Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

Total Pageviews

Sunday, August 26, 2018


As usual, my son Tobias shows himself to be a better man than I am.  Here is what he posted on FaceBook about John McCain:

I am stepping away from what is supposed to be a short vacation to offer this one observation about the passing of Senator McCain and the encomiums that are being widely offered in memory of his military and political career.
I had many political disagreements with Senator McCain over the years, often about vitally important issues. There will be time enough to explore those. I also sometimes took issue with the narrative that surrounded his political career. But there are precious few politicians who do not curate their image and story, and there was a lot of substance behind Senator McCain’s image.
I do not care right now whether Senator McCain sometimes, or even often, fell short of the ideals that people are now invoking to celebrate his memory. Let us remember him at his best, as we all hope to be remembered. What I do care about is whether the people invoking those ideals actually believe in them.
John McCain was a patriot. He loved the United States. And I believe he always sought to defend this country as best he could, even if sometimes imperfectly. Let us talk now about patriotism — true patriotism. Let us talk now about deep commitment to the ideals of democracy, decency, and public service that people are now invoking in praise of the Senator. Let us ask who among us — and particularly, who among those singing his praises the loudest — is failing to defend those same vital principles.
The United States is under attack by a hostile foreign power. Our democracy was assaulted in 2016 and is being assaulted still. And the Oval Office is occupied by a man who has contempt for the idea of public service, who has no love of country and no commitment to others, who has surrounded himself with thugs and mobsters, and who cares nothing for anyone or anything but himself. The current occupant of the presidency is the antithesis of everything that Senator McCain is celebrated for. Whether Senator McCain deserves every piece of praise is not the issue — let us remember him generously. The issue is the members of that chorus of praise who are actively working to undermine those very principles by supporting and apologizing for and giving cover to the systematic attacks on the rule of law, the national interest, and basic human decency that are the daily fare of this appalling administration.
Make space for the celebrations of Senator McCain. There will be time enough to debate the details of his long record of public service. But now, right now, hold to account the people who are participating in that celebration. Do not let them invoke the narrative of Senator McCain without demanding that they be held to the standard they are trumpeting and held responsible if they have flagrantly violated that standard, as so many have.
Now is a time for decency. Remembering Senator John McCain in the best possible light is simple decency. But now is also a time for taking values and principles seriously. Do not let the enablers of this national crisis of democracy go unchallenged when they try to wrap themselves in Senator McCain’s memory.
Top of Form


s. wallerstein said...

I have no idea whether your son is a better man than you are, as you claim, but I prefer your manner of facing McCain's death to his.

I'm not going to explain why because I fear offending a proud father.

MS said...

I, frankly, don’t see any great inconsistency between what your son has written and your recognition that we may miss John McCain, blemishes and all. I am not saying this in a patronizing or sycophantic manner, to curry favor. I agree with everything your son has written. He is recognizing, despite Sen. McCain’s flaws, the personality traits that made him admirable; perfect, no, but in comparison to many others, admirable. And McCain did not shrink from acknowledging his own deficiencies. In a recent interview he said that his greatest moral failing was his extra-marital affair – something that Trump, obviously, would never do. Your son is also recognizing that many who today are praising McCain’s legacy are hypocrites, because they praise him in word only, but not in deed. Your son’s comments point out what I am concerned about when I read some of the other comments on this blog, and some of the articles that are being recommended for our review (e.g., the second article from Counterpunch recommended by Anonymous in his comment to your Metamorphosis posting) – the suggestion that liberal critics of Trump are overreacting to the threat that he presents to this country and succumbing to similar like-think that afflicts the political right; that, fundamentally, politics in this country are so flawed that it does not matter that Trump was elected vs. Hillary Clinton – someone with his fascistic leaning was bound to be elected eventually anyway, with or without Russian meddling, and corruption under Trump is no worse than it would have been under Clinton. I don’t buy that – I believe, as I have opined in prior comments, that Trump presents a unique threat to this country that would not have occurred but for Russian meddling and that, regardless Hillary Clinton’s shortcomings, the country would have been far better off had she been elected. I don’t believe that opposition to Trump is meaningless unless and until all fundamental injustice in this country is eradicated.

RobinMcDugald said...

Nil nisi bonum? It sounds like a good maxim to follow, and it's actually one I try to follow, though with someone like McCain, horrified by his role in the war on Vietnam, I find that very difficult. But how many of us will be able to say at some future date, "Remembering President Donald Trump in the best possible light is simple decency." ?

