Published 12:05 p.m. UTC Sep 4, 2018
Hypocrisy, they say, is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. If so, then much tribute was paid this weekend.
I am speaking, of course, of the funeral for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and the concomitant speechifying by politicians and pundits. And I wasn’t the only one to notice. As Tim Alberta wrote in Politico: “There are, after all, disparate realities — one inside the holy halls of the National Cathedral, where powerful people mourn the death of civility; and another in the surrounding city, where many of those same powerful people drive nails ever deeper into its coffin. And there is a greater juxtaposition still — this one between the virtue-signaling, convention-worshipping insiders of Washington and the mad-as-hell, burn-it-down voters in the provinces. This might not be Donald Trump’s town, but it’s still his country.”
McCain's funeral puts hypocrisy on display
Well said. Though some operatives tried to walk it back the next day, the McCain funeral was, despite his absence, all about our current president. As someone said on Twitter, they came not to praise McCain, but to bury Trump. And yet, despite solemn encomia to civility, honor, and integrity from the likes of Barack Obama and Henry Kissinger, amplified by the press’s Greek chorus, the notion that we used to live in some golden age of civility and bipartisanship exemplified by the career of Sen. McCain is belied by, among other things, the career of John McCain.
Now that he’s dead, McCain is a Good Republican. But when he was alive, and a threat to other people’s power, he was treated as a racist, a warmonger, and potentially unstable. He was vilified by the press, and by some of the very politicians who were speaking on his behalf. In the South Carolina primary, George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign, for example, used push polling to circulate the (false) rumor that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. Bush operatives also, according to a lengthy article in Vanity Fair, spread rumors that Cindy McCain was addicted to painkillers, and that John McCain visited prostitutes and was mentally unstable as a result of his time in a prisoner of war camp. Bush won the primary, and the nomination, and was on hand Saturday to praise McCain’s integrity at his funeral.
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In 2008, with McCain running for president again, the New York Times ran an unsubstantiated claim that McCain was having an affair with a female lobbyist, only to add a “note to readers” a year later (after the election was over, and Barack Obama was sworn in) disavowing the story: “An article published on February 21, 2008, about Senator John McCain and his record as an ethics reformer who was at times blind to potential conflicts of interest included references to Vicki Iseman, a Washington lobbyist. The article did not state, and The Times did not intend to conclude, that Ms. Iseman had engaged in a romantic affair with Senator McCain or an unethical relationship on behalf of her clients in breach of the public trust.”
One need only read the article above the “note to readers” to realize how absurd that claim is.
What happened to comparing McCain to Hitler?
The Atlantic ran a pre-election cover story on McCain, but the cover photo was taken by celebrity photographer Jill Greenberg. It made McCain look like Emperor Palpatine’s older, less-attractive brother. This was not by accident, but by design. On her blog, Greenberg actually bragged about her dirty trick of getting him to stand above a strobe placed on the floor to make him look old and scary.
Obama surrogate Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia) invoked Alabama racist George Wallace in talking about McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin. Jonathan Martin noted in Politico that McCain was being called racist without basis, simply because it was helpful to the Democrats. The Nation weighed in on McCain’s wartime use of the term "gook" as evidence of his racism.
Then-famous music star Madonna opened her concert tour by calling McCain Hitler and encouraging people to vote for Obama. And the popular Democratic blog DailyKos, not to be outdone, published a comparison of McCain to both Hitler and Stalin.
And, of course, the treatment was repeated with a different target in 2012, when Mitt Romney was given the same Hitler treatment. It’s as if every Republican who is in power, or who might be, is Hitler — but only as a temporary condition. (I’m old enough to remember when George W. Bush was Hitler). As soon as a new Republican target appears, the old Hitler gets rehabilitated, and even employed, by way of comparison, as a way to criticize the new one.
What’s all this about? It’s certainly not about civility, or decency, or bipartisanship. As David French wrote: “The contrast between the outpouring of love for McCain in his last days and the astonishing vitriol directed at him in 2000 and 2008 demonstrates once again how disingenuous, low, and cheap American politics were well before Trump came on the scene.”
And at this point, I suspect the voters are onto the game.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and the author of "The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself," is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @instapundit.