John McCain’s Revisionist History Is a Team Effort

John McCain’s Revisionist History Is a Team Effort by Matt Taibbi – The Burning Platform

I hope my editors boil in oil in the afterlife for asking me to review John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls, the new HBO doc that premieres Memorial Day and stars David Brooks, Henry Kissinger, George W. Bush and a succession of other wax-museum escapees who line up to evade and prevaricate about things McCain-related and not.

The review copy might as well have been titled, Go Ahead, Say Something Bad About a Terminal Cancer Patient. I felt like a monster 20 seconds in.

Having covered McCain’s 2008 run, I had mixed feelings about the man anyway. Just as a person, McCain came across as the kind of insistently obnoxious guy you hear complaining about the slow service in an airport bar – a type I always found oddly sympathetic.

But the political myth-making around McCain has always been tough to take, and this movie is basically two hours of it. The myths aren’t just about McCain, either, but also an effort to gloss over about six decades of American history, and how we got to the terrible place we’re in today.

The movie is called For Whom the Bell Tolls because McCain calls the Hemingway novel his “lodestar.” Mark Salter says its theme, “The harder the cause, even lost, the better the cause,” spoke deeply to his personal belief system.

McCain has certainly fought for a lot of lost causes in his life. But most of them were causes he deserved to lose.

For instance, one of the things McCain will be most harshly judged for is his decision to make Sarah Palin his running mate in 2008. Many people (correctly) believe that moment paved the way for the rise of what David Brooks in the movie calls “a disease” of anti-intellectualism in the Republican Party.

But the excuses offered in the film by McCain supplicants like Rick Davis and Salter is that McCain, instead of running against expected establishment opponent Hillary Clinton, had to find a way to run against “change” in Barack Obama.

George W. Bush, the storyline goes, was the most unpopular president ever at the time, with a 25 percent approval rating. Obama, as a result, was kicking McCain’s ass on the stump by pointing out that McCain said he shared a “common philosophy” with the hated Bush.

In this situation, the legend continues, McCain had to gamble: “Fight change with change,” as daughter Meghan puts it in the film.

So McCain brought in Sarah Palin, who was a hell of a change, all right, with the IQ of a cheese-wheel – she made Dan Quayle sound like Spinoza. McCain’s campaign was cooked from that moment, because as the months passed, he couldn’t conceal his growing contempt for his own decision, leading to a fracture within the party that has persisted to this day.

This narrative makes it out to be just McCain’s bad luck that he had to run against a brilliant marketing phenomenon like Barack Obama at a time when Republicans’ national popularity was plummeting along with Bush.

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