Requiem for McCain

This is our lot if we live so long and labour unto the end—
Then we outlive the impatient years and the much too patient friend:
And because we know we have breath in our mouth and think we have thoughts in our head,
We shall assume that we are alive, whereas we are really dead.
We shall not acknowledge that old stars fade or stronger planets arise
(That the sere bush buds or the desert blooms or the ancient well-head dries)
Or any new compass with which new men adventure, ‘neath new skies…

                —Rudyard Kipling, “The Old Men”

Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Old Men” could have been written yesterday, as a searing (though not altogether unsympathetic) indictment of Conservatism, Inc. In recent days, the most honored, most venerable, most melodramatic of the tribal elders has been fulfilling these prophetic verses for all the world to see.

Do you remember that “mentally/physically unable to do his job” clause the Left was fantasizing about invoking against the president? Have we got one of those clauses for senators?

Unlike a good many of my friends, I cannot summon animosity toward emotionally-disabled, still-tortured war hero, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz). Of course, I can’t avoid frustration with him, either. That the press continues to see his embarrassing rants as something to exploit, rather than the self-inflicted indignities of age and infirmity, shows the depth of their malice.

Or perhaps, in some cases, they truly do think (since their own blinding hostility aligns with his blinkered resentments) that they’re burnishing, rather than staining, a hero’s reputation during his final act of his life. Naturally, with his strength of personality guided by stubborn misperceptions, he cooperates earnestly.

The Lamp of our Youth will be utterly out, but we shall subsist on the smell of it; 
And whatever we do, we shall fold our hands and suck our gums and think well of it.
Yes, we shall be perfectly pleased with our work, and that is the Perfectest Hell of it!

The Left at large has never come to terms with how evil the Communist enemy in southeast Asia was; their own heroes include many who colluded and some who even collaborated, with that enemy. McCain’s colleague John Kerry served bravely on our side of the tactical struggle in Vietnam, which we won—then served opportunistically for the enemy in the propaganda struggle, which we lost. That’s the kind of hero the Left can really go for—but victim status will do, or at least do well enough to get them to give you a pass. To get the real accolades, you have to be a victim who attacks their true enemy: patriotic Americans. They interpret McCain’s POW background as victim status when it suits their narrative to do so—that is especially when McCain is butting heads with conservatives.

A POW who follows the code of conduct is still a warrior, and not a victim. That’s how McCain made it through and returned home. While McCain’s astonishing and heroic resistance kept him from being made a propaganda tool of the Communists, however, it appears the trauma inflicted by their tortures perhaps helped make him vulnerable years later, to being used as a propaganda tool by the spiritual heirs of the America-hating activists of the 1960s.

John McCain was a stubborn resister, and he has stubbornly resisted his own party’s renewal into a viable model. He never had Stockholm Syndrome overseas, but developed a case of it during his decades in the Senate, and it became a real political disability.

Now, he deserves to live out his remaining time with dignity. The media’s going to work strenuously against that, broadcasting every irrational outburst with the glee of an NVA propaganda officer. We, however, ought to avert our eyes from a dying hero’s self-inflicted indignities, honor the way he sacrificed his body and mind for his nation, and pray that the God who sustained him through captivity grant him rest.

Kipling ends with a reminder that the ordeal of mental decline, unlike the ordeal at the Hanoi Hilton, is one we may all expect to undergo. Let’s grant a man with the misfortune to have his tantrums exploited, the grace we’d desire in his place.

This is our lot if we live so long and listen to those who love us—
That we are shunned by the people about and shamed by the Powers above us.
Wherefore be free of your harness betimes; but, being free be assured,
That he who hath not endured to the death, from his birth he hath never endured!

Photo credit:  Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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