It was deja vu all over again for Arizona Senator John McCain as he repeated his 2000 trouncing of George Bush, dismantling both Iowa victor Mike Huckabee and vapid, politically-confused GOP money train and erstwhile New England neighborhood favorite, Mitt Romney, and once again staking his claim in a state little bigger than the infamous compound where he was held as a prisoner of the Vietnam War.
And once again, McCain emerged from New Hampshire just as triumphantly as he did from the Hanoi Hilton (albeit a bit better nourished and not at his then-fighting weight of 90 or so pounds). Now things get interesting as he moves onto South Carolina–the scene of his nasty shellacking at the hands of South Carolina’s unbending and unforgiving Baptists, whipped into a lather by the push-polling of the Bush campaign that suggested the Senator had Negro babies out of wedlock, and worse (“Again, I thank you for your time, Mrs. Caldecott. Just a few more questions. Question #4: If it were true that Senator McCain once enjoyed carving open South Vietnamese toddlers with a hunting knife, pan-frying their organs over a makeshift barbecue pit, and sharing them with the Viet Cong, with whom he was secretly in collusion throughout the entire war–now, only if this were true, mind you–would that make you more or less likely to vote for the Senator for President? I see. Thank you. Question #5, if it were true that Senator McCain was on record saying that not only should Jesus have been crucified, but that he wished he himself had been a Roman soldier…”).
It was also the beginning of an eight-year sellout that he only recently seems to have emerged from. He not only squandered an opportunity to break George Bush’s arm onstage at the 2000 GOP Convention to pay him back for his campaign character assassination (maybe he hoped for eventual divine payback–after all, God gave Lee Atwater terminal brain cancer for the reprehensible Willie Horton ads he unleashed on Bush, Sr’s rival, Michael Dukakis), but he’s spent the last eight years courting the state’s Far Religious Right, giving speeches to the Aryan Youth at Bob Jones University, and doing everything stereotypically-evangelical short of attending baptisms in state park lakes and getting caught in secret homosexual trysts in men’s restrooms.
One could suggest that the South Carolina Republicans did what the Viet Cong couldn’t: They broke his spirit, and that the lure of their state’s 24 delegates was more powerful than the VC’s promises of freedom ever were.
I’m not necessarily one of those cynics. Necessarily. McCain is a sharp, smart, and pragmatic man, and he didn’t get through five years at the Hanoi Hilton being an obedient, pliable dunce. Once, when he was being tortured to reveal the names of his fellow squadron members, he acquiesced–with the names of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line. In other words, he knows how to play the game, whatever the game he’s in.
Still, whatever his motivations, it’s a distasteful spectacle watching the Senator reduce himself so for the sake of the imprimatur of the state’s UberChristian electors. Much has been made of the notion that “the Straight Talk Express is back!”, but we’ll see how he does on the stump in the Palmetto State and whether he dares to challenge Mike Huckaby’s contention that the Earth is only 3000 years old and that dinosaurs never darkened South Carolina’s doorstep except during “Jurassic Park”’s eight-week run in 1993.