Elegy For John McCain

Say a prayer for John McCain
Who passes from his earthly pain
His eyes are shut upon his brow
He warmongers to angels now

Beyond the sky, where sorrows cease
He rails against the Prince of Peace.
The Holy Spirit, full of love
McCain denounces as “a dove”

All of the weak and the cowardly policies
Heaven pursues that let sin subsist still
Six thousand years of detente with the darkness
In hippie cliches about “choice” and “free will”
All the fifth-columnists, communists, peaceniks
Since ur-commie Lucifer fell from the dawn
John McCain pounds them, he trounces, denounces them
Hounds them and counsels them: cease and begone

All of the saints and the hosts of the angels
Run to their weapons of lightning and flame
Their swords made of sunbeams and sighs of the martyrs,
Their gossamer banners of God’s awesome Name,
Their heavenly helmets and holy habergeons,
Whose breastplates are bright with the light of the dawn;
The Archangel Michael in malachite armor
Blows blasts on his trumpet and beckons them on

Reader, should your weather be
Meteors falling lazily
Or if your neighborhood should seem
A John of Patmos fever dream

Then say a prayer for John McCain
Now passed beyond all earthly pain
Not death, with all the peace it brings
Could end his love of bombing things

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

369 Responses to Elegy For John McCain

  1. Bugmaster says:

    Is the change in meter some sort of a deliberate poetic trick that I am too ignorant to comprehend ? Because I do find it jarring.

    Also, to be perfectly fair, if YHVH is the Lord, then compared to him it is McCain who looks like a peacenik 🙂

    • yodelyak says:

      Compare with The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee (link, link) both by McCain’s favorite poet. One he apparently memorized after learning it when it was tapped out, in Morse code, by another P.O.W. in the same block of cells as McCain when he was held for years in Vietnam.

      • beej67 says:

        Robert W Service never switched meter, to my knowledge, and I’m a big fan of his work.

        In fact, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a poet who was more rigorous about meter than Service.

      • beej67 says:

        You got me thinking about this while I was otherwise preoccupied this morning. If Scott wanted to do Robert W Service, it would look a bit more like this:

        Now John McCain was mostly insane
        From his time in a torture cell
        He could never forget how he crashed his jet
        Trying to bomb an infidel

        When he got to DC he’d rant ‘bout the Yangtze
        Or about that “damn Quran”
        But his only qualm, was he never did bomb
        The people of Iran


        That’s the exact meter/tempo/feel of Sam McGee and Dan McGrew. “The Smoking Frog” is one of my favorites by Service, and is in a similar (but not exact) meter.

        I’d never known McCain was a Service fan. Makes me wonder if Service was going through the rounds in the Air Force in the 70s, because I became indoctrinated to RWS from my father, who was stationed at an Alaskan radar station on top of a mountain for a couple years.

        I used to have Sam McGee memorized. It’s long.

    • JulieK says:

      I’m guessing it’s a take-off on some other famous elegy?

    • Michael Handy says:

      I thought at first it was an unusual form of double sonnet, but it doesn’t really fit.

  2. Alraune says:

    Slow clap.

  3. yodelyak says:

    I eventually decided there were two McCains I had known. 90s McCain was the guiding force of his own institution, and the man whose energy meant that his initiative and his interests drove the subject of every conversation on his campaign bus. And then there was 00’s and 10’s McCain, who seemed crass and diminished… who, to name just two examples, sung “bomb Iran” into a camera and put the full strength of his political brand behind giving Sarah Palin a national platform and a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

    I feel like 90s McCain would approve of your elegy. At any rate, he did like ballads.


    • Schopenhauer says:

      McCain’s choice of Palin as VP was an intentionally-fatal, calculated response to the GOP machinery who rejected McCain’s first choice: Lieberman. Most people gloss over this widely-known point in order to maintain their “McCain as Demon” narrative.

      McCain was a problematic and complex person. It’s disappointing to see so many supposedly intelligent and thoughtful people treating him in such a black and white manner, ala Trump.

      • Alraune says:

        “McCain wasn’t just a horseman of the apocalypse brought to life via cold war demonology, he also wanted to make Joe Lieberman vice president!” is a less compelling argument than you think.

      • yodelyak says:

        I don’t mean to make him a one-dimensional demon.

        Read the link I posted, and you’ll see it doesn’t just say that he liked ballads. He also memorized one that he learned from having it tapped out to him in Morse code by another American in the P.O.W. camp in Vietnam where McCain voluntarily spent 4 extra years of his life rather than get out ahead of men with fewer connections than he had. But I do think his politics changed circa 2000–maybe he outsourced the job of living up to his own brand to his staff?–and by 2008 or even sooner, seemed like a new person. Not that my points are worth anything, but I don’t plan to give late-life McCain any points for gesturing ineffectually at a VP candidate that wouldn’t have been embarrassing.

        My read on Palin was that she was very much not “intentionally fatal” but rather was a deliberate and calculated risk the point of which was to increase the odds of winning, like a 4th quarter Hail Mary pass in a football game, or like a soccer or hockey team that is down pulling their goalie so they can field extra offense. McCain (rightly, if you ask me) realized that an enthusiasm gap more-or-less guaranteed he’d lose in 2008, although he was likely to lose by a respectably small margin. His/his campaign’s reasoning was, better to risk a total blow-out for a chance at an outright win than to go down to a certain, narrow, defeat. So they deliberately picked a barely-just-maybe-okay-only-arguably-qualified female candidate with meat-for-the-base-right positions, hoping McCain could edgelord his way via lots of incredulous coverage to exciting his base without losing too many moderates. It was a calculated risk. Whether his handlers chose it, or he did, I’m not in any position to judge the man’s own internal monologue–I can only appraise the political institution… and the institution made some terrible choices.

        • JEA says:

          Choosing Sarah Palin as a running mate was a reasonable political decision. John McCain was likely to lose and the Republicans needed a Hail Mary to change the position. In the end it failed, but it was a reasonable political decision.

          Fortunately for all of us we never had to see Sarah Palin in the White House.

      • finnydo says:

        My favorite brand of John McCain apologism. Where he Jedi mind tricked the media into talking about the decision he didn’t make to excuse him for the one that he did.

        McCain chose Palin. Full stop.

      • throwaway1729 says:

        McCain’s choice of Palin as VP was an intentionally-fatal, calculated response

        Where can I read about the evidence for this? Is it something which could go on the wiki page about the decision?

        McCain wanted someone who would shake up the race and reinforce his image as a maverick, so he decided against more conventional choices on his short list…

      • Matt M says:

        I thought exit-polling indicated that among voters who claimed the VP choice made a “significant” impact on their vote, McCain beat Obama fairly handily.

    • herbert herberson says:

      Which McCain was the one who called his wife a four letter word for female genitals, voted against MLK Day, and was one of the Keating Five?

      • yodelyak says:

        Yeah, didn’t know about any of those things.

      • ksvanhorn says:

        Not a fan of McCain here, but explain to me why calling a woman a “four-letter word for female genitals” is the depth of crassness, deplorability, and misogyny, whereas calling a man a four-letter word for male genitals is A-OK.

        • Enkidum says:

          Short answer: Because power dynamics aren’t necessarily symmetric, in fact almost never are, and in this specific case the power dynamics between men and women are extremely asymmetric.

          For what it’s worth, the woker-than-woke these days tend to avoid gender-based insults of any kind.

          • ksvanhorn says:

            That’s called “special pleading”. Let’s stick with consistent standards, not this double-standard crap, OK?

            And as far as your “power dynamics” go, let’s stop pretending we’re still in the Victorian Era. Things have changed immensely for the better for women.

            If anything, the power dynamics now go the other way. Women can freely strike men without consequence; not so the other way. When a woman cuts off her husband’s penis and throws it into the garbage disposal, this is a cause for merriment rather than condemnation (yes, this happened, and the MSM treated it as a joke.) When a woman walks up to a man, reaches into his pants and grabs his penis, this is a cause for merriment rather than condemnation (again, true case, the MSM treated it as all fun and games). In an environment where it is beyond the pale to even consider the possibility that an accused man might be innocent, any woman can destroy the life of any man she knows with false accusations. When it comes to divorce, family courts are heavily biased in favor of the woman, and whereas there are serious consequences for a man who does not abide by his responsibilities under the divorce settlement, typically no action is taken against a woman who illegally obstructs a father from seeing his children.

            “the woker-than-woke these days tend to avoid gender-based insults of any kind.”

            I have yet to see any sign of this when it comes to insulting men.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            I know for myself if someone called me a four-letter word for male genitals and my wife a four-letter word for female genitals I would not care at all about the former and would be very angry about the latter.

            So if there’s “special pleading” going on, it seems primarily subconscious — perhaps because men are biologically predisposed towards taking risks for the sake of defending women they know well.

            Do you find it objectionable that I’d be more offended on behalf of my wife than I would for myself in a situation such as I described?

          • Enkidum says:

            Not really interested in arguing the point. I’m not particularly devoted to the no-gendered insults thing, to be honest. I’m just articulating the standard response to your question. (Although, if I would to argue, I’d also give the standard answer, which is that your “consistent standards” mean “protection of the whatever group currently has the power” in practice.)

            As for you never having seen the refusal to use gendered insults of any kind, this is because you don’t spend much time in the appropriately lefty communities. I assure you it’s quite a common stance (see, for example, the commentariat at Freethought Blogs, among others).

          • The Nybbler says:

            For what it’s worth, the woker-than-woke these days tend to avoid gender-based insults of any kind.

            No, they don’t.

          • mdet says:

            If there’s one power dynamic that hasn’t changed at all since the Victorian Era, it’s the ability to strike people. Men were larger and stronger than women back then, they‘re larger and stronger now, and will be for the foreseeable future. A social power dynamic that says “larger, stronger people are held to stricter standards when it comes to use of force” is a reasonable balancing act, not an initial aggression. When Serena Williams roughs up Kevin Hart and people sympathize with Serena, then I’ll agree that the social power dynamics at play were unfair. But I’ll still support a norm that generally happens to favor women in physical confrontations.

            Your other examples are worthy of condemnation

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            In today’s edition of “context and common usage of various words determines their impact and offensiveness much more than their literal meaning and dictionary definition”…

            Might as well ask why “pooping” is juvenile, “defecating” is medical, “using the bathroom” is polite, and “sh*tting” is crass. They all refer to the same thing!

          • On the subject of a four letter word for the male genitals …

            The word that suggests to me starts with p and has five letters. There is a four letter word for the same thing starting with c but I don’t think of it as something used as an insult.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            “That’s called “special pleading”. Let’s stick with consistent standards, not this double-standard crap, OK?”

            I think the relevant quote here is from Mr. France:

            “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

            The more recent analogy is from videogames: people play the game on life on different difficulty settings (where “difficulty setting” is complicated, and context specific). So “consistent” is at odds with “fair.”

            Generally folks on the right really like consistency, and either do not care about fairness, or think consistency on its own is fair. The correct karmic punishment for this is to end up in a situation in life where Mr. France’s quote comes into sharp relief.

          • ana53294 says:

            @David Friedman

            I think he is referring to the four letter word that start with a d, and that is an insult.

