the city, on the orders of McCain's admiral father.

So wrong was this that Rockefeller not only quickly apologized, but his office also later made a point of saying that McCain had accepted his apology. [bold added]
Huntley is correct that poorly-aimed smears which also play loose with easily-checked facts stand an excellent chance of killing the Democrats.

Unfortunately, the Democrats have precious little choice but to take this route. This is a shame, because this hawkish pro-capitalist can think of numerous reasons to vote against McCain. The executive summary is that he wants to continue pretending that a massive program to export welfare handouts to Iraq is a war, and that he wants to run our entire country like the military.

But as I said, the Democrats have basically no choice. They do not have anything to offer that differs in substance from what McCain offers, and this is because they agree with McCain on the following fundamental premise: The individual exists -- not to pursue his own happiness -- but to serve the state. All three of the major presidential candidates agree that the American citizen is a sacrificial animal.

The Democrats have held this premise for decades and have learned over time that running openly on it -- See George McGovern. -- or governing openly on it -- See Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. -- loses elections. So they smear Republicans and pretend to be in favor of a more humane version of capitalism (which is, in itself, a smear of capitalism).

On only one issue, whether we should fight in Iraq or withdraw, do the Democrats appear to differ from the Republicans, but this is just a case of the Democrats not openly advocating pacifism. And pacifism is just a different way than digging toilets in the desert to sacrifice American lives to foreign enemies. A loyal opposition opposing the current war would do so on the grounds that we should fight a war of self-defense or quit wasting our money (which we can, at least, replace) and the lives of our soldiers (which we can't).

For decades, the Democrats have -- often luckily for America -- painted themselves into the corner of having to run dishonest political campaigns. But now that the Republicans have gradually adopted their whole agenda under the guise of capitalism, our nation finds itself in need of an able opponent to McCain, but trapped in that same corner with these fools.

(And until most American voters stop looking at themselves as wards of the state, we will remain in this corner.)

I have not decided yet whether I will vote against McCain or abstain from the presidential election, but Huntley's warning to the Democrats shows me that it -- how I vote or whether the Democrats hear him -- probably won't matter.

I weep for my country and fear for liberty.

-- CAV


Monica said...

"I weep for my country and fear for liberty."

I know. I've been feeling so incredibly uneasy with the political situation. I have felt worse about it, but it is getting really bad. My boyfriend (an Oist of more than 30 years) is even more depressed than I am. I don't think I can, in good conscience, vote for Obama as a protest vote of McCain, though that remains to be seen.

I think we're all going to be faced with a choice, within the next ten years or so, of whether to shrug or not. I seriously think I need to make as much money as possible to buy a small cabin in northern Canada and hunt animals to survive. That's kind of a joke.... but that day to withdraw from the world might actually come sooner than later. My fear is that if it does, the ensuing chaos will take far longer to resolve than that few years it took in Atlas Shrugged for everything to totally collapse. I think it would decades or longer for freedom to re-emerge.

Gus Van Horn said...

I am not as pessimistic as you are, but the cultural war is definitely on, and I intend to fight it in any way I can.

Monica said...

You're right -- I do agree that we need to fight it, and I think there's too much of an attitude of withdrawal among many Objectivists, when it's now that we need to fight more than ever.

Gus Van Horn said...

Some of that, I think, is that the culture wars are really a two-front war.

Our culture is so goofed up that one cannot possibly grow up without having to confront and fix major philosophical and usually also psychological issues of one's own.

And then, there's the matter of doing what one can to remain free to enjoy the life that one is able to.

Some, but not all, of what looks like withdrawal really isn't.

Jim May said...

I think it would decades or longer for freedom to re-emerge.

If freedom does go away completely, I think it will take *centuries*. The patterns I see echo the fall of Rome more than anything else -- and we haven't had our Imperial period yet.

For me, the big problem is time -- primarily, time to effect cultural change. I'm not sure how much we have left -- and to me that's a big part of our problem.

