Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Eugene McCarthy equals . . .

Shortly after Gene McCarthy died, one of the three doofi (that's Power Line for the uninitiated) in remarking about his passing said that the Democratic party had nobody like him today, certainly not Hillary or Howard Dean. Tsk, tsk. Spot isn't going to link there; you can find it if you're really interested. Spot thought that was an especially precious and clueless remark and had thought about commenting on it. Indirectly, the Strib editorialists beat Spot to it, and earn a Spotty:

Editorial: Too bad GOP had no McCarthy in 2004

December 13, 2005

Eugene McCarthy's death on Saturday has triggered a flood of bittersweet memories and set off the inevitable comparisons between Iraq today and the Vietnam misadventure of four decades ago -- and all that went with it.

We would never wish for another 1968. The tear gas, the truncheons, the political and cultural recriminations, the calamitous assassinations are painful still. But that pivotal and tumultuous election year had something that 2004 lacked: the courage from within a political party to challenge a sitting president who was plainly and tragically wrong.

Republicans had no Gene McCarthy in 2004, even though many in the party knew what's clearer to most Americans now: that President Bush misled the nation into war in Iraq and that his administration on many fronts -- from antiterrorism to science to pension reform -- is driven by narrow ideology, not broad-based reality.

Iraq and Vietnam are different kettles of fish, but deception of the American public was central to the U.S. entry into each. Phantom WMD and links to al-Qaida were used as pretext for Iraq just as a phony report from the Gulf of Tonkin was used to widen the war in Southeast Asia. McCarthy voted for the Tonkin resolution in August 1964, but within two years came to regret it. By early 1967 he was criticizing the war, and by November he was challenging President Johnson in the primaries -- if only to get his attention.

"We do not need presidents who are bigger than the country," he summarized.

McCarthy's audacity, intellect and wit are sorely missing from today's political scene. The vacuum reminds us of a line uttered by John Houseman in the 1975 film "Three Days of the Condor," in which an old spy is asked if he misses the kind of action of days gone by, and he replies, "I miss that kind of clarity."

We miss it, too. Layers of willful deception by the Bush administration (the readiness of Iraqi troops as part of the "Plan for Victory" is only the latest fiction) make clarity difficult in today's world. McCarthy, in his prime, could have sliced through the fog with a raised eyebrow and a tart phrase.

When, in 1968, Johnson's loyalists mocked McCarthy as a "footnote in history," the Minnesota senator fired back with a quote from Winston Churchill, "But what a footnote!" For all his brilliant complexity, the nation could use another footnote like Gene McCarthy.

So, the proper comparison, my doofi friends, would be to Chuck Hagel or John McCain. But Spot knew Gene McCarthy, and Chuck and John are no Gene McCarthy.

Tags: are clueless about

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