"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Friday, September 05, 2008

McCain's theological rationale

[OK, I lied. When I started Philosophia Perennis last week, I gave out the impression that I would close down this blog. But I've come to realize that some of my thoughts are better expressed here than there. I want to keep PP as a place for high-level philosophical and theological discussion. But even I can't limit myself to that. I have much more to say, politically and personally. The place for that is here.]

Given how much theology and pseudo-theology have been swirling about Barack Obama as a candidate, I thought I might transfer something of that interest to John McCain. The thing is worth doing because there's gravitas there.

I listened to McCain's acceptance speech (full text here) last night. Much of it bored me, as most political speeches do. But I started perking up toward the end, when he related his POW experience, how that experience changed him, and how the result relates to his campaign for the Presidency.

What he said, in effect, is this: being imprisoned, mistreated, and manipulated by the North Vietnamese for years, reducing him at some points to complete dependence on his fellow American prisoners, but never causing him to accept his captors' cynical offer to release him out of turn, taught him that his life was not about him. It was about serving others in a cause greater than himself, and being constantly grateful to God for the opportunity to do that, no matter how much suffering and how many setbacks that might involve. That is the pivotal factor which has made John McCain the man he is. That is what makes his candidacy worthwhile.

Of course McCain has wanted to be President of the United States for many years. That means he has quite an ego, like most politicians—especially most Senators, who would love to be President if they could be. He is quick-tempered, unpredictable, and often takes pleasure in irritating, even alienating, ostensible allies as he reaches out to those they consider enemies. He is not a saint, any more than Barack Obama is a saint. But unlike Obama, McCain is an authentic hero. He didn't just go through a hazing rite. He didn't just kill. He was forged for a long time in a searing crucible. He professes to believe that his political career is justified only in terms of what motivated him then and what he learned then. Even if I thought he was insincere in that profession—which is not for me to judge—I would believe what he professed.

It is those terms, not his rather vague and understated theology, which explain why he is what the pundits call "pro-life." Years ago, his wife induced him to adopt a sick child she had taken off Mother Teresa's hands in Bangladesh; and this year, he has picked as his running mate a gun-totin' "hockey mom" who bore a Down's-syndrome child, as her fifth child no less, rather than abort him. OK, so he's wrong about some things, including embryonic stem-cell research. So what? I've never encountered a politician who's right about everything; I've never even encountered a pope who's right about everything. But I would vote for McCain over Obama even if Obama were pro-life, which he manifestly is not.

Obama is a smart, ambitious young man who, like McCain, benefited hugely from having a strong, loving mother. A law professor for nearly a dozen years, he has more academic smarts then McCain. He's a far more polished speaker than McCain. He professes to be about "change", so much so that the word has become a mantra; and the change is supposed to be from the partisan politics of division to the bipartisan politics of accomplishing what the American people so clearly want and need. But when one looks at Obama's record, what one finds is the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate. If such a man could reach out across the partisan divide as President, that would only be to toss a few crumbs he could afford to toss to a shrinking, demoralized Republican minority in Congress. McCain, by contrast, has a legislative record which proves he can work with Democrats, even liberals, to get things done. A lot of people, especially a lot of Republicans, don't like what thereby got done; but that, to me, is a truly secondary matter.

Thanks to Wendy's, the American lexicon now includes the question: "Where's the beef?" The important thing to me is that McCain has the beef to be President—not just as an agent of "change," whatever that would amount to at day's end, but more importantly as a man. In a world growing ever more dangerous and challenging, that's what we need. I don't expect all my readers, even all my blogmates, to agree with me. But I think I'm giving voice to a spirit that will move many voters, including many Catholic ones.
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