          • haroldedmurray says:

            @Ilya Shpitser your “difficulty level” analogy might have some merit, it might not. I don’t ascribe to the idea myself. But even if I did, I don’t see any consistent, non-contestable reason to think that it’s women who have the tougher “difficulty setting” than men. Seems to me and many others that a lot of the “hardships” women face can be attributed to confirmation bias and unequal standards of what we’ll tolerate in terms of what seems fair (as in, we’re far more willing to point out something negative that affects a woman than a man, and therefore are more aware of it). Also, it generally seems like people will talk about the troubles women have and say the troubles are major problems in society, but they won’t even acknowledge the troubles men have, even when they’re getting smacked with them in the face.

            That’s not to say I think men have it worse overall, just that the comparisons often made seems to be lacking context and missing half the story. It’s not clear cut who has it harder, and perhaps it’s because neither sex has it harder.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Are you married to or have a significant other who is female? Does she work? Do you have any female friends? Do any of them tell you stories about work or their life in general?

            “Seems to me”

            Genders are not treated symmetrically by societies, ours included.

            If you don’t like anecdotes, do you like data? What sort of data would be convincing to you, re: “difficulty settings”? There’s lots of data.

          • haroldedmurray says:

            My wife works. She does fine, and gets tons of time off. She’s away on vacation right now and I’m not because she gets several months more off than I do per year. She seems a lot happier with her job than I am with mine, and she has equally few gendered-complaints about her life in general. I don’t hear many complaints from my friends who are women with jobs either, except that the air conditioning is on too high. We all have gripes and things we have to deal with at work and in life, but there’s nothing that I’ve ever seen that indicates that society treats women systematically crueler than it does men.

            Yeah I much prefer stats. There’s plenty of stats from which you can draw the conclusion that women have it worse, and there’s also plenty of stats from which you can draw the conclusion that men have it worse. I wouldn’t be convinced simply by looking at a bunch of cherry-picked stats that you dug up to paint a biased picture, while ignoring the stats painting the opposite picture. Remember that the studies of these phenomenon and the willingness of the media to pick up a story and report on it is also a bias. So just because you hear lots of stats from your news source doesn’t mean squat unless you go earnestly and in-good-faith looking for stats to disprove your worldview as well and fail to do so. As Scott has previously said, “Beware the man of one study”, and “The only way to be sure you’re getting anything close to the truth is to examine the literature of an entire field as a gestalt. And here’s something no one ever said: ‘Man, I’m so glad I examined the literature of that entire field as a gestalt, things make much more sense now.'”

            So for starters, we’d have to live in a world where men don’t account for 95% of workplace fatalities. We’d have to live in a world in which the worst jobs in the world, like roofers, sewer workers, deep-sea fishermen, loggers, and garbage collectors, to name a few, are not exclusively occupied by men.

          • And a world where women did not, on average, live several years longer than men.

            Can you think of a better single statistic for judging which group has it better? Income works poorly, both because it ignores non-pecuniary features of different jobs and because so many people are in couples with shared expenditures.

          • haroldedmurray says:

            I don’t know, I could believe that women live longer simply due to biology. But I also know for sure that if women lived shorter than men, we’d never hear the end of it!

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Sounds to me like we don’t really disagree on substantive stuff that came up. I am glad you agree genders are treated asymmetrically, and “consistency” is thus a bad idea.

          • haroldedmurray says:

            When did I ever say that? The sexes may be “treated asymmetrically”, or they might actually be asymmetric in substantiative ways. But in general, these are complex questions that I don’t think anyone has the right answers to. No one can even tell who has the advantage/disadvantage. Even you could, it’s even harder to and no one is qualified to make different rules based on said advantages/disadvantages. Given that, yeah, I do think that consistency is the fairest thing you can do.

            Besides, you were pushing the “difficulty setting” analogy, which is very indicative of where the many leftists want to see everything – a single one-dimensional line in which you can concretely say one person has it harder than the other at all times. It’s so divorced from the reality, which is that every situation and every person’s life is a confluence of billions of factors, some positive, some negative. The “difficulty setting” analogy implies concretely that one person’s life is not just different, but worse, and in a measurable way. I disagree wholeheartedly with said implications.

            This looks like a motte and bailey situation.
            Bailey: Women live life on a harder difficulty setting
            Motte: Genders are treated asymmetrically, so consistency is a bad idea

          • Matt M says:

            I could believe that women live longer simply due to biology

            Could you believe that men make more money simply due to biology?

          • haroldedmurray says:

            Depending on how you mean it.
            Could you believe women control more money than men due to their biology?

          • Matt M says:

            What I mean is that it seems a little disingenuous to ascribe every scenario in which women underperfom men to pernicious sexism, while simultaneously dismissing any scenario in which women outperform men as simple biology.

          • haroldedmurray says:

            Oh, yeah, no argument from me here! I guess I just want to give due to the other argument as well.

            My wife has previously gotten irritated with me. She’s said “You think everything is biologically based, except that you think the reason men live shorter is socially-constructed. That’s hypocritical”. And I’d agree with her, if I actually did think like that. But I don’t. I intended to be taking more of a nuanced meta-level stance and she was missing that. I was attempting to make the opposite argument, as in, “Why do feminists think that everything is socially-constructed, except when it comes to men living shorter lives, they’re suddenly willing to chalk that up to biology”.

            In general, without calling out that it’s a meta-level argument and really communicating that, each side will only keep talking past each other. Even with calling it out, most people will probably talk past each other anyway.

        • rlms says:

          Different Words Have Different Meanings 😮 😮 😮 😮 😮

        • herbert herberson says:

          others have addressed the difference between the genders. me, I’d prefer to emphasize that it wasn’t any old lady, it was his old lady. calling some other woman that name (or man, whatever) could be kind of mavericky in the right context, but if mccain’s vaunted Honor, Sacrifice, Principles, and the Good Old American Way routine were good for anything at all, one would expect it to be good for not insulting one’s own wife in response to mild ribbing

          (also, it was her family money that launched his political career, so you can throw ingratitude into the list of sins)

      • mobile says:

        and steered something through Congress called McCain-Feingold.

    • Alsadius says:

      sung “bomb Iran” into a camera

      He was always a joker. It was treated as cute and refreshing when he was running against Bush, and criminally insane when he was running against Obama. Such is politics, I suppose.

      put the full strength of his political brand behind giving Sarah Palin a national platform and a heartbeat away from the Presidency

      Unlike most, I predicted Palin would be the VP pick well in advance – she seemed like the obvious pick to me, possibly even before McCain won the nomination. The GOP needed a woman or minority to offset the Democrat nominee(whether Clinton or Obama, which was still unknown), and there were few of any stature in the party. Palin was fairly well-regarded, seemingly personable, attractive(which shouldn’t matter, but which does), checked off all the boxes on policy that the party wanted, and had no obvious skeletons in her closet. Most of the other non-white-male candidates either had some ugly history of one form or another, or they seemingly didn’t want to run(e.g., Condoleezza Rice).

      At the time, it was not obvious from a casual examination how she would appear to the country. When I was looking into her as part of my VP predictions, she seemed to be a very well-regarded Governor. Apparently people who did a deep-dive into her history found some signs that were worrying in retrospect, but most of the things that made her look bad after she was chosen as VP were not obvious before she was chosen and subjected to far more scrutiny than a small-state governor ever is.

      • finnydo says:

        Man, would I need to see some receipts for a prediction of Palin as the VP candidate. Unless you were living in Alaska at the time, that seems unlikely.

        • Alsadius says:

          The only thing I’d possibly be able to find on that is ancient blog comments, and a lot of those sites are now defunct – nothing is showing up on Google. It may be that I only ever said it in person, for that matter. But she really seemed like an obvious choice to me. Not the only choice, but a clear frontrunner. I’m not even American, but I was fairly involved in political discussions at the time. She showed up on a lot of lists of possible candidates (usually the longer lists, but still there – the space of conceivable VPs is only ~100 people, after all), and she jumped out at me as a good choice for several reasons in a way no other candidate could equal.

        • JRM says:

          I believe it – I had the name on the radar due to comments by Texas lawyer “Beldar.” I also had exactly the same impression. That ended badly, but this account is totally plausible to me.

          I liked a lot of McCain. I think democracy will miss him.

        • JulieK says:

          I think she was on National Review’s shortlist of possible choices.

      • wysinwygymmv says:

        He was always a joker.

        Bombing Iran would most likely have involved thousands of deaths and livelihoods destroyed. And McCain was being asked about his position in the hypothetical situation where he was the primary decision-maker about whether to cause those thousands of lives destroyed.

        So “he was always a joker” I think downplays the callousness of the joke.

        I’m not clutching pearls, though. There is something appealing about the honesty involved. But I think if you’re going to accept the “bomb Iran” joke as at least somewhat defensible then you also have to forgive Scott’s clever and relatively mild half-joking rebuke of McCain in the OP. (This is not necessarily addressed to you, but to others in the thread who are apparently SHOCKED! by the sentiment of the OP.)

        It was treated as cute and refreshing when he was running against Bush, and criminally insane when he was running against Obama.

        I don’t really remember anyone treating it as “cute and refreshing”…or criminally insane really. People mostly seemed to treat it as callous and potentially indicative of dementia (since most public figures in charge of their faculties know better than to make jokes like that).

        Do you have any links?

  4. birdboy2000 says:

    This is great.

  5. Schopenhauer says:

    Like most people’s views of McCain, yours is just as simplistic. But I’m sure it felt good checking all the “correct” boxes in your critique. Well done.

    • jw says:

      Exactly. This is hard signaling to the tribe. The tribe he previously ridiculed for its meanness to its enemies. The tribe he warned against calling everyone who didn’t agree with them a murderer.

      Apparently, it’s a time for change. It’s a time for signaling and going for the approval and praises of the progressive tribe.

      If you can’t say anything good about the recently deceased, say nothing at all.

      This is the worst post ever posted at this site.

      • philosophicguy says:

        “This is the worst post ever posted at this site.”
        Pretty uncharitable tribute to a man who endured 5 years of torture in a POW camp to defend your freedom to post things like this.

        • wysinwygymmv says:

          You don’t think the guy who sang “Bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann” could appreciate a few jokes at his own expense?

          • herculesorion says:

            I mean, it’s not like he was the in-office President joking about killing people with drones or having the IRS audit political enemies.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            I mean, it’s not like he was the in-office President joking about killing people with drones or having the IRS audit political enemies.

            Not sure I understand the relevance of this comment to my own. Did you assume I’m a big Obama fan for some reason?

          • The Nybbler says:

            You don’t think the guy who sang “Bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann” could appreciate a few jokes at his own expense?

            Everybody did that. Well, a lot of people. But in 1980, not 2007!

          • grendelkhan says:

            The previous President didn’t have the IRS audit political enemies. The IRS didn’t selectively audit his political enemies on its own. The Inspector General, the FBI and the DOJ found no evidence of partisan targeting, just incompetence. (In summary form.)

            There was no IRS targeting scandal, despite all the excitement in the press. This has been widely known for nearly a year. Please update.

          • Rigelsen says:

            You mean the no IRS targeting scandal that was just setttled for 3.5 million dollars?

          • I think he means the one where the responsible IRS official took the fifth Amendment in order to not testify.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            How do you reconcile the first report with the second?
            At first glance, it looks like the first report cherry-picks right-wing flag words, ignoring the left-wing words that were also flagged, so that the second report gives a more complete picture.
            But the number of organizations that the second report counts as flagged for right-wing words is less than the first report. It disturbs me when people contradict each other without admitting that they contradict each other. Perhaps the second report is correct and the first report is incorrect, but it would be nice to know why, or at least that the authors of the second report have a secret reason, or at least that they are aware of the discrepancy.

