Remembering the “Old McCain”

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A funny thing happened after Barack Obama got elected. Everyone suddenly liked John McCain. His concession speech, they said, was a return to the “old McCain,” the one everyone applauded when he bucked the system way back in 2000 and challenged Republican front-runner George W. Bush during the GOP primaries. Everyone liked that McCain, and said he had disappeared during the course of his 2008 campaign. The narrative went that his campaign had been hijacked, the candidate himself had been muzzled, and another ‘they’—Schmidt etc. al—were controlling the “real McCain” and twisting his beloved maverick image.

The lovefest for the “old McCain,” began with the Alfred E. Smith dinner, and continued with the Saturday Night Live appearance the weekend before the election, where it seemed he was willfully poking fun at his attention-starved, power-hungry Vice Presidential pick, Sarah Palin. He seemed to be saying to the lefty American public, we’re on the same side, you and me. The McCain image overhaul culminated with this week’s all-in-good fun appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, where he joshed and joked: “I’m sleeping like a baby. I sleep two hours, wake up and cry.”

Perhaps his reversal to the “Old McCain” was calculated. But i think we’re just as complacent. We want to remember the “old McCain,” not the one who dominated the campaign, throwing out invectives about socialism and Bill Ayers and all the other wag the dog tales of woe. I call this pre-emptive revisionist nostalgia—that is, nostalgia for an event that didn’t happen at all and for a time that isn’t even over yet.

Sarah Palin, just a few days ago, remember, was a dangerous pick, a terrible hatemonger, a fraud dressed in a $150,000 wardrobe. Faster than you can say “community organizer,” Sarah Palin was tarred and feathered by her own camp, derided for supposed ignorance about world affairs—not knowing Africa was a continent, or which countries signed the North American Free Trade Agreement—making all those arguments about sexism in the media suddenly valid. Faster still, she retreated to her home state and gave interviews with the local reporters, speaking competently about energy reform in complete sentences, properly using the English language. Her look suddenly lost the slick polish we had gotten used to—her hair was a little frizzier, less done, her clothes a little more frumpy, and Sarah Palin, suddenly stopped seeming like Cruella Deville, and was almost….sympathetic.

Did someone spike my drink?

It’s happening with the rest of the Republican guard, too. Bush’s open arm embrace of Obama’s transitional period is being viewed as supremely kind—”generous”— as if he has any other choice, given the state he’s brought our country into. Never forget, these are the final days of his presidency, and Bush wants to be remembered better than he is certain to be remembered—as a total, utter, failure.

Bush’s cooperation with the man who will be President is being hailed as a monumental achievement; likewise, the rest of his administration’s images are being getting softened with this post-electoral nostalgic glow. Condi Rice, once considered by the left to be as evil and as fiercely right wing as her boss, held a press conference, in which she essentially praised Obama’s win as an awesome achievement that made her very proud. You could hear the collective liberal swoon. Awwwww. How soon we forget, it was she who helped pushed the Iraq War to the American public. After she appeared at the Glamour magazine awards with a new, fresh updo, Huff Post readers gushed, “I’ve always admired her for what she has accomplished. I don’t care for her politics, but she’s a great role model.”

They say time heals all wounds, but the didn’t mention that it can happen in seconds.

Colin Powell, too, gets a pass. After four years out of the administration, he’s forgiven for his unfortunate WMD at the UN moment, and we look askance at what those actions helped bring, because he endorsed the right man.

Pre-emptive revisionist nostalgia might be a way to feel less hateful toward our current administration and help cleanse ourselves of our dark thoughts over the past eight years, but we should never forget.

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