One common metaphor for our situation is the "train wreck" or lemming metaphor; this is the idea that we are heading for a cliff and need to steer away from it. The problem with this metaphor is that it falsely implies that we can see the end coming, and therefore how much time we have. That simply isn't true.

I see it this way: We are currently living in a magnificent structure of brilliant design, whose engineers have long passed away. It is currently occupied by a society of primitives, who have lost any knowledge of the building's design principles, and are thusly ignorant of what it is that holds it up. Not only are the ignorant of what it takes to maintain it, they do things like rip down the wallpaper and punch new doors in walls wherever it suits the whim of the moment. Most of the amenities are still functional, but some are long gone.

All the while, termites are steadily chewing away at the structure.

Some of us see the termites and the destruction, and therefore know that this can't go on -- but this does not allow us to know when the collapse will come. We cannot predict what will bring it down, or when -- a gust of wind, an earthquake, or one final act of vandalism which takes out a key pillar.

When that end comes, it will likely be sudden -- within a decade counts as "sudden" to me -- and utterly incomprehensible to nearly everyone, including those responsible.

This makes prioritization hard -- how much of my personal values should I be setting aside for this larger goal? If we had a lot of time (80 years, say), monthly contributions to the ARI would be plenty -- but if we only have another ten years as Monica wonders, then I'm fiddling while Rome burns, am I not?

I think we can win in the long run. I just don't know how long a run we have left.

Gus Van Horn said...

That's an excellent metaphor, Jim.

Given the nature of what has to be done (i.e., civilize the savages while occasionally fending them off), the only rational course I can see is to function as if there are 50-100 years left.

Past that point, not getting the most enjoyment out of life one can possibly get is what would constitute "fiddling while Rome burns".

To use another metaphor, if the meteor's going to hit and you know it, drink up.

Having said that, I again am not reaching for the corkscrew.

Grant said...

First of all, I'm really, really glad that this conversation is taking place. This is war that has been going on in my head for the last 5 years - and especially in the last two.

I'm probably closer to shrugging than any of you are, but I still wish to take exception with Jim's comment about it taking centuries, not decades. It agree with everything else he said, just not his estimation of the time frame.

I don't agree that the fall of modern civilization - god forbid it does happen - will result in the way of life that followed the collapse of Rome. Modern civilization is far more advanced. Philosophically, morally, politically, and (obviously) techonologically. When Rome fell, alot was lost, but it still left it's blueprints. The work of Greek and Roman intellectuals survived even though they were repressed. If modern civilization falls, it's blue prints will stick around too. The difference is that it's blue prints are much more difficult to ignore. More difficult because they're superior. Of course Greco-Roman culture was superior to Medieval culture, but it wasn't superior to modern culture, even with all of it's flaws.

My vision for a collapsed America will look something like the Soviet Union circa 1930.

Anonymous said...

Jim May writes:

"The patterns I see echo the fall of Rome more than anything else -- and we haven't had our Imperial period yet."

The interesting thing about the Roman Imperial period though is that it was Rome's most prosperous and stable and secure period despite that it was an empire. This raises the problem I wrestle with. I see a massive sea change on the horizon. But will that bring the end of industrial civilization or will America and the West just exist under a semi-fascist regime like Rome which will slowly destroy itself over a century or two? So "shrugging" and living in the mountains would be premature by about two centuries. A human and fulfilling life would still be possible in America. But it is possible that there would be no freedom of speech and being an Objectivist would be impossible above ground.

Its so difficult to forecast the philosophical and historical direction of the future.

John Kim

Gus Van Horn said...

I'll take the blame, as author of a pessimistic post, for which direction this thread has taken.

Having said that, I wish to nip the discussion of what failure might look like in the bud.

Who cares whether one can live a comfortable lie, can eke out a medieval existence, or can somehow avoid Soviet-style planned famine?

None of these is a proper human life, and so none of these is worth contemplating -- except as motivation to fight tooth and nail against current trends.

Grant said...