          • Matt M says:

            Aside from the above, isn’t “scandal” a term that identifies controversy, and not necessarily settled and established guilt?

            The IRS targeting issue was definitely a scandal. Even if it turns out completely innocent. It was highly controversial, embarrassing, and believed by most people. That’s what a scandal is.

            I mean, unless the left is prepared to say that there is no Russian interference scandal until Trump is found guilty of something in a court of law?

          • grendelkhan says:

            herculesorion: the in-office President […] having the IRS audit political enemies

            I mean the one where that didn’t happen. Whatever dark hinting people want to engage in, it’s reasonably well-established that (a) Obama did not have the IRS audit his political enemies, and (b) the IRS did not selectively audit Obama’s political enemies. (Also, no one even got audited here; this was about having applications for tax-exempt status receive extra scrutiny, but, eh, close enough.)

            Definitions of exactly what constitutes a ‘scandal’ are irrelevant to this, as are settlements made by the IRS for non-ideological incompetence and mismanagement, as are the officials who resigned or pled the fifth for non-ideological incompetence and mismanagement.

            I stand by my original summary. Please update.

          • it’s reasonably well-established that (a) Obama did not have the IRS audit his political enemies, and (b) the IRS did not selectively audit Obama’s political enemies.

            Putting aside your valid point that it wasn’t about auditing, I disagree that it is well established. What is well established is that the relevant federal law enforcement actors did not find enough evidence to warrant criminal charges.

            It is also well established that:

            In a legal settlement that still awaits a federal judge’s approval, the IRS “expresses its sincere apology” for mistreating a conservative organization called Linchpins of Liberty — along with 40 other conservative groups — in their applications for tax-exempt status.

            And in a second case, NorCal Tea Party Patriots and 427 other groups suing the IRS also reached a “substantial financial settlement” with the government.

            It is also well established that Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the controversy, invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify to the congressional committee investigating the matter.

          • grendelkhan says:

            DavidFriedman: like I said, incompetence and mismanagement, some of it actionable. People lost their jobs, and fines were handed down.

            What did not happen was what herculesorion originally stated. Again: (a) Obama did not have the IRS audit his political enemies, and (b) the IRS did not selectively audit Obama’s political enemies. (Even for a very, very broad reading of ‘audit’.)

          • @ grendelkhan:

            We agree that “audit” is the wrong term. But you are jumping from “we cannot prove X” to “X is false.”

            The IRS did selectively question applications for tax status and delay approval of the applications by groups likely to be opponents of Obama—more such groups than groups on the other side. There is no evidence, so far as I know, that Obama was responsible for their doing so, but how can you possibly know that he wasn’t? It isn’t as if we have access to a recording of everything he did or said during the relevant period.

            Incompetence and mismanagement provide one possible explanation for what happened, but you are treating it as the only possible explanation.

          • Enkidum says:

            Never ascribe to malice what can adequately be explained by incompetence.

            Mr Friedman, you’re sounding far, far sillier than you should here. “Something which is somewhat unpleasant happened, albeit far less unpleasant that what everyone has been claiming, and you can’t prove that Person X wasn’t in some way responsible, so there!” is not a hill you want to die on.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            you’re sounding far, far sillier than you should here” makes you sound sillier than Dr. Friedman. You could have stopped with the reminder that this might just be incompetence, and refrained from ad hominem.

            The claim that there was malicious intent toward conservative groups is against the null hypothesis, true, but it’s being supported by evidence. It’s not “reasonable doubt” evidence, but no one’s claiming it is.

            When claims like this are met with malicious responses intended to discourage inquiring any further, it raises my probability that someone’s being malicious.

          • herculesorion says:

            “What did not happen was what herculesorion originally stated. ”

            Uh, Obama is pretty famously on record as having joked about having the IRS audit people.

          • @Enkidum:

            Something happened which benefited person X. Person X was in a position to make it happen. There is no good evidence that person X did make it happen.

            The proper conclusion is not “Person X had nothing to do with it.” It’s “we do not know whether or not person X had anything to do with it.”

          • Enkidum says:

            Apologies for the unnecessarily juvenile hostility. I still think it’s a pretty silly thing to take seriously, but I needn’t have been rude about it.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I still think it’s a pretty silly thing to take seriously

            Your call, of course, but it would have been nice to hear just why it strikes you as so silly.

          • I still think it’s a pretty silly thing to take seriously

            I can’t speak for anyone else in the thread, but what I was taking seriously was the unwarranted arrogance and logical error of the jump from “we don’t know X is true” to “we know X is false.”

            As in:

            What did not happen was

          • Enkidum says:

            …what I was taking seriously was…

            Fair. Even further rescinded.

          • grendelkhan says:

            DavidFriedman, this feels a bit can’t-prove-a-negative Celestial Teapot. Saying “that didn’t happen” and “there’s no convincing evidence that happened” are, colloquially, equivalent, and this generally isn’t a problem unless someone is very invested in their doubt. (And the fact that left-wing groups had their applications similarly delayed certainly provides some evidence.)

            I understand. This was a conservative article of faith for years. It’s hard to update on this, and the former beliefs are sticky.

            Rephrased, then: (a) there’s no good evidence that Obama had the IRS audit his political enemies, and (b) there’s no good evidence that the IRS selectively audited Obama’s political enemies. (Even for a very, very broad reading of ‘audit’.)

            herculesorion, Obama made a joke about auditing a university that beat a favored college basketball team in 2009. It is not credible to take this as a veiled threat to delay the nonprofit applications of conservative groups years later, in a way that a series of investigations would somehow reveal to be nonpartisan.

            Once more, I encourage everyone involved here to please update.

        • christhenottopher says:

          *Who volunteered to bomb civilians in a country that in no way threatened the United States.

          OK I know that “defending your freedoms” is a right wing tribal signal just like complaining about Vietnam is a left wing one. But you know what? Politics is a fight not consensus building (at least at the level we’re discussing here). So here’s a hot take: a person who willingly bombed civilians and consistently supported wars of choice doesn’t get rhetorical charity especially since McCain was already given honors, wealth, and power throughout his life. If we’re shedding crocodile tears over someone who had a long and overall absurdly successful life because someone mildly critiqued their tendency to support actions killing innocent people, we’ve gone absolutely insane.

          Maybe you think every one of those deaths caused directly or indirectly by McCain was worth it or at least justifiable, but even so the man lived a full and with the exception of the years in a POW camp (a situation of hardship that was brought on by him volunteering for a war where bombing civilians was policy) pretty objectively great life. A guy like that doesn’t need us to put on kid gloves at the moment he can no longer hear the criticism.

        • Wency says:

          I am rather surprised to see someone here, of all places, suggest unironically that the Vietnam War was fought in defense of American freedom.

          But there is something to be said for honoring the bravery and self-sacrifice inherent in wartime service, whether the war was a good cause or not, and even if we kind of think joining the U.S. military is for chumps.

          I also advocate the tradition of respect for the recently dead. Perhaps we should view it as an opportunity to uphold the principle of charity and reflect on the guy’s life with an open mind. There will be an infinity of years to lay into the guy, but let’s give him a week.

          Though I still chuckled at Scott’s post. Oh well.

          While Scott is a progressive, to be fair, McCain was disliked and even hated by much of the Right. Even my mainstream Republican father disliked him for the “warmongering”. Or hawkishness, if we’re being charitable.

          • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

            You’re aware, of course, of the argument why defending the freedom of South Vietnam was not only a highly charitable thing to do for the lives of the people in that nation but also in the direct interest of the United States. If the US found itself isolated in a sea of communist nations, it was highly reasonable to view that as unsustainable. And the communist nations, led by Moscow, were extremely aggressive in fomenting communist activity, internally and externally, in other countries, particularly adjacent ones. It was highly reasonable — in my opinion clearly correct — to view it as appropriate and necessary to adopt a bright line of defending against communist encroachment and expansion even in remote places in light of that dynamic. You could easily end up with an entire additional section of Asia under red control, and once nations went communist it was essentially irreversible so long as the cold war lasted. You need to expand and unpack these points of course but of course there was a strong argent to be had there, which is why it was bipartisan consensus policy at the time.

          • Wency says:

            My observation was that the politics at SSC, left or right (or libertarian), are decidedly not hawkish. And even in hawkish circles it’s a rather trite talking point to say that America’s foreign interventions were to “protect our freedom”.

            I’m not sure how we would be more free if we had won in Vietnam. I
            I think most young men at the time would have preferred the freedom to not be drafted and sent to die in a quagmire across the Pacific.

          • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

            During the Vietnam era, young, draft-aged men were substantially MORE supportive of the Vietnam action than the public at large. They were the most supportive major demographic, in fact. But more fundamentally, you did not engage my argument (which isn’t mine, of course, but standard policy from Truman through the end of the cold war”).

      • Enkidum says:

        Exactly. This is hard signaling to the tribe. The tribe he previously ridiculed for its meanness to its enemies. The tribe he warned against calling everyone who didn’t agree with them a murderer.

        People here seem to always forget that Scott is a member of the progressive tribe, broadly speaking (unless I’ve greatly misunderstood his work).

        Yes, he disagrees with a great deal of what the tribe does. But at the end of the day he’s got a lot of core values that he shares with them. Among them, American imperialism is a Bad Thing.

        “If you can’t say anything good about the recently deceased, say nothing at all.”

        Clearly this is not something that everyone here agrees with.

        • jw says:

          I didn’t actually like McCain politically. But I’m not going to ridicule the dead.

          • slapdashbr says:

            I don’t believe it is intended to be ridicule. However, I do believe that readers who are politically more conservative than McCain will fail to see the humor in it or recognize the literary allusion to a particularly important poem in McCain’s life.

        • Nicholas Conrad says:

          As a libertarian I also believe imperialism is bad, that doesn’t change my feeling that this piece in extremely poor taste. I don’t understand celebrating the death of your political rivals, it just screams ‘my ideas aren’t good enough to persuade anyone!’. We should be mourning the missed opportunity to convince someone with misguided views.

      • chrisdrhodes says:

        Not seeing it. Basically every progressive and leftist on my social media are falling all over themselves to extol the virtues of John McCain as one of the “good” Republicans.

        (Because, hey, he may be responsible for tens or even hundreds of thousands of deaths and the ever encroaching police state we find ourselves in, but at least he doesn’t say mean things to people on Twitter!)

        • I as well find this poem to be an incredibly refreshing antidote to the historical amnesia that has been washing over the moderate left this past week.

        • Mary says:

          Also, he’s dead.

          It’s amazing how Republican presidents (or other politicians) improve once out of office and then after they die.

          The way they talked about Reagan during his day was much more like the way they talk about Trump now than the way they talk about Reagan now.

    • gwern says:

      If one wants partisan balance, one could always link to Moldbug’s elegy for Ted Kennedy.

  6. Anonymous Bosch says:

    What a difference five years of popularity makes.

    I’m not referring to the object-level beliefs; even if you still credit Libya as a success and remain neutral on the Syria counterfactual, Iraq was surely an objective disaster. I wholeheartedly agree the 70% of the country that supported it deserve nothing but everlasting scorn unto their graves, give or take an SSC 2016 Presidential endorsement.

    I’m referring to the ongoing substitution of nuance and challenges to the audience (I myself am not a fan of McCain or military intervention!) with “the same hot take you can find on Twitter, but with more and longer words.”

