The Mess => Canadian Politics => Topic started by: E.R. Campbell on July 30, 2005, 14:37:39

Title: Where's Canada's John McCain?
Post by: E.R. Campbell on July 30, 2005, 14:37:39
I don't always agree with the National Post's Jonathan Kay, but I think this column is spot on.
Where's Canada's John McCain?

Jonathan Kay

National Post

July 30, 2005

Parliament has been adjourned for a month now. You are forgiven for not noticing. Citizens become engaged in politics when they are drawn in by charismatic leaders with original ideas: Pierre Trudeau, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Mike Harris, Rene Levesque. But Canada is led by Paul Martin -- an ideological nullity, robotically disposed toward whatever policy happens to be endorsed by a bare majority of survey respondents. Canada has effectively become a nation governed by algorithm.

This explains why so many Canadians continue to be captivated by U.S. politics -- even as they profess to detest George W. Bush and the people surrounding him. It is not just that America is bigger, richer and more powerful than we are. It is that leaders there aren't afraid to go to the wall over big, bold, controversial ideas like social security privatization, abortion and democratizing the Arab world. (In Canada, by contrast, we can't even get a leader on either side of the aisle to break the ancient taboo on private health care -- even now that the Supreme Court has given them the green light.)

Our leadership deficit is on my mind this week, thanks to an hour spent listening to a rebroadcast NPR interview with Republican Senator John McCain -- a Vietnam vet and former navy pilot whose outlook is so different from that of Canadian politicians, he might as well come from another planet.

In 2000, McCain made a strong run for the Republican presidential nomination before being sunk by a smear campaign. But his stock remains high: Having bucked the Republican establishment by championing campaign finance reform and railing against pork-barrel spending, he's earned a reputation as a principled maverick. Many see him as a serious contender for the 2008 GOP Presidential nomination.

If you have the time, listen to the interview. (at You will hear McCain wax, not about partisan politics, but about the historical and literary figures who have inspired him. Top of the list is Robert Jordan, the dutiful protagonist of Ernest Hemingway's Spanish Civil War epic For Whom The Bell Tolls.

"Jordan had a mission, and that mission had to be accomplished," says McCain of the Loyalist guerrilla fighter. "And he did it stoically. At the end, he's sitting there with his machine gun, with his crushed leg, and he says, 'The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.' To me, that means everything. Maximize your time. Be associated with a cause greater than your self-interest. Care about the world, not just about your own part of it -- which is the opportunity the United States has today."

From most politicians' mouths, such high-flown words would induce eye-rolling. But McCain has lived the Robert Jordan code. In 1967, he was flying a mission over North Vietnam when a surface-to-air missile took the right wing off his A-4 Skyhawk. He ejected, and spent the next 5 1/2 years enduring torture and solitary confinement in a Hanoi jail cell.

McCain's ordeal might have been briefer: When the North Vietnamese learned he was the son of a navy admiral (and the grandson of another), they offered to send him home. But McCain refused, because that would have meant turning his back on fellow inmates. "I knew that Robert Jordan, if he were in the next cell to mine, he would be heroic," he says. "He would be stoic, he wouldn't give up -- and Robert would expect me to do the same thing."

I tried to remember the last time I'd heard an interview with a Canadian leader that I'd found half as inspiring -- and came up blank. Public debate and oratory in this country consists of uttering bromides about multiculturalism, bilingualism and the other half-dozen or so topics that have been approved for ritualized adulation. If any Liberal started talking about Hemingway or old-fashioned martial stoicism on the CBC, he'd be smacked down as a sexist and a warmonger.

McCain isn't representative: American politics has more than its share of uninspiring figures -- career politicians who follow the money-greased route from law school to local office, to the House of Representatives, to the Senate or governor's mansion and beyond. But among the duds can be found a healthy crop of independent-minded entrepreneurs, celebrities, jocks, war heroes and even astronauts. These specimens can survive American politics with their integrity intact because its republican system of government permits legislators to speak their mind, and vote against their own party. In a country with a proud and ongoing military tradition, bold individualists like McCain, who have proven themselves in war-time, are especially welcome.

In Parliament, on the other hand, almost every vote is effectively whipped, which means that even those few free-thinkers who enter public life end up burying their convictions and mumbling the party line. (Hello, Irwin Cotler.) That's why Question Period resembles nothing more than a quacking contest between two opposing sets of trained ducks. (The only reason the last Parliament generated any excitement is that both sides happened to have the same number of quackers.)

When Parliament comes back in September, Liberals and Conservatives alike will look for an inspiring successor to take over from their respective parties' colourless incumbents. A quick scan of the backbenches suggests slim pickings. As now, Canadians seeking inspiration from politics will have to tune into a U.S. radio station.

© National Post 2005

It is important to reiterate Kay's point.  McCain is sui generis.  There are no others like him in the US or Europe and few who are even similar ever appear and stay on.  But some do.  There are always a few, more or less similar to McCain in the US and usually one or two in Britain, too.  There are none in Canada and I am hard pressed to remember when there was one.  Gorgeous George Hees, maybe, in his later years when he was an untouchable elder statesman and outspoken advocate for [his veterans, but, by and large Hess was a prosaic ward heeler, a party hack.  Jean Marchand?  Maybe, a wee tiny bit, but pale in comparison to McCain.