I certainly agree that none of the speculations about what the future will look like are conducive to human life and should be resisted, but I don't agree that they're all equally bad. Or, more precisely, equally as difficult to come out of.

As Ayn Rand pretty convincingly demonstrated, sometimes the best way to "fight tooth and nail" is to submit completely. To go on strike. If that becomes the rational course of action, it will depend upon a determination of just how much will be lost if left to the looters and just how long they'll stagnate before they give the "strikers" the respect they deserve. If it's a matter of decades, then it might be something an individual would consider doing. If it's going to result in centuries of stagnation, then there's really no point in resisting in any manner.

Obviously, modern Russia - 20 years after the USSR - still has many problems, but it is a far better place to live than Russia 20 years after the fall of some Czar. All that meant was that the people were living under yet another Czar and not even pretending to be a free nation of laws with a representative democracy.

The only thing that makes me doubt my thesis is that all of the hell holes in recent years have felt the pressure to at least pretend to be enlightened and to embrace industrialization externally. None of it was self-motivated; they were just envious and so they mimicked what the West did. What will happen to the countries (The West) who, once they collapse, feel none of that pressure because the nations around them have become even more backwards?

Gus Van Horn said...

I think it is way too early to talk about shrugging, and I am closer in agreement with Jim about the consequences of doing so.

Russia as a Potemkin of a "best-case" scenario. It's being kept afloat by its ability to trade or steal from a semi-free West.

Jim May said...

Grant: There are many reasons why I hold to my statement that going past the point of no return means no return for centuries, and not decades.

First, the demise of America and/or the world would almost certainly be amidst a lot of warfare -- and nukes haven't gone away. The only time Ayn Rand ever discussed the possibility of America's demise, she said that America could not be destroyed from without, but could "explode from within" in civil war.

A "peaceful" crowning of Caesar with little or no warfare could be worse. How easy do you think it would be to disseminate Objectivist ideas in a doctrinaire theocratic empire equipped with modern surveillance technology and data-mining far surpassing "1984"?

There is also no "West" to America's Weimar Republic, either; like Rome, we are on top of the world. If we go down, the world goes down with us.

This is why I agree with Gus when he says that these discussions are not fruitful for us... and that we must fight tooth and nail for the win THIS time around. Failing that, the next Renaissance is too far into the future to matter to us.

Gus, there is one premise of yours that I wish to challenge, however -- that is the idea that we can only assume that we have the 50-100 years room to succeed. I ask you to consider this possibility: we may or may not have that time given current trends -- but we can act to buy that time, somehow.

I have in the past described this idea using a football metaphor, where the ARI and OBjectivist intellectuals act as our "quarterback" who has to score the touchdowns for us to win. That quarterback needs space and most importantly, time, for his plays to develop, else he gets sacked.

Who buys that time? Blockers. They can't score, and ultimately, nothing they do moves the team forward -- that's the quarterback's job. But the blockers give him the time he needs to do it.

We need culture blockers.

I think that there are ways we can "run interference" in the culture, to buy time -- slow down the progress towards the point of no return.

Of course, I'm short on concrete ideas on what this "culture blocking" entails. There is a lot of research I need to do, particularly history and ideological history.

I therefore apologize for what might seem like an Obama-like "hope" post, long on fluff but short on substance. I am hoping that I can get into position to do some serious work on this idea over the next year or so. I can tell you that central to the process would be identifying fragments of the Enlightenment that remain in the culture, and how to reinforce and build on them.

Gus Van Horn said...

"Gus, there is one premise of yours that I wish to challenge, however -- that is the idea that we can only assume that we have the 50-100 years room to succeed. I ask you to consider this possibility: we may or may not have that time given current trends -- but we can act to buy that time, somehow."

That is an excellent point, made by yet another very good metaphor.

Grant said...

Jim: A "doctrinaire theocratic empire equipped with modern surveillance technology and data-mining far surpassing 1984'"?