    Seal claps all around.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Iraq was surely an objective disaster. I wholeheartedly agree the 70% of the country that supported it deserve nothing but everlasting scorn unto their graves

      But was it obvious ahead of time it would be a disaster?

      • cube says:

        My recollection of my thoughts at the time was that Iraq was obviously going to be a huge disaster, which made it seem foolish. However, if the strategic objective was to disrupt stability in the Middle East, then it was destined from the start to be a smashing success.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Yes, it was. I mean, maybe not to most of the country; I don’t know just what everyone knew. But to the White House? They had more than enough information to foresee this.

        (I do think there was enough information out there to determine that the war was not in fact justified (not in a consequentialist sense but in a laws-of-war sense and also a is-the-stated-casus-belli-true sense), but that’s a different question, I suppose.)

        You know, in this age where Donald freaking Trump has become president, I get the impression that people have forgotten just what was so awful about Bush. Which of course was not just one thing but several things, but I want to focus on one thing — he cut the negative feedback loop. He shot the messenger. You never, ever do this. It predictably leads to disaster. Maybe you get lucky and avoid serious disaster — at least if you’re a term-limited president; in the long run if you keep it up disaster will come eventually. Thankfully Bush was merely president rather than dictator, so he couldn’t go causing a Great American Famine or anything like that.

        The information was there. The White House was warned by people within the government. The warnings were ignored. Infamously, moving away for a moment from the war’s outcome to its justification, the CIA did not find that Iraq had any WMDs until the White House started meddling and pushing things towards their preferred conclusion. Again — altering information to suit your preferred conclusion is cutting the feedback loop with the outside world; if what you see does not depend on what is there, then you are blind, and acting blindly, and this will predictably lead to disaster.

        Let’s not forget that the White House made no preparations, no plans, for what would be done once the war was won. I don’t think that was public knowledge at the time, I don’t think we can blame people for not imagining that the government would fuck up so badly as to make zero plans for what to do once the war was over, just imagining things would turn out well. But that is what they did. That is astonishingly negligent.

        Bush was living in fantasyland; he cut the negative feedback loop. Eternal scorn on him for that.

        • SEE says:

          An alternative, speculative, more cynical framing:

          The WMDs were, of course, never the reason for the war. They were the “justification” – specifically, the line of argument that was thought could get a passing-but-for-the-vetoes vote in the UN Security Council and thus satisfy the “Kosovo precedent” for UN pseudoblessing in British politics.

          The reason was simple enough. There were only three things the US could do in 2002:

          A) Continue stationing US troops on the Arabian Peninsula indefinitely, continuing the provocation that had incited an escalating series of attacks (Khobar Towers, US embassy bombings in East Africa, USS Cole, 9/11) from people objecting to infidel boots on sacred soil.

          B) Leave the countries of the Arabian Peninsula to defend themselves while Iraq was still united, with its army functional, under Saddam Hussein.

          C) End the threat of the Iraqi military to sweep south by main force.

          The conclusion of the US administration was that A had proven intolerable with 9/11, and B being intolerable was the whole reason Bush’s dad and Cheney had launched a war in 1991. That left C.

          As for planning the aftermath, the plan was to knock over Iraq and leave chaos in its wake. Bush wasn’t any more interested in nation-building in 2002 than he was when he ran against it in 2000, and Cheney wasn’t in any more favor of it than when he opposed occupying Iraq in 2002. A civil war breaking out as soon as the US left was a feature, because it meant that no Iraqi ruler would have the capacity to march south.

          That’s why the US disbanded the Iraqi Army rather than purge it, reorganize it, and use it to keep order. Cheney had seen in 1991 that even the beaten Iraqi Army was enough to keep Iraq united. The chaos the US expected would follow Desert Storm didn’t happen, so this time neither the leader nor the united army that suppressed the 1991 rebellions would be around to do it.

          The problem in executing the plan was simple enough; Saddam Hussein successfully went into hiding, which nobody foresaw. (Really, show me the analyst in 2002 who predicted that six months after the fall of Baghdad, Saddam Hussein would be alive, free, and still in Iraq.) So instead of being able to simply declare Mission Accomplished and starting bringing people home in May, the US had to stick around in force to root out Hussein and the people hiding him. Even if his power was broken, it wasn’t politically possible to leave while he was still at large.

          So, when the fighting really kicked off in the fall, it wasn’t Iraqis shooting Iraqis in a civil war with American troops safely back in the US; it was Iraqis shooting Americans who were still looking for Hussein. Which made the chaos a US problem instead of, as planned, an internal Iraqi problem.

          That civil war would have been a disaster for Iraq, sure. But it would not have been a disaster for the US. It would instead have solved the problem raised with the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 — the threat of the creation of a new major regional power, a single Arab state with a population greater than Egypt, in control of the more profitable half of the world’s oil reserves, and in possession of the Holy Cities. Religiously and economically impossible to isolate, with more than enough money to support extravagant military ambitions, and the natural heir of pan-Arab sentiments.

          • vV_Vv says:

            That civil war would have been a disaster for Iraq, sure. But it would not have been a disaster for the US.

            Maybe, but it still looks like a risky gamble. Most Iraqi are Shia, but Saddam’s Ba’ath party was ideologically secular and ethnically Sunni-Christian Arab. Remove Saddam and suddenly the Iraqi become natural allies of the Iranians, the Syrian Alawis, the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Russians. And among the Sunnis in the region Salafist jihadism was on the rise, which could easily spill to the Gulf oil monarchies. If Iraq had become a theocracy, either Iranian-like Shia, or a Taliban-like Sunni, it seems like it would have been a problem for Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the like.

          • Alsadius says:

            I agree with parts of this analysis, especially your A/B/C, but I don’t think chaos was the goal. I think it was one part “flypaper strategy” (i.e., better they shoot at our soldiers over there than our civilians at home), and two parts trying to build a society that was intended to give the Arab world an obvious path forward which wasn’t based on hatred of the US and Israel. A modern, cosmopolitan, prosperous Iraq would be a much more appealing model to the disaffected citizens of nearby countries than terrorism, and that’d be the best way to reduce the long-term risk of terrorism.

            Obviously, that didn’t work. But I think it was a genuine mistake on the Bush administration’s part. They assumed liberal democracy had universal appeal, and neglected the fact that a lot of people (certainly, enough to start a civil war) have other priorities. And then they screwed up the follow-through, and the US wandered away before anything with long-term stability had been built up.

          • christhenottopher says:

            I don’t think this A-B-C really works outside MAYBE Kuwait (even then doubtful, Sadaam nearly lost power mistakenly attacking Kuwait and had no reason to think it would work better a second time). Could the Iraqi army beat Saudi Arabia’s one-on-one? Sure. Was the take over and occupation of Saudi Arabia really viable for Iraq? I highly doubt it. Too many forces would be tied up over a huge region with Iran next door ready to support an overthrow of the over stretched Iraqi regime.

            So then if defense of the Gulf Monarchies (itself a dubiously useful proposition) wasn’t the main objective, what’s the real B? US troops leave the Arabian Peninsula, sanctions eventually drop, and a guy we call an enemy gets away with snubbing the US. In the mindset of power politics that means other people might snub the US more too. Thus in order to maintain US dominance of the world, you need to crush weak enemies to maintain a fearsome reputation. This helped convince some anti-US leaders to come to the table and kow tow to America (the best example is Gaddafi giving up his WMD program).

            The key point here is that the action against Iraq was NOT a defensive measure to protect allies really (more of Europe which gets more of it’s oil from Saudi would have supported the US if it was). The US already proved it would stand by the Gulf Monarchies in 91. It was offensive sending a message to developing nations that we were still in charge. And then the long occupation leading to a not particularly friendly Iran-influenced government completely undermined this. The Bush administration really did believe in the short victorious war to prove US power to the “bad guys” of the world. The bungled occupation then screwed up this attempted message. Iraq was thus a mistake on the terms of the architects of the war and not just a general terms of morality.

          • RicardoCruz says:

            I feel like your analyses miss the entire point. People make decisions based, first and foremost, on their self-interest. Bush, McCain and all the rest wanted to become famous for installing a democratic regime and enriching their friends in the process. Besides, they wanted the excitement of war. You actually think people make decisions only based on cold calculations for what is best to others?

          • Adam Kadmon says:


            I don’t see how this scheme – neutralize Iraq’s ability to make mischief by knocking out the regime and triggering a civil war – makes any sense beyond the immediate-term. The trouble with civil wars is that someone eventually wins them, and the natural winner of an Iraqi civil war is Iran. As I understand it, the prospect of a Greater Iran arising from the ashes of Baathist Iraq had the Saudis spooked enough that they needed assurances specifically that we would not smash the place up and then leave.

            Moreover, the timeline seems questionable: we were all set to bug out after Baghdad fell in April, but since Saddam managed to hide in a hole in the ground through December we figured what the hell, let’s stick it out for the next 7 years?

            A less cynical but Hanlon’s Razor-compliant theory is that the Iraq war and occupation is what you get when a bunch of people too dumb for checkers decides to try their hand at Risk. I recommend this 2007 interview with Greg Cochran on the subject:

            Some naughty reporter was asking various high muckety-mucks if they knew the difference between a Sunni and a Shi’ite, not the deepest piece of information. Gary Bald, the FBI’s counterterrorism chief, didn’t. Willie Hulon, chief of the bureau’s new national security branch, didn’t. Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who was vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence, didn’t. Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who headed a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, didn’t. Incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Sgt. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, didn’t. I’m pretty sure that George Bush didn’t.

            Judging from Wolfowitz’s Congressional testimony about Iraq being secular, highly educated, and free of holy cities, he knew nothing. I think that Condi Rice started out not knowing a damn thing about the Middle East and I doubt if she knows much more today: I remember her (back in 2000) suggesting that Iran was backing the Taliban, which was just ridiculous — they’d come within an inch of war back in 1998. Which I had followed at the time, since I read the papers.

            Judging from other issues, I’d say that neither Condi nor Rumsfeld know any history at all. Some might suggest that all the crap they spouted about guerrilla warfare in postwar Germany was a talking point, but I think they were sincere — i.e. utterly clueless.

            Personally, I think that the key players in the Administration did believe many of these things. Looking at what they did rather than what they said — you have to do that because they’re near-compulsive liars — it’s clear that they thought they could pull all but a division out of Iraq by September 2003. They expected zero resistance and wasted a lot of time denying its existence when it showed up.

        • Plumber says:

          “…I get the impression that people have forgotten just what was so awful about Bush…..”


          Bush just continued Reagan’s foul legacy, but really it’s mostly been downhill after LBJ.

        • slapdashbr says:

          “You know, in this age where Donald freaking Trump has become president, I get the impression that people have forgotten just what was so awful about Bush. Which of course was not just one thing but several things, but I want to focus on one thing — he cut the negative feedback loop. He shot the messenger. You never, ever do this. It predictably leads to disaster. ”

          This is exactly how Hillary ran her campaign; we see how that worked out.

        • Controls Freak says:

          Infamously, moving away for a moment from the war’s outcome to its justification, the CIA did not find that Iraq had any WMDs until the White House started meddling and pushing things towards their preferred conclusion.

          This is a pretty common claim, but it happens to be false. The current consensus is that the IC simply screwed up WMDs on their own, without any pressure from the White House. On the other hand, the White House did pressure them to make a connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, and the IC bent over backwards to resist that pressure and to instead be honest about what was and wasn’t there.

          Let’s not forget that the White House made no preparations, no plans, for what would be done once the war was won.

