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"So What Do You Do, Matt Welch?": Kate Coe did a Media Bistro interview w/ me; you can read it at the link. The Hot Stove League and Tribune Co. tribulations are analogized.

01/19/2007 11:25 PM  |  Comment (3)

How John McCain Found God: Remember the other week back, when I posted all the reactions to my L.A. Times McCain deal, and the most laughably off-base criticism came from a site called Ankle Biting Pundits? Well, I see from the InstaPundit that John McCain's "Internet Guy" is a fellow named Patrick Hynes, and, well, guess what website Hynes founded and acts as "proprietor" of?

He didn't write the post in question, though there was this addendum at the bottom:

Hynesy Says: What a remarkably petty and childish editorial from the L.A. Times! Someday, perhaps, criticisms of Sen. McCain will graduate beyond name calling and puerile armchair psychoanalyzing. But today evidently is not that day.
Hynesy, aside from his talents for self-monikery, is author of a 2006 book (released July 4!) called In Defense of the Religious Right: Why Conservative Christians Are the Lifeblood of the Republican Party and Why That Terrifies the Democrats. From the Publishers Weekly capsule:
Hynes does a good job demonstrating the demographic diversity of this voting bloc as well as the diversity of their beliefs-showing how they cannot all be lumped under the banner of a single high-profile leader, such as Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson.
Hmmm, Falwell and Robertson, Falwell and Robertson ... where have I heard those names before?? The PW review goes on to say:
[T]he level of discourse approaches low-brow telejournalism, picking apart sound-bites from left-wing politicos and pundits rather than taking on reasoned arguments. [...] Unfortunately, the lion's share of the book is more like a snarky blog than a serious consideration of the religious right. Despite its title, Hynes' work is not a defense in the standard sense; Hynes is more interested in strengthening group identity among one of America's largest voting blocs than convincing opponents of that bloc to reconsider their position.
I bring this up not to dwell on Jeremy Lott's pal, but because one of the 400 interesting things about reading McCain's four best-selling books is how they progress from cheerfully profane tales of youthful indiscretion tempered by severe real-world tests, to joyless hectoring about comportment and God. You can see the progression from just the titles: Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir gives way to Worth the Fighting For, then Why Courage Matters: A Way to a Braver Life, and finally Character Is Destiny: Inspiring Stories Every Young Person Should Know and Every Adult Should Remember.

That last book in particular, despite having great subjects to riff on (George Washington, Pat Tillman, Mark Twain), is about as enjoyable as watching a kid eat spinach. The six sections are entitled "Honor," "Purpose," "Strength," "Understanding," "Judgment," and "Creativity." Every chapter has an interchangeable title like "Honesty," "Respect," "Authenticity," "Loyalty," "Dignity." More germane to the topic at hand, at least half the stories become excuses to prattle on about God.

Let's back up a moment -- You do realize, don't you, that we're talking about a guy whose nickname well into adulthood was "McNasty"? Who spent the first half of his first book talking about extraordinary lengths he would go to find booze, throw legendary parties and date strippers? Who to this day cusses up a blue streak? Whose father was widely known as "Good Goddamned McCain," and whose grandfather "smoked, swore, drank, and gambled at every opportunity he had"? God does play a role in Faith of My Fathers; there are some particularly moving moments of faith and celebration during his Hanoi captivity. But the Guy in the Sky hardly plays a starring role. Character Is Destiny, though, is a veritable Godapalooza.

"God has given us ... life, shown us how to use it, but left it to us dispose of as we choose," he writes in the first paragraph of the introduction. The first chapter he devotes to, of all people, Sir Thomas More, a man history remembers for (among other accomplishments) being put to death by Henry VIII, who he had served with distinction, because he refused to publicly endorse the King's heretical marriage to Anne Boleyn and creation of the Church of England. Here's how the chapter ends:

In his last address, spoken moments earlier, he had asked the crowd of witnesses to pray for his soul and for the king, for he died "the King's good servant, but God's first."

One swift stroke and the king's will was done. The life on earth of honest Thomas More was ended. His glory had just begun.

McCain never even approaches this level of piety in his previous three volumes, but the truly creepy thing about his affection for "honest" Thomas More is that the man's religious faith was so strong that, well, he sentenced God know how many Lutherans to death, for heresy. Here's how McCain handles the "to be sure" graf:
More defended the Church out of religious principle, and because he and the king feared the uncontrollable social disorder that a permanent split among the faithful would surely cause. But his hatred, if it could be called that in such a mild man, was for the heresy and not the heretics. Death was the judgment for heretics in the courts that Thomas More governed, but he went to great lengths to encourage the accused to recant their views and escape their sentence.
That's a bit of writing worth studying. Almost sounds like the guy was helping the people he was executing for belief-crime, doesn't it? Note, too, the incredible deployment of the passive tense in that last sentence. And the not-insignificant fact that More did the EXACT SAME GODDAMNED THING TO THE INNOCENT AS HIS EXECUTIONERS DID TO HIM.

Anyhoo, Chapter 2 is about Gandhi. Totally gratuitous religious bit, in the second paragraph:

I can't offer you an informed explanation of Gandhian philosophy; it is too rooted in his religious devotion, derived mostly from Hindu beliefs, for me to fully comprehend, much less explain, even though his beliefs were influenced by the traditions of all major religions, including mine.
Chapter 3? Joan of Arc, of course! Here's how that story ends:
God's messenger went bravely to her death, forgiving her accusers and asking only that a priest hold high a crucifix for her to see it above the flames. She raised her voice to heaven, calling out to her saints and her Savior. Even her enemies wept at the sight. Her executioner was shaken with remorse, and an anguished English soldier who witnessed the crime feared for his soul. "God forgive us," he cried, "we have burned a saint."
It goes on like that, praising various Puritans, a Vietnamese Catholic, Mothers Antonia and Theresa, and so on. And let me be clear, since our Ankle Biting friends had so much difficulty with the comprehension last time around -- I got no beef with hi-fiving our religious pals. But when a presidential candidate who's in the middle of a long, slow, and rather embarrassing campaign of sucking up to the social conservatives he rightly called "agents of intolerance" last time around suddenly and dramatically starts throwing around pious language while loudly proclaiming his faith, you'll forgive me for not confusing the act with anything resembling "straight talk."

01/16/2007 10:57 PM  |  Comment (9)

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