You think that bunch of theocrats would have the ability to maintain that sort of technological sophistication for centuries? That level of technology presupposes a large number of highly-educated people with expertise in all sorts of advanced fields. That large number presupposes a simpler level of industrialization in order to them with the free time with which to become aquainted with that techonology. Those presuppositions describe the type of civilization we're living in today: One where reason is implicitly valued and explicitly denounced.

That's why I think that should something happen which brings about the collapse, either a nuclear war or a "strike", the type of Orwellian dictatorship which you describe would only last for a few decades at most. After that, it would collapse under it's own weight into chaos; a ripe environment for whatever faction, which has been suppressed but not extinguished, has the strongest convictions and the most to offer the average person.

Gus Van Horn said...

"[T]he type of Orwellian dictatorship which you describe would only last for a few decades at most."

But you couldn't turn back from that point until it did, which is part of the whole reason I think talking about life after a collapse is a waste of time.

The economics that support six billion people at once are similarly complex to the economy.

Grant said...


No, you couldn't turn back from that point until it did. But we both agree it eventually would. But an "Orwellian dictatorship", whether theocratic or some variety of multinational socialism, is what we're going to get over the span of the next few decades unless we do something drastic. To you that means finding the right mixture of people, capital, and propaganda (without the negative connotation) to have reason and individual rights rise to the top again. To me, while I'm not sure, that means shrugging. I just don't see anything anyone who loves reason and/or liberty - the ARI, the Libertarians, the Von Mises Institute, et al - as having had any long term success. None of them are making any meaningful headway compared to the religionists, altruists, and environmentalists. The fact is, the philosophical and political climate today is even more distorted than when those pro-freedom ideologies had their birth; and it's not for lack of trying on their parts.

I consider it a far more costly - in the time and energies of good people trying to forstall it - and far more drawn out collapse to move from a mixed economy into "Orwellian dictatorship" than moving from that into chaos. But, in my opinion, it's going to happen one way or another. It's better that we prepare for it and possibly avoid getting caught in the totalitarian net. Remember, when Galt, D'Anconia, and Danneskjold decided to dedicate themselves to the strike, things weren't all that bad on a national level. The underlying morality of death they identified hadn't been forced out into the open. It was still feasting upon it's victims who were unwilling to face it. It's only when the strikers made progress when the insanity accelerated. By that time, the people who mattered had made arrangements to guarantee their safety.

Gus Van Horn said...

"I just don't see anything anyone who loves reason and/or liberty - the ARI, the Libertarians, the Von Mises Institute, et al - as having had any long term success."

First of all, since to *love* something means, *to understand and value* it, I wouldn't accuse Libertarians of of "loving" freedom or reason, nor would I commit the injustice of equating what they are doing with what the Ayn rand Institute is doing. The one is trying to trick people who do not understand freedom into voting for capitalism while the other is trying to make people able to understand freedom in the first place.

Having said that, to conclude based on the Libertarians' lack of success that it's time to strike is to make exactly the same error they make (some more innocently than others), namely that political change can occur without cultural change.

Furthermore, to claim ARI has been unsuccessful is, even aside from accusing them of being Libertarians, is ludicrous since on the time scale necessary to make such changes (several decades), they have just started.

The best historical analogy to what the Objectivists want to do is found with the abolitionists, who undertook a campaign of "moral suasion" and ultimately caused the slaves to be freed within decades.

But sure, if you were a Libertarian, you'd scoff at the abolitionists who spent time travelling from village to village convincing small numbers of individuals that slavery was immoral -- instead of campaigning to end slavery at once....

Grant said...


I'm not sure how to respond to that. I suppose I'll just explain it literally. That's the most emotionally charged of any of your posts or comments I've ever read. That's sad because I'm a fan of your blog. I considered that because my comments SEEMED to conflate Objectivists and Libertarians it might set off that button, but I gave you the benefit of the doubt and I figured you would remember that I was speaking in very general terms about one particular aspect. Is it not true that Libertarians carry the same political message and have the same political goals as Objectivists? Saying something positive about the LP is not the same as saying something negative about the ARI. Talk about making a mountain out of a mole hill.