          I think this is unsupported by any reasoned inquiry with proper access to the relevant documents. It’s simply partisan talking points, devoid of substantiating evidence.

      • Deiseach says:

        But was it obvious ahead of time it would be a disaster?

        Yes. Very understandable that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 America was hurt, grieving, and vengeful, but going after Iraq was a very strange decision that could only be explained on the grounds of some dubious conspiracy theories about Dubya wanting revenge for disrespecting his pa and the sinister puppeteering of Rove et al who expected to profiteer from a conquered nation. My recollections of the mood in Europe at the time are that there was a lot of sympathy for the US but also great opposition to the War on Terror (excepting the Brits who were so eager to push the ‘special alliance’ narrative and who, for their own internal political purposes, found it very convenient to go along with the Weapons of Mass Destruction narrative).

        The idea of “cut off the snake’s head and the job is done” was very seductive but also false; you’re removing the tyrant, what makes you think the apparatus of tyranny that held down everything like a pressure cooker will survive his fall? I think Chalabi holds an awful lot of responsibility for his lies, which helped convince/prop up the narrative certain parties wanted, that there was a peaceful democratic alternative structure that could easily slot into place. Yet Chalabi managed to survive the chaos, survive scandals, and die in his bed instead of in prison. The whole situation reminded me of nothing so much as Le Carré’s novel The Tailor of Panama, where a fluent and plausible liar invents political movements for his own benefit and gets entangled with foreign governments which, at varying levels of sincerity, use his fabrications and fantasies as justification for their invasion.

        • SEE says:

          but going after Iraq was a very strange decision that could only be explained on the grounds of some dubious conspiracy theories

          No conspiracy theories necessary. It can be explained very simply and logically. The presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia was the irritant that motivated a series of escalating attacks (Khobar Towers, US embassy bombings in East Africa, USS Cole) ending with 9/11. Even if bin Laden was killed, the irritant would remain and generate more of the same, so US troops had to leave Saudi Arabia.

          Therefore, in the view of the people who stationed the troops there in the first place (Vice President Dick Cheney, who had been Secretary of Defense in 1990; Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had been the senior military officer in 1990; and the president’s father, who had been President in 1990), the threat that caused them to make that deployment decision had to be eliminated before the troops could be removed.

          They so advised the President, and since they were the senior members of his cabinet and his father, he naturally took their advice.

        • ReaperReader says:

          The idea of “cut off the snake’s head and the job is done” was very seductive but also false; you’re removing the tyrant, what makes you think the apparatus of tyranny that held down everything like a pressure cooker will survive his fall?

          Well something like that worked in Spain, Portugal, and much of Eastern Europe after communism fell.

          The 1980s and ’90s saw a surprising spread of democracy.

          • ana53294 says:

            Well something like that worked in Spain, Portugal, and much of Eastern Europe after communism fell.

            In Portugal, the Carnation Revolution happened four years after Salazar’s death. In Spain, the democratization process was long and painful.

            The death of those dictators was a contributing factor, but it was not the main one. IMO, had Franco suddenly tripped down the stairs in 1950, there wouldn’t have been regime change. Both Iberian countries were ripe for change in the seventies; there was an ongoing political movement for freedom. You can look at Venezuela after Chavez’ death as an example of a dictator dying in a country that is not ready for change.

            The Soviet Union also contributed a bit to it, by training and encouraging the union movement in Spain.

            Was there such a movement in Iraq? Killing Saddam would only have an effect if it was the right moment for Saddam’s death. And it wasn’t.

            While I don’t like Putin, I sometimes have nightmares about what would happen after his death. Russia, a country with loads of nuclear arsenals spread around the country, going through internal turmoil, with all those Caucasian republics declaring their independence, and other separatist movements, may precipitate a nuclear apocalypse.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Is this supposed to be serious? I know it’s the Onion, but are you taking it seriously?

          It will not end the threat of weapons of mass destruction; it will make possible their further proliferation

          This is wrong

          And it will not lay the groundwork for the flourishing of democracy throughout the Mideast

          This is only partially right. Iraq is much more a democracy than existed prior, but there was no “wave of democracy.”

          it will harden the resolve of Arab states to drive out all Western (i.e. U.S.) influence.

          This is totally wrong. The Arab states want the US to do more to check Iran, they don’t want to kick us out.

          In 10 or 15 years, we will look back fondly on the days when there were only a few thousand Middle Easterners dedicated to destroying the U.S. and willing to die for the fundamentalist cause. From this war, a million bin Ladens will bloom.

          We’re 15 years out from 2003, where are these million Bin Ladens?

          You can’t say you are right when all of your specific predictions are wrong.

          • rlms says:

            We’re 15 years out from 2003, where are these million Bin Ladens?

            The 7/7 bombers gave the invasion of Iraq as part of their motivation.

          • christhenottopher says:

            We’re 15 years out from 2003, where are these million Bin Ladens?

            ISIS and Al-Qaeda affiliates spreading across the globe?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            That’s four guys, of which three were British citizens, in 2005, that killed 52 people. That’s hardly the massive terror campaign that this Onion article all but guarantees. It’s not even The Troubles

      • vaniver says:

        But was it obvious ahead of time it would be a disaster?

        Teenage me thought so, but I think for the wrong reasons. He was generally pacifistic and anti-interventionist, and didn’t know that the invasion plan was based on wild optimism about the ability of Iraqis to form a modern nation-state.

      • grendelkhan says:

        Rob Marchant: Note to those celebrating a failed demonstration 15 years ago: “but war is bad” is not a valid geopolitical response for a grown-up.
        Dan Davies: Counterpoint: not only is it valid, it is almost invariably correct. It’s the index fund solution; the absurdly simple benchmark that all the alleged geniuses fail to beat.

        I was much younger and much less wise when the war began. And I freely admit I didn’t have any specific ideas other than a very strong sense of ‘this is a terrible mistake’, along with some vague ideas about the nation wasting its soft-power capital. I still did better than a lot of experts on that one.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, it seems to me that “war is bad” should almost certainly be the default assumption, that the onus always must be on anyone who is ever claiming otherwise to prove it, and that instances of such people being wrong need to be highly publicized and remembered and avoided in the future.

          The fact that Iraq failed so spectacularly is a tragedy itself. It’s also a tragedy that almost nobody with any real political power seems to have learned a damn thing from it. That it gets shrugged off as an, “Oh well, we got that one wrong” as if it was nothing more than a poorly considered guess at bar trivia.

          • Iain says:

            It’s not often that Matt M and I agree completely on an issue, but this is an example.

          • Matt M says:

            Further tragedy:

            The fact that Iraq was so stupid, wasteful, and pointless detracts from the fact that Afghanistan has also been stupid, wasteful, and pointless.

            It’s like Iraq was the fall guy, doomed to fail from the start, but designed to distract the authorities from taking down the actual mafia bosses.

          • quanta413 says:

            Why are people here less Hawkish than normal anyways?

            The libertarians here are less hawkish than normal (well maybe not for libertarians I guess).

            The liberals here are less hawkish than random liberals.

            I think the conservatives are less hawkish than random conservatives too.

            Not sure about the resident communist or two.

            EDIT: Wait, I’ve got it. All of our aggression is spent on arguing things here.

          • Matt M says:

            War is irrational.

            It is an incredibly expensive and inefficient way of settling differences, and in most cases, even the winner is far worse off than they might have been if the war never occurred.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I feel like there must be a name for the principle where, if anyone declares some option to be the Worst Possible Option, their opponents immediately begin heaping the alternatives with every spoil they can, knowing the former will always choose those alternatives.

            War is incredibly inefficient (and destructive, horrifying, etc.), yes. It’s also more attractive to certain parties at certain times.

            Do you think that, after having two skyscrapers and a government building hit by our own hijacked passenger planes and our declaring no (de facto) war at all, that the terrorism situation would somehow improve on its own?

          • Matt M says:


            Or at least, I believe that our actions vis-a-vis Iraq and Afghanistan did nothing to improve the situation, and probably made it worse.

            Was it “better” to go to war with Afghanistan in 2001 than it would have been in 1999? Sure, I guess. But it’s still bad. Even setting the devastation of Afghanistan itself aside, America has wasted billions of dollars, lost thousands of lives, and has absolutely nothing to show for it.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Interesting. Well, FWIW, I’m aware I’m arguing a counterfactual to some extent, but I think the US has several things to show for it:

            – Saddam gone
            – Hussein-funded Palestinian suicide bombers, gone
            – Uday and Qusay gone
            – the Ba’ath regime gone
            – bin Laden gone
            – Mubarak resigned
            – Qaddafi gone

            What we lost or expended to get these was enormous, granted, but I don’t think these are wastes. Especially considering what I suspect would have happened had we done nothing. Or, to be more precise, had we not gone into Afghanistan and then Iraq. I’m guessing you had alternatives in mind that would have suited our goals better by your standards? (Also, please bear in mind what we knew and did not know at the time.)

            And I’m not even following this as closely as other current events buffs probably hanging around here. There are additional things in the gain column that I suspect I missed.

          • Matt M says:

            None of those supposed gains have improved my life in any way.

            The onus is on you to somehow prove that those events improved the quality of life for Americans in such a way as to be “worth” the billions of dollars, the tens of thousands of lives, the maimings, amputations, horrendous burns, and suicides.

            And keep in mind, that’s taking the extreme isolationist view and only considering Americans, while putting zero value whatsoever into the much higher costs paid by the Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans, etc.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Oh, gotcha, sorry. I think, from your viewpoint, I omitted a step. All of these gains lower the probability that someone in that part of the world will gather enough resources to commit another terrorist attack on US soil or against US interests, including US allies. Hasn’t lowered it to zero, of course, but I think it’s a lot lower than it would have been.

            That affects every civilian in the US, especially those in high value targets such as large cities, and to a lesser extent every civilian in the world that would rather not have terrorism in their life.

            By the way, I’m not inclined to blame all the horrors you mentioned on US intervention. Thousands of those deaths look more like a result of tensions that were around long before US action. You could say we should’ve known those tensions were around, but if so, (1) we didn’t know how bad they would get, or where, and (2) I don’t think it’s fair to blame the bull after someone made it angry and then hid in a china shop.

            By the same token, I can’t exactly say US foreign policy was specifically calculated to bring down Qaddafi by going into Afghanistan and Iraq, either, but I think it was close enough to general intention, based on arguments I recall made shortly after 9/11, that I felt I could include it in the list. The Bush administration wanted to drain the swamp, as much as their allotted political capital would permit.

          • Guy in TN says:

            ~100,000 civilians were killed in the Iraq War alone. These were not the result of “tensions that were around long before US action”, because Iraq was not about to collapse into civil war in 2003, and Iraq was not about to invade the US.

            So how many civilian deaths do you think the Iraq War prevented, and is it higher than 100,000?

            Keep in mind that 9/11 killed ~3000 people, so any potential damage Hussein would have done would have to be far greater than the worst terrorist attack in the US.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            That’s just it. The claims I’d first read about “~100k civilian deaths in Iraq” were themselves so weakly documented that they were discredited. There were later studies that defended this a bit better, but they were covering a much larger span of time, and counted a lot of casualties that weren’t directly attributable to US action, but rather sectarian violence or “unknown actors”.

            Given the amount of actual Shia-Sunni murders reported, I get the impression that Iraq was prone to civil war prior to 2003, if Saddam’s Ba’ath regime fell for any reason. Or at the least, a period of lawlessness characterized by religious killings, mob violence, and kidnappings. And I think everyone agrees this wasn’t because Saddam was heroicly fending off chaos, but rather because he had a Mussolini-style iron fist on the situation. Not what I would call stable.

