Justin’s note: John McCain has passed away.
The former senator and presidential candidate was 81 years old.
Of course, you probably know this. McCain’s death was the biggest news story for about a week. It’s all most people wanted to talk about, and that includes Doug Casey.
That’s right. Doug wrote me days after McCain died and said “we should probably talk about this.” So I got him on the phone as soon as I could to get his thoughts…
Justin: Doug, the mainstream media widely remember McCain as a patriot, maverick, and a decent man. But we both know that your opinions often differ from the mainstream. So… what are your thoughts on McCain and his legacy?
Doug: Where to begin with McCain? Of course it’s generally considered unseemly to speak ill of the dead. But why? I don’t have a problem with it because I like to call a spade a spade anytime, but especially when we’re talking about career politicians. Why are they, of all people, treated with special respect?
Only puff pieces have been written about McCain in the mainstream media since his death. Hagiographies, appropriate for a saint. The Establishment is trying to canonize him, while the hoi polloi just believe what they’re told over and over again. It’s shameful and inappropriate.
Now, I never met the man, but it seems that he was capable of personal charm. His notoriously volatile temper was promoted as a sign of authenticity, instead of instability. That, plus his time as a prisoner of war [POW], is basically what his whole reputation is built on.
Spending five years as a POW was, at least after the fact, the best thing that ever happened to McCain. His entire life, reputation, and position are built around this fact. Neither did it hurt that he was the son of a high-ranking admiral. How else could somebody who was a known screwup throughout his youth reach the political levels he did?
Justin: What do you mean by that? How was McCain a “screwup” in his youth?
Doug: It’s acknowledged that when McCain was young he sowed a lot of wild oats. There’s nothing wrong with that. If anything, it’s a plus, showing he wasn’t a wuss who lived solely for other people’s approval. But he was apparently at fault in two serious plane accidents, including the USS Forrestal disaster, which took the lives of 134 US seamen.
Naval aviators are elite; they don’t get many second—forget about third—chances. There’s reason to suspect that the only reason he wasn’t drummed out of the Navy was because he was the son of an admiral. Of course, it’s hard to tell what the facts are with a highly politicized character such as McCain. Nobody wants to say anything bad about him.
Justin: And that’s largely because of what he endured in Vietnam?
Doug: Yes. McCain was famously shot down and spent five years in a prison camp. But the simple fact that someone was a POW doesn’t necessarily say anything about that person other than that they had some really bad luck. I’m very sympathetic to someone in that position, but almost every American aviator held as a POW survived.
It’s a pity that McCain had to go through imprisonment. The details of what happened to him and what he did or didn’t do, and why, are sketchy and disputed. I can imagine almost anybody would be under huge pressure to do things that he might later regret.
That’s not the problem. The problem is that he used his questionable military record to build his political career. He’s not unique that way. John Kerry did the same thing with his questionable decorations to become a senator, a Democratic presidential candidate, and Secretary of State.
When the Vietnam War came to an end in 1973, there were negotiations between Henry Kissinger and the Vietnamese government about US POWs. At the time, it seemed very certain that there were a couple thousand American POWs being held by the Vietnamese. But only about 500 of them returned to the United States. The other 1,500 or so were kept in North Vietnam. [Editor’s note: This article is a good summary of the situation.]
Justin: And why was that?
Doug: It seems they were held as a bargaining chip. The Vietnamese expected war reparations for the immense damage that the Americans inflicted on their country.
The negotiations on the terms of their repatriation bogged down; the US didn’t want to pay the indemnity Hanoi demanded. And after a while, neither the Vietnamese nor the Americans wanted to acknowledge these people. They were an embarrassment for both governments. So the assumption is that they quietly died in prison. Maybe they simply “disappeared.”
But we’ll never know the truth because McCain was instrumental in making sure that the records of what happened were buried. We may never know what happened to those real or alleged POWs. They’re hidden behind a veil of secrecy now.
Justin: Why would he do that?
Doug: Who knows? Well, McCain knew. And that’s important because his entire political career is built on his Vietnam War record. And yet, his military record is completely unexceptional. Or even some place between undistinguished and shameful. But it’s hard to know the facts.
Why might that be? Maybe elements in the Establishment felt the US needed a national hero in Congress. I don’t recall there being many, or any, other than John Glenn the astronaut. You need the occasional hero—either real or manufactured—every generation or so to redeem the image of Congress. Nobody wants to think they’re 100% venal thieves and scumbags. McCain was in an ideal position as Chair of the Armed Services committee to push through all kinds of spending. His hero status sanctified whatever he did. A good case can be made that he was apotheosized because they needed a hero.
Justin: And what would you say about McCain’s legacy as a politician?
Doug: Well, this is much easier because we know what he’s done since he’s been in office. His track record as a politician is horrible, if you value fiscal solvency, personal freedom, or peace—the three things that really count for someone in office. He was kind of a reverse image of Ron Paul.
For one, he was involved in the Keating Five scandal where there’s no question he was paid a lot of money by Keating during the savings and loan scandal days. And he somehow managed to escape that.
He deserted his wife who was in dire health straits, and married a rich heiress. Now, everybody makes mistakes in their personal lives. But I find that dishonorable. I don’t know the exact circumstances—all we have is news reports from the time—but it doesn’t look good. Nobody talks about that.
More important, he was a man with no guiding political principles, except perhaps building the power of the State. He disguised that by cultivating the image of a maverick.