I fully agree with your distinction between the two, but I fail to see how making the distinction in this context (our discussion) is of any value. That you went further and attempted to present this distinction as if it had some substantive value in a discussion of teleology or tactics is even more disturbing. That's such a predictable, lap dog response and serves to accomplish nothing except to distract from the topic of discussion. I expected more of you. Please forgive the insults, I just don't like it being implied that I'm a Libertarian.

Now, having said that, I will address the points you make. Firstly, it is very true that the Libertarians are mistaken to believe that political change can come without cultural change. But I, or anyone else who is advocating (wait, more accurately: merely open to the possibility of) striking is not interested in political change. To treat John Galt's strike as if it was merely a political move, that it's aim was simply to replace the particular individuals who were ruining the country and not to teach the population a grave moral lesson, is a great injustice to the depth of Ayn Rand's intellect. No, not towards her identification of the philosophical/moral principle or "either-or", but towards her intellect as a person considering the environment in which she was living. Keep in mind that that environment was far better than todays and she still toyed with the issue. I don't believe it was just a literally device. She herself, in a sense, "shrugged" from the Soviet Union. Do you think that she would advocate immigrating from that country to this one today or sticking around to fight merely because they have a free press now? It won't matter in a few decades because the two countries will be virtually identical.

Speaking of the conditions surrounding Ayn Rand in the early 20th Century, let that serve as a segueway towards my addressing of your second point. If you reread my last point, you will see that I wasn't criticizing The ARI (or the Libertarian Party, or the Mises Institute for that matter), but the ideologies which gave birth to them. You'll also notice that my criticism isn't of substance, but of efficacy. It's stated right there, in plain English. While I won't even dignify with a discussion your claim that I accused the ARI of being Libertarians becaue I clearly did not, it is irrefutable that in the 50+ years since Objectivism (and Libertarianism, and Austrian Economics, for that matter) has sprung onto the scene, all in all, is has accomplished absolutely nothing. I mean that in the widest sense possible. As ideological movements, the various groups which promote collectivism, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and religion have been far more successful in shaping America's laws and it's culture. Objectivism in particular has declined in popularity and noteriety.

You can accuse me of being a Libertarian all day long because I'm not willing to spend my entire life holding meetings which are presented in the press (if they get any) as "hate speeches." Of course those speeches have value, as learning experiences for a few young minds, but as political forces, they accomplish nothing. They fall on willfully deaf ears. Should I have supported Alan Greenspan and his "work behind enemy lines?" Look what that has accomplished. His name is being dragged through the mud because of the housing bubble and Ayn Rand's is being soiled right along with it. That's about all the national press Ayn Rand gets nowadays.

Sure the abolitionists were successful with their campain of moral suasion, but something else helped: The Civil War. Besides, arguing against slavery in a particular country is not of the same penetrating depth as arguing against mysticism and collectivism.

I'm not saying I'm right or that you are. I have never in this discussion "concluded that it's time to strike." All I've said is that it's not a pointless discussion. This is an extremely complicated topic which has much more to do with things like economics, military and police affairs, communications, propaganda, and a panoply of other concrete issues. It is not a philosophical issue. Please don't make it into one.

One other question, if you're willing to give the ARI decades to accomplish it's stated goal of rolling back the tide of irrationality and collectivism washing over Western culture, why aren't you willing to give decades to a strike? No bumbling politicians to poke fun at and no microbrews to drink? Those things are fine, but I just consider certain values more important.

I hope to receive an answer, but I wouldn't be surprised to never see this post again and to never be allowed to comment again. It's sad that I'll have to chalk another one up in the "enemies" column.

Gus Van Horn said...

I did not accuse you, if you will read my comment, of being a Libertarian. I said that you were making a similar type of mistake.

Having said that, there is much I disagree with in your last comment, and I take exception to your insulting tone. And that is all I have to say to you.

This post opens by calling me emotionalistic and ends by calling me an "enemy", and clocks in at 937 words.

I am now officially "shrugging" from this exchange.