            Let Saddam continue to do his thing, and, well, counterfactual. Iraqis continue to be oppressed. Kurds especially. High chance of a chemical weapons program being rebooted. Continued support for suicide bombers in Israel. Heightened tensions in Israel. No Cedar Revolution for Lebanon. Hezbollah further ahead than it is now. Eventually, his sons take over (probably after he passes away for whatever reason), and things get even more insane – probably including those ~100000 deaths, which, I think, were already going to happen one way or the other.

            Meanwhile, anti-US terrorists are emboldened by lack of US action and also don’t have to deal with several millions of dollars of assets being frozen in banks or bombed on the ground. Matter of time before they try something more ambitious than 9/11.

            I can’t prove any actual plans were underway, but another important thing about such plans is that they’re secret, and US intelligence may have known about some of them. Maybe a lot of them. And we won’t know about them for decades after they were relevant, possibly longer, for very well-considered reasons.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            For what it’s worth, I’m an unusually hawkish libertarian on this forum. I don’t post much, but I don’t think that Iraq was a bad idea, even in hindsight, I don’t think it was a disaster, and yeah, I’d probably support the invasion again even knowing what I do now.

            to my mind, we had basically achieved most of our war aims by 2008, and it was errors in 2009-2011 that fumbled that away. I don’t particularly care to defend this view at this moment in this forum, however.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        By the time Colin Powell was presenting a Command-and-Conquer unit refridgerated state-of-the-art mobile biological weapons center as a thing Saddam had it was obvious. Even if someone else would have waged another Desert Storm and then gotten out in time successfully, that farce made it obvious that the particular administration that was the Bush administration were not all putting in the effort or doing the homework necessary. Unless you are Alexander the Great or Subotai or someone like that, you should never approach starting a war assuming you are in the position that Rumsfeld, Cheney et al. assumed they were in

        • “The chemical weapons facility is located in Kane’s—I mean, Saddam’s military headquarters district. You will take the cyborg commando—I mean, Navy Seal team to infiltrate the district and disable the SAM sites guarding the compound. After you have disabled the SAM sites, your commando team will retrieve the access codes from the Temple of Nod—I mean, Presidential Palace. But be vigilant of ion storm activity—I mean, Al-Qaeda terrorist cells in the sector. Good luck commander.”

      • ana53294 says:

        I was a teenager when the war started, but I clearly remember I thought it was a terrible idea, and it was just so convenient that WMD happened to be in an oil-rich country that neighbours Saudi Arabia. But then, I was living in a country whose government was dragging us into a war with 91% of the population against it.

        You can never get 91% of Spaniards to agree on anything, not even that football is good. So for me, that showed what a terrible idea it was.

      • Anonymous Bosch says:

        Oh wow.

        I think it’s less the rejoicing than the attempt to do so publicly and as a signal. People weren’t just keeping their background level of hatred for Thatcher, they were going out of their way to publicly renew their dislike.

        This of course starts a big fight between them and the people who liked her, and it means that the death of every public figure becomes another opportunity to polarize a country and start a new little border skirmish in the culture wars. Deaths become a time to express how much you hate other people and revel in what tears you apart.

        Compare this to the alternate Schelling point of when a country’s leader dies, everyone is quiet and respectful and holds a nice tasteful funeral and comes together as a community.

        Clicks, man. They fuck people up.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m hoping there’s at least a little nuance here.

      In his style, McCain was a great, high-minded, virtuous, heroic, and noble person. In terms of content, it’s hard to overlook all of the war and death he caused. This is legitimately difficult to reconcile and I think we should be uncomfortable about this.

      The way I chose to express these emotions was through a poem that in style was high-minded, virtuous, heroic and noble (a traditional elegy about him rising to heaven and inspiring the angels), but whose content was about war and death.

      I guess this didn’t come through that well. My inability to resist posting things I think are clever might have led me more astray than usual.

      • quanta413 says:

        It’s definitely clever. Maybe good satire? But not terribly charitable.

        • Enkidum says:

          He bears personal responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands, far more responsibility than 99.9% of the human race. Why be charitable about that?

          • Jiro says:

            If you’re a politician in any position of importance, you’re going to be responsible for policies that affect a large portion of the human race. If you ever make any mistakes in your lifetime (which, being human, you will), you will then have borne personal responsibility for a large number of deaths (whether those policies involve war or not).

            In everyday life, the only way you can make a mistake that gets a lot of people killed is by being reckless. For politicians who inherently deal with the lives of large numbers of people, this is not true, so we should not transfer our condemnation of such mistakes from everyday people to politicians.

          • Enkidum says:

            Hmmm… that’s a good point, and one I’ll accept.

            I think the further point though, is that for McCain these consequences were not a bug, not a mistake he made. They were just part of the plan.

            That being said, I think I’m being far too pugnacious in a way that is not in the spirit of the comment section here. I’ll pull back a little.

          • Jiro says:

            That doesn’t help.

            Politicians inherently, because it’s their job, make decisions that trade off the welfare, and the lives, of some people against some other people. Claiming that the losses can be condemned because they’re “part of the plan” still means that every politician will be condemned because sooner or later every politican will have a plan that makes a tradeoff that you disagree with.

            I won’t condemn any politican for causing loss of life unless 1) the loss of life (or harm to innocents that results in loss of life) is their terminal goal, or 2) their policies that caused the loss of life are so beyond the pale that we can pretty much agree as a society to condemn such things. And someone who was a serious Presidential candidate isn’t going to fall under #2.

          • meh says:

            On its surface, deaths are ‘part of the plan’ of any war. More context is needed to evaluate if it was a good or bad act.

          • jw says:

            Because You are not his judge, God is.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            Because You are not his judge, God is.

            I’m pretty sure people are allowed to make character judgments without special permission from God.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            If you’re a politician in any position of importance, you’re going to be responsible for policies that affect a large portion of the human race. If you ever make any mistakes in your lifetime (which, being human, you will), you will then have borne personal responsibility for a large number of deaths (whether those policies involve war or not).

            Moreover, the decisions put before you will involve deaths either way. Do you bomb this country, and kill thousands, or let it build its war machine and kill thousands?

            And it’s worse than that. It’s not even a simple trolley problem with thousands on each vehicle; it’s several rooms with a radioactive source in each which has a probability curve of killing an unknown number of people based on how you twiddle the dials. Do you take option A and risk N lives or option B and risk P lives or…

            A politician is responsible not only for what happened, but what could have happened, that they avoided. And we’ll often never know for sure.

          • Enkidum says:

            I won’t condemn any politican for causing loss of life unless 1) the loss of life (or harm to innocents that results in loss of life) is their terminal goal, or 2) their policies that caused the loss of life are so beyond the pale that we can pretty much agree as a society to condemn such things. And someone who was a serious Presidential candidate isn’t going to fall under #2.

            I’m not sure I understand what your #2 is meant to refer to.

            I think that you can condemn politicians for making decisions (or advocating for actions) that predictably result in a net detriment to the world, when there is a clear alternative. I think many of the things McCain supported were precisely of this nature. (i.e. propping up the Saudi regime, both Iraq wars, violent rhetoric towards Iran, and that’s just the most obvious references from the Middle East).

            As you will undoubtedly note, this means that every American president, and most senior American politicians, are to be condemned by this metric. (I’m not American, and I don’t mean to pick on America, the same is true of other countries but is of less importance, globally speaking.) You might ask what the “clear alternative” is to the examples I’ve given. So, for example, my claim is that literally anything other than invading Iraq would have been a better choice than invading Iraq. And those who supported the invasion (which, as I’ve noted, includes almost all senior politicians of both major American parties, as well as the majority of the populace at the time) should be condemned for that.

          • Jiro says:

            As you will undoubtedly note, this means that every American president, and most senior American politicians, are to be condemned by this metric.

            The point is that the type of things that (important) politicians do inherently affect a lot of lives. If you’re going to condemn politicians for taking lives you’re going to condemn them all, not because they’re Americans and Americans are warmongers, but because you’re demanding that every important politician who had a major policy disagreement with you any time in their career should be condemned for it.

          • It’s easy not to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. It doesn’t involve trading off any lives because they were not a threat to anyone.

            The decision to invade Iraq was not a sophisticated Trolley Problem involving subtle trade-offs. It’s literally, “Button A lets the train pass. Button B carpet-bombs the train and a hundred thousand others like it.”

            “Politicians inherently affect lives” is a weak counter-argument when we are not talking about merely “affecting” lives (what a euphemism!), but killing in the service of a reactionary, historically regressive cause.

            By the way, by this metric all U.S. Presidents since 1865 are just as guilty of this as McCain. The Civil War was the last historically-progressive war that Americans fought, with the exception of WWII.

            “But Saddam!…” 2000s-era Saddam was fine. Heck, I’ll even say 1990 Saddam was fine. (1980s Saddam was no good, but the U.S. supported him then in his poison gas-slinging war against Iran). What did Saddam want in 1990? To takeover the corrupt oil monarchy of Kuwait and gradually unify the Arab Nation under his equally corrupt rule. It’s an historically-progressive, modernizing, nationalist dictatorship, folks! If Saddam was the worst thing in the world for invading Kuwait, then so was Otto von Bismarck for his wars against neighboring monarchies to gradually unify the German nation under his undemocratic rule.

            Similarly, Assad in Syria is no angel, but he also happens to be historically progressive when the next-best alternative is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (and don’t kid yourself that that isn’t the next-best practical alternative).

            Similarly, Ghaddafi in Libya. I could go on….

          • Jiro says:

            It’s easy not to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. It doesn’t involve trading off any lives because they were not a threat to anyone.

            “They were not a threat to anyone” is a political position, on which it was possible, at the time, to legitimately disagree.

            “Well, if you believe my side instead of the outgroup’s side, there was obviously no need for a tradeoff” is not the same as “there was obviously no need for a tradeoff”.

          • Enkidum says:

            …a political position, on which it was possible, at the time, to legitimately disagree.

            It’s possible to be legitimately wrong.

            Were the likely consequences of the Iraq War worth the likely consequences of doing literally anything else?

            Nope. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

            Again, being charitable does not entail accepting murderous nonsense. The entire American political class (and most of its populace) decided to destabilize a region with the perfectly obvious result of slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people, for no apparent benefit at all. Fuck em. Why should we be civil about this?

          • Jiro says:

            Why should we be civil about this?

            Because “being obviously wrong” is not the same thing as “being wrong”, and because neither of those is the same thing as “being evil”. You’re trying to blur these together. McCain may have been wrong, but he was not so obviously wrong that no reasonable person could agree with him.

          • Jack Lecter says:


            all U.S. Presidents since 1865

            Was Jimmy Carter?

            Honest question, as I’m not a historian, but a quick googling fails to turn up any obvious blood on his hands.

            I think politicians who (unnecessarily) kill people are entitled to a certain margin of error, given that nobody’s perfect and hindsight is easy. That being said, I don’t think this margin should be infinite, and it’s not obvious to me that it should be very large.

          • cuke says:

            At a general level, this conversation seems to be asking “do we have a moral duty to be charitable in assessing the legacy of a politician?”

            Being charitable seems like a good thing when it comes to all kinds of interpersonal interaction. It amounts to assuming good faith from your interlocutor and approaching them likewise in good faith, and allowing lots of room for the possibility of misunderstanding. That’s because charity in that context supports the effort of mutual understanding.