Anonymous said...

But how many of us will be able to say at some future date, "Remembering President Donald Trump in the best possible light is simple decency." ?

That is, indeed, a good question.

Jerry Fresia said...

At minimum, I agree with s.wallerstein.

s. wallerstein said...

I had forgotten about this and it did not appear in the tributes to McCain that I read.

You probably all remember when he sang the Beach Boys' song, Barbara Ann, but with the lyrics "Bomb Iran".

I'm sorry that I ever said anything mildly positive about him. Good riddance!

Dean said...

With all due respect, I cannot fathom what would prompt such a response, and in the name of "decency," no less. McCain was for decades a very powerful man, whose "imperfections" affected (by design) a larger number of people than those of ordinary people. I'm with Glenn Greenwald, I'm afraid. Qua public figure and politician, McCain is fair game. The notion that "[t]he current occupant of the presidency is the antithesis of everything that Senator McCain is celebrated for" is simply astonishing. First, it's faint praise, indeed. Second, Sarah Palin. Third, it assumes Trump isn't celebrated for anything by anybody. Clearly, that's incorrect. Why, then, doesn't "simple decency" demand judging Trump "in the best possible light"?

MS said...

To paraphrase an old Jewish aphorism, "Two political liberals, three opinions."

Anonymous said...

I think of John McCain whenever I open a can of beer, which is never, on account of a chronic gastrointestinal disorder. But you crapulent Rabelaisians cloak your love of booze in sanctimonious and sentimentsl eulogies. Pass the tripe.

LFC said...

The notion that "[t]he current occupant of the presidency is the antithesis of everything that Senator McCain is celebrated for" is simply astonishing.... [i]t assumes Trump isn't celebrated for anything by anybody.

No, it doesn't; there's no such assumption there. As I read it, it's T. Wolff stating that what McCain is generally celebrated for, whether rightly or wrongly (namely, patriotism, sacrifice, etc etc), doesn't apply to Trump. Taken that way, it doesn't seem too controversial, at least among those (i.e., virtually all readers of this blog) who are non-fans of Trump.

That said, I myself had a mostly negative view of McCain as a politician (despite an occasional good vote or statement of his) and doubt I wd have written a post like the one quoted. But I don't think it falls into the particular error being suggested.

LFC said...

P.s. I began blogging in the late spring of '08 (stopping about eight years later) and I just took a v brief glance at some of the posts I wrote about the '08 campaign in which McCain figured. For all his rep as a maverick, I was reminded that he ran a fairly conventional conservative campaign, certainly in terms of rhetoric, and that he fully bought in to quite standard Republican views (at least at the time) on foreign policy, economics etc.

LFC said...

Among other lines from the '08 campaign was McCain's "Americans don't hide from history; we make history."

To which a commenter on my blog at the time proposed adding: "And then we run screaming out of the room, get trashed, go to sleep, and wake up the next morning with no memory of what happened."

Which raises, via humor, some serious matters...

Dean said...

@LFC, Well, yes, logically speaking there is no such assumption. My point is simply that if McCain deserves credit for behavior for which he is "celebrated"--if being celebrated merits respect at the end of one's life--then we can't discount the fact that many people have, and do, and will celebrate(d) Trump. I'm not so sure that his fans don't celebrate him for patriotism, for example. How is their personal investment different from those who value McCain? My take: not much, not much at all.

Anonymous said...

Patriotism...the last refuge of a John McCain

Jim said...

Professor Wolff --

As the country continues to lurch forward through the neoliberal project, right-wing republicans like John McCain -- particularly in light of Donald Trump -- tend to come across as offering a voice of reason (and decency, if you can call it that). Shortly after the 2008 presidential election, I was driving on the highway and noticed a car in front of me that displayed a McCain/Palin for President bumper sticker. However, McCain's name had been crossed out so that the bumper sticker simply read "Palin for President." Intentionally or not, McCain paved the way for Trump. Although reluctant to do so, I agree with S. Wallerstein -- good riddance.

-- Jim

Anonymous said...

It's hard to believe that McCain was ever decent given that he even made crude jokes about Chelsea Clinton after Bill's election. He made similar crude jokes about every woman candidate sent up for congressional approval. Then he gave us Sarah Palin. Sorry I don't have anything good to say.