He styled himself a maverick because he often didn’t vote with the Republican establishment. And that’s laudable and understandable. But it wasn’t due to any principles. He did it because he was basically a Democrat. He shared all the values that Democrats have at heart. He was an archetypical RINO; a republican in name only. He didn’t do, or believe in, anything that Republicans supposedly stand for. I say supposedly because although Republicans are said to believe in fiscal responsibility and small government, that’s a sham. Once they’re in control, they build the Welfare State and the Warfare State just as rapidly as the Democrats.
It was purely public relations that turned a man without any principles into a lovable maverick. He was the exact opposite. He was a lifelong member of the Deep State.
McCain represented the worst of both parties. From a domestic point of view, he was an arch liberal, a welfare statist, always giving away other people’s money. He exemplified the worst of the Democratic Party from that point of view. As for foreign policy, I’d have to characterize him as an actual criminal. There’s never been a war that he didn’t actively support—Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, West Africa, the Ukraine, and Syria, the current disaster. He tried to provoke wars with Russia and China.
The man’s character was exemplified by the time he was taped singing “Bomb Bomb Iran” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ song “Barbara Ann.”
Everything—and I mean every single thing—this man did in foreign affairs, which is where he was most famous, has been wrong headed, destructive, and disastrous.
Justin: And yet, the Establishment seems to love him. Why is that?
Doug: Well, he was the Pentagon’s number one friend. And, as Randolph Bourne said, “War is the health of the State.” He was a pathological warmonger. War was apparently a force that gave his life meaning.
But you really don’t dare say anything bad about McCain today. I have an online subscription to The Times of London, and they did a hagiographic article on him. Somebody wrote a letter to the editor, which debunked him completely. Even though it was written in a polite and erudite manner, the letter was deleted from the site the next day.
This letter is now down the memory hole, except for other letters that reference it. The Times’ editors apparently felt it was a sacrilege to keep it online. You don’t dare say anything bad about the guy since his death, in any of the mainstream media.
In fact, there’s no reason to say anything good about him. He was just a guy who was in the right place at the right time, and had a background and a personality that lent itself to being made into a celebrity. He’s being turned into a saint, much the way that people turned Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR into saints after their deaths. It’s no coincidence that they’re the worst presidents, along with Lyndon Johnson, the US has ever had—from the viewpoint of personal freedom, fiscal responsibility, and peace. But the best from the viewpoint of the Deep State.
We increasingly live in a media-driven, PR-saturated world. Governments and politicians naturally take advantage of that—and the fact the public wants idols—to make one of their number into some type of hero or saint whenever possible. Better that the opposite were true. These people are not the best, brightest, or most ethical. They’re not great philosophical thinkers. They’re basically just political hacks that work to maintain the status quo, and in fact increase the power of the state everywhere.
Venal nobodies who backslapped and backstabbed their way to the top can easily be transformed into heroes. It’s like a vastly exaggerated version of what happened to Peter Sellers’ character in Being There. A testimony to the sad state of civilization today.
McCain is perhaps one of the greatest examples of this. Someone who—however charming he might have sometimes been—was just a destructive warmonger, marketed as an icon deserving of flags at half mast. It’s evidence for the existence of the Deep State, which is basically a loose coterie of people who share dirigiste values. When one of their front men goes down they close ranks, and go to work to make him look great and good. They want to convince the booboisie that, like the canonized McCain, Deep Staters are basically great and good.
Justin: I think you hit the nail on the head. I don’t know if you saw the “story” about George W. Bush handing Michelle Obama a piece of candy during McCain’s memorial service. People were saying things like, “Aw, this just warms my heart” and “what a sweet gesture.”
And I’m not saying that people shouldn’t feel that. But it’s interesting how the public perception changes so quickly toward certain political figures. I mean the mainstream media now views George W. Bush as some sort of cute grandfather figure or saint. Everyone seems to have quickly forgotten all the terrible things he did while in office.
Doug: Well, almost all these political figures have some redeeming assets. Hitler, Stalin and Mao all had some appealing features. That’s how they got to where they were. They had some virtues, and they could be very personally charming. But that’s not what’s important when you’re looking at a politician. It’s the effect he has on the world that’s important.
And I’d say McCain was a total and absolute disaster from the point of view of the economy, the point of view of personal freedom, from the point of international peace.
We should all just be thankful he was never elected president.
Justin: Thanks, Doug. Great stuff, as always.
Doug: You’re welcome.
Justin’s note: You’re invited to meet Doug, along with all of our Casey gurus—including Nick Giambruno, E.B. Tucker, Dave Forest, and Marco Wutzer—at our first-ever Legacy Investment Summit in Bermuda next month.
Keep in mind, not everyone will be able to come. But this letter is your invitation. And when you come, you will not just hear the best ideas these world-renowned experts have to offer…
You’ll meet them face-to-face, have drinks with them at the cocktail parties, and get exclusive insights they won’t be sharing anywhere else.
It’s VIP access to high-level financial thinkers you can’t get anywhere else. Get all the details here.
Today, a reader responds to Doug’s interview from last week on the “politically correct” movement.
Mr. Casey likes to blame progressives, social justice warriors, cultural Marxists and socialists for PC culture—as if they have any power. Meanwhile common sense tells us that huge cultural shifts like PC originate in the diabolical minds of the wealthy elite.
As always, you can send any questions or suggestions for the Dispatch right here.
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