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Keeping The Flame

Saturday, September 20, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

I'm in Saint Lo. Some of you know what that means, some don't. I'm in Normandy. In a shitty hotel, sharing a room with my son. He's 11. Wife and daughter down the hall.

Today we went to Mont Saint Michel. Tomorrow, Omaha Beach.

So to prepare, to "home school," I watch The Longest Day with The Boy -- with occasional pedantic interjections from Dad. The Boy gets the outlines. He gets none of the emotion. He's very smart but he doesn't get it. I guess I wouldn't have, either, when I was 11.

And do I get it? I don't understand what it meant to the men who are buried at the cemetery we'll visit tomorrow. I don't understand what it was like to be on that beach. But I have some notion of what it means in macrocosm.

I'm an American. Also, ethnically at least, a Jew. I know what they did for me, all those guys buried beneath those marble crosses and stars of David.

My Jewish-American son and Chinese-American daughter want to know if they can go in the water, get their feet wet on Omaha Beach. That's their primary concern, despite my best efforts to ram history down their throats.

So, I wonder. Is that a good thing or bad? Should a kid know the price that was paid? Or should they be free to be, as kids usually are, oblivious. And focused, in kid-like way, on their own Very Important Agenda?

Did those men buried beneath those crosses and stars die so my kids could understand their sacrifice? Or so that they could focus on whether Mom and Dad would let them splash in the water that was stained with brave men's blood?

This place weighs on me. I live because they died. And my kids? Well, they're kids.

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Revealing Blunders

Thursday, September 18, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

John McCain is dead. Murdered by the McCain campaign. That much is obvious. The question is: motive.

I have an intuition about one of the three candidates, Hillary, Obama and McCain. It's something that I think will become increasingly clear over time. But I'm torn between my egotistical desire to be able to say, "See? I told you so," on the one hand, and my reluctance to say something cruel and quite possibly wrong.

So, here's my solution. I'm emailing it to Annie Gottlieb. If I'm right, I get my "toldja so." If I'm wrong -- and one of you reminds me -- I'll 'fess up.

I posted that six months ago. I try not wallow in the trough with all the other little partisan piggies. It's fairly easy because I don't really care if I get a lot of readers. I'm so far below the radar as a blogger that I can be a pro-Obama Democrat and still admit that he's just a politician, and that we can expect him to lie. And I can say that Democrats are wrong about the Iraq war, and too stupid to realize how screwed up the Afghanistan war is. I don't need to be a complete partisan hack because I'm not looking for a gig in talk radio.

As a rule -- and I'm sure I've broken it somewhere along the line -- I try to avoid the muddy end of politics. I supported Obama because I thought he was somewhat less likely to crawl though the gutter. McCain has now demonstrated conclusively that I was right about that: Obama would have to work overtime to get lower than McCain has sunk.

But it's that very fact, the destruction of John McCain by his own campaign, that makes me think I was right in the above post. Because what I wrote to Annie six months ago was that John McCain seemed to me to be showing signs of intellectual impairment.

I didn't post on it because John McCain was one of my heroes. And because he deserved better than having people float nasty rumors about him.

A month ago, this piece appeared in NY Mag:
What might be happening in McCain’s head? Gerontologists and retirement planners have learned that aging brains compensate for cognitive decline by relying on templates of familiar knowledge more than problem solving. That’s usually a good thing, but neuroscientists have also found that memory loss can lead people to substitute incorrect information. This phenomenon, called confabulation, rather than being random, often takes the form of untrue “facts” that make them feel better — giving them what scientists have called “the pleasantness of false beliefs.” So are McCain’s stumbles simply misstatements, or evidence of a mind filling in blanks with wish fulfillment? Well, we really have no idea. But neither does McCain: His aides told reporters in May that he has had no mental evaluations in the past eight years.
I thought that was pretty likely accurate. But I still didn't write about it.

And then Rick Moran wrote this:

As inspiring as a bar of cream cheese, as interesting as a broken clock, John McCain at any age would prove to be bad presidential candidate. At age 72, he is making his own case that he should have been put out to pasture years ago. Even if you don’t believe McCain is too old to serve, there is a growing perception that he is and it is this that may very well doom his candidacy.
In Rick's comments I wrote this:
First, I admire the hell out of McCain. He’s everything I’d want my son to grow up to be. (He has a few characteristics I might skip, but who doesn’t?) He’s brave. He has integrity. He knows the meaning of sacrifice. Even when I disagree with him I believe he’s trying his best for his country. I owe my freedom to guys like McCain. He’s also, incidentally, witty and entertaining.

A few months ago (after the Lieberman/Correction episode) I emailed a blogger friend with my concern that McCain was suffering the early stages of cognitive impairment. I didn’t blog about it because it’s not the kind of thing one suggests lightly. But then he always seemed to perform very well in venues like The Daily Show that call for quick wit, so I stopped worrying.

This last week or so has brought back that concern. The CBS thing was weird. The Czechoslovakia thing too. Some other little things. There’s something a little off about the way Lieberman and Graham seem to Mother-hen McCain. And there’s the disarray of his campaign, which does not show a strong, sure hand at the top.

But I kind of hate to see you blogging about it now because that may mean there’s really something to it.

I hope Obama wins. But I would hate like hell to see big John go out that way.

But I still didn't blog about it.

Now comes this odd episode of the Spanish Misunderstanding. I'll quote Moran again:

Any fair minded person listening to that broadcast would agree with me. John McCain couldn’t understand the interviewer. But it was stupid of him to have his campaign go out and pretend that he understood perfectly. No one believes him and it only makes it appear that he did suffer some kind of brain cramp.

Except that's not quite all there is to it. McCain's campaign dealt with this, so it isn't just a question of McCains pride as Rick would have it. His campaign looked at this minor flub and decided to pretend that McCain had understood the interviewer perfectly well and thus had intentionally refused a hypothetical meeting with the head of a NATO ally.

The campaign would rather say something self-evidently stupid and dishonest than risk the candidate seeming confused.


It adds to a long list of "why's?" Why the silly stunt-pick of Sarah Palin? Why attack the press that has always adored McCain? Why no serious policy proposals? Why the strange flip flops? Why wallow in the gutter? Why lie? And why lie so desperately? Why destroy the McCain "brand?"

Why has the McCain campaign murdered John McCain?

Because John McCain isn't running his campaign. I suspect, now more strongly than before, that John McCain is suffering from some impairment. I don't think it's dementia. I thought confabulation seemed about right. He's old, and the edge is blunted. And I think his campaign staff knows it.

This Spanish thing . . . so minor. A big nothing. All McCain had to do was say, "Oops, I was having trouble understanding the interviewer." As Moran points out. So why say something utterly stupid to cover up something utterly minor?

When the answer given is Yes, McCain intentionally said he would not meet with the Prime Minister of Spain, when that's your cover story, you aren't just covering up a flub. You're covering something big. It's undersatandable that the McCain camp fears the suggestion that the candidate is too old for the job. But why does it scare them to the point where they panic and build a molehill into a mountain?

Because they know it's true. Because they know that narrative will gather strength over time.

So. Why did John McCain's campaign murder John McCain? Because it's no longer the McCain campaign. I don't know who is driving the bus formerly known as the Straight Talk Express, but it isn't McCain. The person running things now is a tactician, not a strategist. He or she is panicked, unsure what to do next, rushing around putting out fires. And very scared.

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