MS said...

Reading these comments critical of the eulogies being expressed in praise of John McCain, I am reminded of Ambrose Bierce's definition of an epitaph: An inscription on a tomb, showing that virtues acquired by death have a retroactive effect.

Perhaps I, too, have been guilty of this myopia combined with amnesia.

Heraclitus said...

I just want to strongly chime in with S. Wallerstein, Jerry and Dean.

MS said...

I'll let Marlene Dietrich, in "Touch of Evil," have the last word for me. Commenting on Capt. Quinlan (played by Orson Welles), who lies dead in a riverbed: "He was some kind of man. What does it matter what you say about people."

s. wallerstein said...

Let me explain why I singled out McCain singing "Bomb Iran" to the tune of "Barbara Ann" above.

McCain was 70 at the time. Many of us pass through a stage in late adolescence when although we have high principles, other people, especially others who are "othered", that is, our perceived enemies, matter little if at all, even if those others are children or not at all directly involved in the sins of their party.

At age 20 I could have cheerfully planted a bomb in a golf club frequented by rich Republicans and their families and walked off humming "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows".

So if McCain, as a 20 year old naval candidate, had joked about bombing Hanoi, well,
he could have grown out of it.

However, by age 70 most of us learn that others, even others who are othered, matter, that violence is no joke and is always a last resort after all other measures fail and that what Buddhists refer to as compassion is a grand virtue, one of the principle ones. That's normal spiritual maturation.

So it seems that McCain did not go through that normal spiritual maturation process (obviously Trump hasn't either), and that makes it clear that he was not fit to exercise offices of public responsibility. Since I believe that that process is one that one needs to discipline oneself to follow, he did not make the effort or have the discipline to follow that path.

Anonymous said...

The best I can say for McCain is that we could have done worse. I didn’t like what he seemed to have stood for—and that’s all I know/knew about him: the public persona. Who he was—I don’t know. And I don’t really care. Leave those concerns to his family and such friends as he had. He was a stranger to me, though I was familiar with his public image, and thus ‘knew’ him like I might know an actor who plays memorable roles. I know that he went through more hell as a POW than most people go through in their lives, but I have mixed feelings about even that: one the one hand, it must have been horrific, and one can only feel some compassion for any person going through that; on the other hand, what had he done, or had been doing, to get to the threshold of this hell in the first place? It’s not as if all roads lead to hell; one bears some responsibility for the particular roads one chooses to travel on—assuming, of course, that one has choices in these matters. Given his pedigree, and the fact that he wasn’t (or didn’t seem to be) especially bright, maybe he just went along with what was expected of him—as entitled and clueless. Nothing heroic or even unusual in that. Later on, he parlayed his resurrection from the living dead into a political career, indicating that he wasn’t clueless about what he was entitled to now. The public eats this stuff up: it never hurts to be a war hero if one wants to pursue a career in politics, and McCain or his handlers early on figured out how to feed the public this dish. Whatever. So, I didn’t care for the persona, the part he played in our political life, but the people who voted for him and otherwise enabled him are much the actors here as he ever was. And plenty of them are still with us and all around us. Most of the people who read this blog know that persona was originally a technical term in the theater—it meant a mask worn by an actor. I was curious about this term, and so I just looked up its story in Fowler’s Modern English Usage. The brief description I found of it there seems to me worth quoting—and applies with eerie accuracy to what I “know” of McCain: “Persona … is a term of Jungian psychology which Jung himself defined as ‘The individual’s system of adaptation to, or the manner he assumes in dealing with, the world. … One could say, with a little exaggeration, that the persona is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is.’”

Dean said...

Charles Pierce's take, a quite personal, carefully crafted one:

"He was destined, always, to disappoint me politically but that was only because we didn't agree on anything. The choice of Palin was where I climbed completely off the tire swing.... I never stopped liking the man, though. I make no apologies for that. I never stopped admiring him for the good things about him—the loyalty he inspired among people, his unquestioned physical courage, his instinctive response to the call of the better angels to which, tragically, he never found the will fully to surrender himself or his ambition."

Robert Shore said...

Tobias should read this op-ed piece by Stephen Kinzer, the outstanding Boston Globe political commentator:

Opinion | Stephen Kinzer
How to interfere in a foreign election

Boston Globe August 19, 2018

Anonymous said...