McCain and the Doomsday Mob:
Cutting and Running
By Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice (etc.) 5/29/08
Two months ago, on March 27 to be exact, I wrote about John McCain’s pastors—John Hagee and Rod Parsley. I cited a few of their juicier quotes: stuff about our upcoming divine nuclear war to destroy Islam, how god finally stuck it to New Orleans, jokes about selling black slaves, how we gotta pop a thermonuclear cap in Russia, how Muslims have a spiritual mandate to kill Christians and Jews—that kind of stuff. And I wrote about how McCain was present to bear witness personally to some of the wackier stuff these lunatics were uttering.
That was two months ago, back when the press was all agog about Pastor Wright’s cogent analysis of racism in America.
Last week the story about the hatemongers that McCain was seeking out and sucking up to for endorsements finally broke in the mainstream media. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s, (or in this case elephant’s) back was the unearthing of a Hagee sermon describing Adolf Hitler as an agent of god whose job was to usher Jews to the promised land via the European holocaust. In Hagee’s Temple of Doom scenario, the Jews need to be in Israel so the apocalypse can begin, helped along by an American nuclear attack on Russia. Once the apocalypse comes, and Hagee’s followers are whisked away in the rapture, Hagee is done with the Jews, who as nonbelievers will rot in hell.
I understand Hagee’s logic, and it’s quite disturbing. When I was a kid in Brooklyn, neighbors moved to Israel to escape the anti-Semitism they were suffering in New York. Following Hagee’s thinking, the thugs who drove them away were on god’s payroll, simply ushering the Jews home. And the Jew-haters who recently trashed a synagogue in rural Norwich, New York—same thing, they’re god’s boyz. We can follow this logic to its ultimate conclusion: Any act of anti-Semitism is divinely following god’s will, ushering the Jews “back” to Israel where Hagee and his doomsday cult say they belong. A presidential decree expelling America’s Jews, according to Hagee’s argument, would be the ultimate service to god.
This seemed a bit much for the McCain team—at least too much for them to spin. Hitler has that effect on the American media. Spiritual advisors to the potential presidents rationalizing Hitler raises a political story to the media level of a Michael Jackson rumor, ultimately allowing it to break through the filter and into the public zeitgeist. The McCain team quickly disavowed Hagee, and later in the day, for good measure, Parsley as well. The Hitler comments, according to whoever scripts McCain’s speeches these days, were unacceptable.
More interesting than McCain’s repudiation of Hagee’s Hitler logic is the litany of Hagee hate speech that McCain never repudiated and even excused. McCain’s previous line on Hagee and Parsley was that they were being quoted out of context, though I can’t see any context in which calling for the destruction of Islam, the nuking of Iran and Russia, or celebrating the destruction of New Orleans would be acceptable. McCain never repudiated Hagee’s attacks on Catholicism or his church’s mock “slave auction.” The list goes on—hate speech on par with the Hitler comment, and nothing but excuses for it from the McCain camp. And not a peep out of the mainstream media.
I guess that in politics, like in the stock market, timing is everything. Back when McCain sought out the support of these hatemongering preachers, he was mired in a difficult Republican primary fight, trying to woo the ignorant hatemonger vote that has proven crucial in Republican primaries. Once he combined a portion of that constituency with his base of “the other candidates are all insane, unelectable nutjobs” voters, he had a lock on the Republican nomination.
With the primary contest behind him, McCain is now gearing up to run against “hope” and “change.” In this broader race, Hagee and Parsley become extremely burdensome liabilities. So—wink wink—they get cut loose, at least for the next few months until they’re needed again.
This is where things get a little bit iffy. The press generally has reported that McCain repudiated Hagee’s endorsement. Hagee, however, revoked the endorsement on the same day, but Hagee remains mostly invisible in the mainstream media. Hagee seems to have revoked the endorsement in an effort to head off the kind of scrutiny that John McCain’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, has had to endure. Such long overdue scrutiny of an avowed hatemonger like Hagee would certainly unearth a motherlode of problems for the pastor.
McCain’s limited repudiation of Hagee came months too late. But even so, it may have been forced not by McCain’s handlers but by Hagee himself, who seems to be desperately trying to dodge the proverbial bullet here. So it comes down to timing. What time of the day did Hagee let the word out that he would revoke the endorsement, and what time did McCain distance himself from the Hitler quote?
Does this sound familiar? It should. There’s a similar timing issue involving McCain’s partner, George W. Bush. He recently announced that he gave up golf back in 2003 in solidarity with those who gave up their lives or lost loved ones in the Iraq war. I’ll pass on wasting any words to state the obvious here, other than to point out that Bush may very well be the most offensive being on the planet. Anyway, it seems there are press reports of him playing golf months after he gave up the game for Lent, casting doubt on whether or not even this pathetic and offensive “gesture” was real.
The same goes for McCain. Renouncing Hagee and Parsley now is too little, too late. He should never have sought their support. He should never have accepted their support. He should never have appeared with either of them. He should never have stood silent in their presence as they spewed their bile. He should never have tried to make excuses for their hate speech. He should never have invoked their endorsements on the campaign trail. And he shouldn’t have waited two months after questions about these two doomsday cultists arose to renounce them.
Now it seems that even this gesture—so little, so late—may itself not even be real. So much for the Straight Talk Express.
Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College. His previous Artvoice columns are available online here on artvoice.com, where readers can leave comments, archived at mediastudy.com, and available globally through syndication.
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