            But what is our moral duty when we’re assessing the life of a powerful public figure? It’s not an interpersonal dynamic; it’s a task of discernment. What did he do well, what did he do badly? What do we make of his choices and their effects?

            If we’re looking for justification to call someone “a terrible person” or “a hero” then we’re not looking for understanding; we’re looking for how to feel righteous in our black-or-white conclusion.

            Otherwise, everyone is a mixed bag of good and bad traits, choices, behaviors, and we all leave a trail of mistakes. It seems to me better understanding comes not from feeling a sense of duty to be nice to someone’s memory but from looking clearly at specific acts, traits, choices, effects, and saying what specifically we make of those.

          • That’s a great point, cuke. I could care less about John McCain personally. I just want to see his favored policies enacted less often, so if I can make it clear that someone doesn’t score brownie points with me for talking up wars, but rather the opposite, then I hope to see fewer of those types of politicians in the future.

            My initial reaction to the John McCain death news was, “Meh.” But when I saw the outpouring of romanticizing and mythologizing of the man and most importantly his policies on facebook and elsewhere, I’ve started posting responses.

          • Re: Jack Lecter, I would say Jimmy Carter was better than most. He pressured Israel to come to a reasonable agreement with Palestine. He pushed for nuclear missile reduction and agreeing to eventually turn over the Panama Canal zone. Unfortunately, he supported the Shah of Iran and opposed the Soviet Union for trying to defend a secular-minded government from Islamist mujahideen rebels. So I give Carter a C+

      • entobat says:

        I appreciate this analysis from a “what would my English teacher point out that we’d all missed when discussing it” perspective, and I definitely see it now that it’s been explained to me. My initial reaction was more of “oh a high-minded tribu–nevermind, that was just to set up the one-two punch of making fun of him” and I think other people are having a similar experience.

        • drunkfish says:

          This is also how I interpreted it, but seeing your intended message, Scott, makes me really like it. I think with that framing it’s incredibly good, and at least for me it’s not cheapened too much by needing to be explained.

      • shakeddown says:

        I read this as affectionate bashing/parody rather than outright harsh criticism (mostly because affectionate parody seems more your style).

      • Alraune says:

        “This is legitimately difficult to reconcile.”

        No, it truly isn’t. Respectability is a social construct, if you encounter respectable people who spread death everywhere they go, you update to stop paying attention to the status evaluations of the people who told you that was respectable.

        • Enkidum says:

          *you should update

        • Jiro says:

          Respectable people in jobs which involve life and death are going to be spreading death every so often, because they are human. You are basically saying that no person in a position involving life and death can ever be respectable.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          That seems like a very conflict-theory way to view the world.

          If you’re mistake-theory, then if you’re not smart enough to avoid every mistake, all you can do is have good intentions and carry them out honorably.

          • Enkidum says:

            And avoid obvious mistakes, surely?

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            I disagree.
            It seems pure mistake theory.

            “I have a model that says good, kind people [the people I would like if I was a conflict theorist] will on average perform actions that are more good than bad” -> I observe that there is a much lower than expected possibly negative correlation between how good someone is and how much good their actions do -> I update my bayesian priors to value being good less.”

            is how I read it.

      • Anatoly says:

        The high-mindedness comes across as highly sarcastic and seems to support the McCain-bashing tone rather than stand in opposition to it.

        (although I’m somewhat annoyed by this poem politically, I think to be outraged by it goes way too far. I think you should feel free(er) to indulge in your whims even when they don’t come across as inhumanly balanced).

        • Chalid says:

          The high-mindedness comes across as highly sarcastic and seems to support the McCain-bashing tone rather than stand in opposition to it.

          Exactly how I took it.

        • antpocalypse says:

          Why should Scott stand in opposition to it? McCain’s legacy has enough fellators; it can bear some detractors.

      • Quixote says:

        yeah. I think its clever. And I don’t really think its wrong (in the sense of being incorrect). But its not very kind.

        I feel like there is a social norm against trash talking people who have recently died. And while I am a liberal individual who is not over attached to norms if they prove to be outdated and harmful, I’m not convinced the norm of “don’t speak ill of the dead” is a harmful memetic relic of darker times. I think it might be a norm that helps prevent an awful experience from being even worse. I think it also encourages responsibility by blocking off the path to blaming all current problems on people who can’t defend themselves.

        So yeah, I think its a norm that might well be worth defending. I think you probably broke it. So consider yourself called out, but in a soft low confidence interval kind of way.

      • Deiseach says:

        a traditional elegy about him rising to heaven and inspiring the angels

        Failed largely because phrases like “In hippie cliches about “choice” and “free will”/All the fifth-columnists, communists, peaceniks” sound like standard lefty sneering at the redneck religious rubes of the right. I have no idea what McCain’s personal beliefs were and I certainly can’t speak to the state of his soul, but talking about God and Heaven in such a manner, to those of a traditional/conventional belief structure, does sound like ignorance of what is believed, strawman version of such beliefs, and treating those as holding such beliefs as so stupid they have a very base conception of the spiritual.

        As for instance in Stephen King’s Under the Dome with the character of Big Jim Rennie, part of whose hypocritical and manipulative facade is his constant religosity, expressed as a ‘homely’ style of talking about Heaven where his notion of what that will entail is a big meal (going from memory, he likes telling people not to grieve about death, that their loved ones are going to be with Jesus having a fine meal of biscuits and gravy and other down-home fare). Now, this does represent Rennie’s venality and true lack of spirituality, but it also makes orthodox believers sound like pure idiots that such talk can be perceived as any way convincing them of another’s sincerity of belief. It’s somebody who does not share such beliefs making a mock of a figure they find abhorrent, but taking out others as unintended collateral damage as well.

        Don’t worry too much – I don’t let Milton off the hook for his warmongering in Heaven and he’s a much better poet (his theology is one I disagree with, however, and he has a rather material view of the spiritual – the air and angels dispute where we can see him coming down on the “genuinely incarnated” side, e.g. in the matter of Raphael and Tobit, one point of contention was did Raphael really eat or did he only seem to eat? Milton, in having Adam provide a meal for the angel who comes to visit him, comes down on the ‘really ate solid food’ side, as he does with his war of the angels where they build genuine weapons that can genuinely wound each other, even if their bodies are subtle and not gross flesh).

        So having McCain, even in metaphor, able to influence the polity of Heaven (and in a sense replace God) to conduct real war on Earth is grotesque to a conventional believer, but for a satire that grotesquerie probably is part of the form. Actually, it’s rather like Pullman’s Republic of Heaven notion where ‘God’ (either Metatron or the Authority) is physically embodied and can be overthrown, and mortals set themselves up as the new powers. So I should throttle back and take this as the pop-culture notion of the Afterlife and nothing meant as seriously engaging actual belief.

      • meh says:

        The problem is if I pattern match to other examples of people writing high minded poems about subjects, the high-mindedness is simply used for humorous effect, not as a counter point to the negative content of the poem.

        This is probably such the default reaction, that a verse explaining the nuance, however inelegant, is likely needed.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        “He had a literally undying love of bombing but he stylistically resembled a hero” is not substantially more nuanced than “He had a literally undying love of bombing, fuck the bastard”. “Stylistically resembled a hero” is a joke, it’s the faintest possible praise that you append to your insult to drive the insult home. It serves to tell the audience that you went looking for something nice to say and couldn’t find anything better than the man’s aesthetics.

        And I really don’t think you get to invoke nuance in a poem where you call Lucifer the ur-commie.

      • Alsadius says:

        Honestly, this is the only piece in the last few days that struck me as both anti-McCain and at least somewhat appropriate. Simply put, I think McCain would have liked it – in a world where Satan is real, why shouldn’t we fight him?

      • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

        I wonder how many U.S. military actions Senator McCain voted for that did not also enjoy support from a majority of Senate Democrats.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Or how many didn’t also enjoy support from their most recent presidential candidate.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          I wonder how many times McCain’s bellicosity was so outlandish (“NATO-izing” a war for Georgia against Russia, escalating the current Saudi debacle in Yemen, etc.) that it didn’t even meet the rationality threshold that the (very hawkish and militaristic) Democratic Party has for seriously entertaining talk of a conflict, and is thus not on the Senate record for us to consider

      • Robert Jones says:

        Man, that is some weak sauce. The fact that Pope wrote an epic poem about the theft of a lock of Arabella Fermor’s hair does not show that he took the issue seriously, but the opposite.

      • herculesorion says:

        “I’m hoping there’s at least a little nuance here.”

        You post that post and then you call for nuance?

      • Aevylmar says:

        I didn’t hear any nuance in it. It was just… insulting. It lowered my opinion of you significantly, largely because all I could think of was “https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/04/12/if-a-clod-be-washed-away-by-the-sea-europe-is-the-less/”.

        (As JulieK linked above.)

        Mind you, my opinion of you to start off with was *very high*, but… we have this rule where we don’t mock the recently-deceased. You can criticize them if you do it in a respectful manner, but you don’t satirize them. I like that rule. You defended it! You defended it nobly!

        So now I’m unhappy and disappointed.

      • gbdub says:

        In his style, McCain was a great, high-minded, virtuous, heroic, and noble person. In terms of content, it’s hard to overlook all of the war and death he caused. This is legitimately difficult to reconcile and I think we should be uncomfortable about this.

        I mean, the same thing could be said of Obama. And Hilary. Can you look into your heart and honestly say this is the tack you’d have taken in writing an elegy for them?

    • quanta413 says:

      As clever as the poem is and as much as I like it, I have to admit you are right. It has the substance of a hot take even if it’s more highbrow.

    • JulieK says:

      “the same hot take you can find on Twitter”

      Well, it’s not the universal hot take – the alternative one is “McCain was a nice guy, unlike those Republicans who are still alive.”

      • yodelyak says:

        Yeah. After enough crappy “McCain is so much better than other Rs” type posts in my feeds, I was initially pretty pleased with this one. Charmed, in fact. I saw it as anti-blue-tribe-idiocy/hypocrisy, not as pro-blue-tribe at all. I still think McCain himself would be likely to get a chuckle out of this, and would then just ask, “are you really so sure Jesus and the angels wouldn’t be on my side?”

        I mean, if half the blue-tribers who say they care about not bombing places actually do care about that, then why are they suddenly so fond of McCain?

        Plus, it was a poem with real effort invested, and in McCain’s preferred style, and it placed McCain in Heaven (Heaven gets a lot of controversial or warped good guys, but it is emphatically not where you put baddies) and gave him the virtue of persistence/conviction.

        I think in order to have dodged being told he’d violated norms or etc., if Scott had a) waited until a week or two after the official funeral, rather than participated in pre-funeral commentary and b) skipped posing McCain in opposition to Jesus or the Holy Spirit, sticking with posing him opposite St. Pete or angels, that might have done it. [Now that I think about it, all my pearly gates jokes and so-and-so-in-Heaven jokes pretty much always use St Pete or Angels, not Jesus/holy spirit, because it’s not in good taste to put opinions in Jesus’ mouth in jest or for sport.]

        Actually, also add c) and included a preface (possibly also in verse) to the effect that the effort put into the poem was to commemorate the sheer cussedness that McCain put into his life’s work. That if the poem seemed to cussedly insist on pointing at a McCain we’re inclined to forget, something something waves hands.