There are McCain types in Canada.  Why do they avoid politics, like the plague?  If they, the McCain types in Canada, do avoid politics then maybe our political system is rotten.
Title: Re: Where's Canada's John McCain?
Post by: Fishbone Jones on July 30, 2005, 14:59:43
Lew MacKenzie tried, but when they realized he would champion a strong military, foreign policy and have little time for diplomacy with the UN, he was blackballed.

Maybe the current CDS would consider trying for it after he retires. He'd have my vote, and with the way things are starting to swing, probably many others. He just has to keep the momentum.

We need someone with a PROPER military background in there. Not someone with a private school Air Cadet background, which was the Cretin's idea of experience with MacAllum for MND.
Title: Re: Where's Canada's John McCain?
Post by: Britney Spears on July 30, 2005, 15:14:52
...and people wonder why I despise Karl Rove.  ;)

I am a big fan of honorable conservatives like McCain, to the extent that we even share the same heroes. For Whom The Bell Tolls was Hemingway's best work of prose, and Don Roberto his most compelling character, the epitome of the soldier-scholar. Maybe I'm just a sucker for sappy love stories, but I think it should be required reading for anyone deploying overseas. 

Sadly, I think that McCain'a principles and integrity will ensure that he never get very far in politics.
Title: Re: Where's Canada's John McCain?
Post by: Thucydides on August 01, 2005, 22:59:40
John McCain is a compelling figure, an undoubtedly heroic person, able to speak forthrightly about positions that matter to him, but in the end, he is a politician, and knows how to use theater to advance his causes.

Looking to military figures for leadership is a long standing tradition in many civilizations and cultures, we have romantic images of warrior kings ranging from real life figures like Ramses II (the Great) to mythopoetic creations like King Arthur.

Reality has a way of splashing cold water on these ideas, for example, Gaius Marius was a general of unquestionable military and administrative ability, and he was recruited into politics, where his popularity rapidly faded and his ineptness was partially responsible for the start of the "Social War" in 91 BC. Other soldiers turned politician have equally mixed reviews, ranging from Alcibiades, Oliver Cromwell, Ieyasu Tokugawa and  Adolf Hitler, just to name a few examples.

McCain's run for the Republican nomination prior to the 2000 elections was entertaining, but ultimately he really did not say much that was outside the "mainstream" positions (when you attempt to deconstruct his proposed platform), and the main problem that I can see is he had very little support from the Republican "establishment". Imagine a McCain presidency where he would be at odds with the Republican Congress  :o.... As for his other major accomplishment, campaign finance reform, it spawned the noxious 527 groups, such as MOVEON, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars spewing toxic attack ads (and violating the spirit and letter of the law by sharing staff with the Democrats and coordinating their ads with DNC policy shifts), perhaps the largest example of the law of unintended consequences ever.

Political operators like Karl Rove or Warren Kinsella do not work for the Prince of Darkness (I would have run into them at our company outings  ;)), but rather are tuned into what the electorate "wants", and attempts to spin their candidate to match. How else could a thuggish and petty little ward heeler from Shawinigan rise to almost unchallenged dictatorial power over our nation? Perhaps the biggest obstacle to a former military member becoming a politician is the fact that they were commanders, who did not have to bargain, compromise or "sell" their ideas, they just gave orders and the deed was accomplished. What works on the field of battle does not work so well in the marketplace of ideas, or even less well in the halls of parliament.
Title: Re: Where's Canada's John McCain?
Post by: jmacleod on August 07, 2005, 10:53:46
Yes our country needs a John McCain, but wars produce the John McCains, and Canada has not
been in the forefront as it was in World War II and to a lesser extent Korea - General Lewis
MacKenzie and General Richard Hillier appear to be the type of soldiers who impress the public
and should have a significant political role. Only the Conservatives can change the direction of
the country, but for whatever reason they seem to have mislaid their political skills, and constantly
underestimate the government party. A note about Hemingway. He wrote "For Whom The Bell
Tolls" and created the character of Robert Jordan for his great friend actor Gary Cooper - in my
opinion, his greatest work. The film of course is a classic. The late Premier Robert Stanfield
of Nova Scotia, always reminded me of Cooper, with his wit and articulate opinions, which many
in the public were unaware of. He would have been one of our best Prime Ministers. MacLeod
Title: Re: Where's Canada's John McCain?
Post by: Thucydides on August 10, 2005, 00:11:17
Kind of an interesting conumdrum here; we say we admire forthright men like John McCain, Lew Mackezie, General Rick Hillier, but when the rubber meets the road it is twits like "Mr Dithers" or Carolyn Parrish who are obviously hits with the voters.

Frankly, history seems to suggest the public DO NOT want to have a forthright man or woman telling them what has to be done unless they are about to be consumed by a looming crisis. On the plus side, Winston Churchill was available to take over as WW II exploded; the "Iron Lady" was elected when an economic crisis was about to sink England, Ronald Reagan was elected when it seemed America had reached rock bottom during the Cold War...on the minus side, Adolf Hitler was pretty clear in how heproposed to lead Germany out of its economic crisis.

Do we need a John McCain? We certainly do. Do we really want to follow them? Well, that is a different matter altogether.
Title: Re: Where's Canada's John McCain?
Post by: tomahawk6 on August 20, 2005, 09:25:17
McCain's campaign failed because his platform wasnt as attractive as Bush's. McCain is angling for another shot in 08 and I dont think he has a prayer in hell of winning the Republican nomination he just isnt conservative enough. I think he is arrogant and I dont like his liberal stance on some issues.