  7. JulieK says:

    I was interested to see Mark Steyn say (quoting a column he wrote during the 2008 primaries):

    For a certain percentage of voters, McCain is tonally a conservative, and that trumps the fact that a lot of his policies are profoundly unconservative. He won New Hampshire because if you stuck him in plaid he’d be a passable Beltway impersonation of the crusty, cranky, ornery Granite Stater. The facts are secondary that, on campaign finance, illegal immigration, Big Pharma and global warming, the notorious “maverick’s” mavericity (maverickiness? maverectomy?) always boils down to something indistinguishable from the Democrat position.

    It makes McCain sound rather like Trump!
    (ETA: I mean in the matter of appealing the voters on tone rather than substance, not as far as any particular issue.)

    • Tarpitz says:

      I… think the appeal of politicians to most voters is almost always far more tone than substance.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      But Trump appeals to Trump voters on substance. Trump voters also do not like illegal immigration, the media, pointless wars, freeloading foreigners, Islam, etc. Something something take him seriously not literally.

      On the other hand, I so strongly disliked John McCain’s politics that the only vote for a Democrat I have ever cast in my life was Obama in ’08 because I would not vote for John McCain.

      • Galle says:

        Oh, sure, Trump’s substance matters somewhat, but his tone definitely has a much bigger effect, both in terms of his support and his opposition. I’d be the first to admit that even if Trump shared all the same policy positions as me, I’d still hate the guy on an instinctive level.

  8. philkidd says:

    Putting “deus vult” in your joke elegy for John McCain is a bit much if you ask me.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thanks, hadn’t thought of that (and angry that I have to), but have changed that line

      • IrreverentCosmopolitan says:

        Aaaaghh, It’s Leonard Cohen and ‘Anal Sex’ in ‘The Future’ all over again. :/

        • Scott Alexander says:

          What’s this story?

        • IrreverentCosmopolitan says:

          Well the original lyrics and the recorded album have the line as ‘Give me crack and anal sex’ but whenever he would perform it live (at least from two concerts attended and a bunch of youtube videos) he would replace it with ‘careless sex’ instead.

    • herculesorion says:


    • IrreverentCosmopolitan says:

      Wat, why ?

      • C_B says:

        I’m also curious. I’m aware of “Deus vult!” as an actual Crusader battlecry, and as a Crusader Kings II videogame meme, but I don’t see how either one is particularly problematic here. What are we missing?

        • Nornagest says:

          It got picked up sometime in the last year or two as a catchphrase for edgy alt-right teenagers on /pol/ and similar forums, by way of the meme. This shouldn’t be much of an issue, but it is.

      • IrreverentCosmopolitan says:

        So apparently this phrase was coopted by some alt-right things in the context of anti-islamic memes after it has reentered mainstream consciousness via the CKII game – I’m not sure which part of this brings more shame to our species.

  9. max says:

    So in the poem, McCain wants to destroy Hell? Without too many spoilers, this reminds me of some protagonists from a novel of Scott’s…

    I think some of the early commenters are mistaking this poem as overly-negative on McCain. Sure, there are some jokes about McCain’s reputation for extreme hawkish-ness, but isn’t bombing Hell actually a good thing?

    • quanta413 says:

      If bombing Hell is a good thing, it seems God has something wrong that McCain had right.

      I’m pretty sure that’s not the idea. The layers here though… if bombing Hell would work, why couldn’t you bomb your way to peace and freedom?

      • Alsadius says:

        You can, sometimes. 1945 is an obvious example thereof.

        • quanta413 says:

          Something works one time…

          And we’re forever doomed to keep trying it.

          I joke of course. It didn’t work out badly in Korea either. And all the land taken by U.S. conquest was pretty beneficial to the U.S. too.

          Still, it turns out badly a lot too.

    • Michael Handy says:

      Hell has a substantial civilian population that would only suffer if heaven was to prosecute unprovoked war on the flimsy excuse of its alleged human rights violations.

    • Yosarian2 says:

      Just remember, if you bomb a place, you have to be willing to accept a lot of refugees who will flee from that place and want to move into your country. 😉

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s not Hell he’s bombing though, it’s Earth, and the poem makes it that Hell is never directly attacked and the innocent on Earth are going to suffer, just like warmongering in the ‘real world’ never gets at the real culprits (as I have seen suggested, if the US were serious about taking out terrorists, they’d invade Saudi Arabia as the sponsors and backers but instead they bow and scrape to them as allies) and instead do things like drone attacks on weddings.

    • JulieK says:

      but isn’t bombing Hell actually a good thing?

      I can imagine an admirer of McCain writing a poem about how McCain had moved on from fighting evil on earth, to fighting it in the divine realm. (This is not that poem, though.)

  10. Guy in TN says:

    Nothing wrong with a hot take every now and then.

  11. Unirt says:

    I’m not an American so I had to read McCain’s Wikipedia page to get an idea of him, and it seems he was rather fond of bipartisan agreements and generally maintaining a dialogue with the other party? This looks like another noble characteristic, though I’m not saying it compensates for the death and destruction.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      I’m not an American either, but I know a great American joke: In America, there are two political parties, the stupid party and the evil party. Once in a while, they both get together to do something that’s both stupid and evil. That is called bipartisanship.

      • FLWAB says:

        The evil party proposes a 5 year plan to destroy the country. The stupid party congratulates themselves on getting it changed to a 10 year plan in committee.

  12. fuguenocht says:

    Alternate version for slightly smoother middle verses:

    Say a prayer for John McCain

    Who passes from his earthly pain
His eyes are shut upon his brow

    He warmongers to angels now

    Beyond the sky, where sorrows cease

    He rails against the Prince of Peace.

    The Holy Spirit, full of love

    McCain denounces as “a dove”

    All of the weak and cowardly policies
Heaven pursues that let sin still subsist
He hounds: six thousand years of grim detente 

    With Lucifer, the Original Communist;
    Fifth columnists, and hippie platitudes
    Like “free will”; peacenik attitudes; ‘Mac’ John
Decries them all, he trounces, denounces them
Hounds them and says: get the Apocalypse on!

    All of the saints and the hosts of the angels

    Run to their weapons of lightning and flame
Their swords made of sunbeams and sighs of the martyrs,

    Their gossamer banners of God’s awesome Name;

    Their heavenly helmets and breastplates put on,
Their shields all reflecting the light of the dawn;

    The Archangel Michael in malachite armor

    Blows on his trumpet and beckons them on

    Reader, should your weather be

    Meteors falling lazily
Or if your neighborhood should seem
A John of Patmos fever dream

    Then say a prayer for John McCain

    Now passed beyond all earthly pain

    Not death, with all the peace it brings
Could end his love of bombing things

  13. outis says:

    It would be a nice gesture if they’d hurry up the chemical attack on Idlib, so we can mark McCain’s funeral with another airstrike on Syria. He’d appreciate it.

  14. jane says:

    I enjoyed reading this, and appreciate your perspective. Thanks.

  15. Bla Bla says:

    Lucifer is more likely a fascist, because he is too stylish to be a commie.

  16. Malachite is about as badly suited for armor as any gemstone I can think of–much too fragile.

  17. Deiseach says:

    Were someone to have eyes upon their brow, they would indeed be a strange and unique human specimen. Unless this is a subtle hint that McCain was not human, as the author of this piece seems to think he was not.

    God have mercy upon all us poor worms crawling between earth and heaven!

  18. WarOnReasons says:

    Suppose a few years from now nuclear-armed Iran starts invading neighboring countries. Would you reconsider your current view of McCain?

    • If a nuclear-armed Iran starts invading neighboring countries, it will still be none of America’s business. Treating other countries’ potential aggression with U.S. intervention is like treating someone’s flu with a Hiroshima bomb. Unless I see immensely strong evidence otherwise (such as a modern literal Hitler firing up the gas chambers), my default judgment is that the U.S. military is categorically incapable of having a positive influence in the world. And even in the case of a modern literal Hitler, I have zero confidence that the U.S. military won’t somehow manage to make it even worse—not due to any defect in the front-line soldiers (they are just trying to get through life), but because U.S. foreign policy is currently beholden to capitalist imperialism, and to pretend otherwise is to hoodwink Americans into cheering on the deaths of others for the enrichment of U.S. investors.

      • Matt M says:

        such as a modern literal Hitler firing up the gas chambers

        Keep in mind, even literal Hitler firing up the gas chambers wasn’t enough to provoke US involvement in WW2. We declared war on Japan because they bombed us, and Germany declared war on us because they were treaty bound to do so.

        • Protagoras says:

          Germany declared war on us because they were treaty bound to do so.

          And Hitler thought the ever increasing amount of support the U.S. was giving Britain meant the U.S. was already effectively at war with Germany anyway, and formally declaring it wouldn’t make much difference. Otherwise he probably would have found some excuse not to do it, or at least tried to make it a condition that the Japanese first break their non-aggression pact with the Soviets.

    • ksvanhorn says:

      The last time Iran invaded another country was 250 years ago.

      The US, on the other hand, has invaded 23 countries in just the last 30 years.

  19. behihoo says:

    Looks like you’ve adapted nicely to your West coast bubble.

  20. EmilAich says:

    Uncharitable to say the least.

  21. Ninety-Three says:

    This blog does not have a subject, but it has an ethos. That ethos might be summed up as: charity over absurdity.

    Absurdity is the natural human tendency to dismiss anything you disagree with as so stupid it doesn’t even deserve consideration. In fact, you are virtuous for not considering it, maybe even heroic! You’re refusing to dignify the evil peddlers of bunkum by acknowledging them as legitimate debate partners.

    Charity is the ability to override that response. To assume that if you don’t understand how someone could possibly believe something as stupid as they do, that this is more likely a failure of understanding on your part than a failure of reason on theirs.

    What happened?

    • wysinwygymmv says:

      So interpret the poem charitably.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        I am struggling to arrive at a charitable interpretation of the poem using McCain’s voice to call Lucifer the ur-commie. The best I can do is that the devil is kind of like Stalin who was a communist, which does not feel like I have overridden absurdity.

        • wysinwygymmv says:

          I’m struggling to understand what’s wrong with using McCain’s voice to call Lucifer the ur-[what John McCain certainly believed to be a very bad thing].

          • Ninety-Three says:

            What’s wrong is that all bad things are not the same. I’m sure McCain thinks that stealing is very bad but it would be silly to portray McCain as calling Lucifer the ur-thief because Lucifer has a thing and it ain’t stealing. If you did do that, you’d be portraying McCain as the sort of lunatic who’s so obsessed with stealing that he can’t recognize the existence of non-stealing evils, like Hell or rebellion against God.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            I’m sure McCain thinks that stealing is a very bad thing but it would be silly to portray McCain as calling Lucifer the ur-thief because Lucifer has a thing and it ain’t stealing.

            Lucifer is the ur-thief because he steals souls from God and although I’m not a Christian I’m pretty sure there is no more substantial theft than that.

            Having McCain call Lucifer the “ur-commie” is mild hyperbole in service to the premise of the poem: which is that McCain in heaven would exhort heaven’s hosts to use their power to fight evil on earth — and as a lemma that McCain considered communism to be evil.

            There is robust support in the public record for McCain believing that good guys should use their power to fight bad guys, and that he believed communism to be evil.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            There is robust support in the public record for McCain believing that good guys should use their power to fight bad guys, and that he believed communism to be evil.

            Would McCain have called Luficer the ur-murderer? The ur-rapist? The ur-coveter-of-his-neighbour’s-wife? “Satan is evil and McCain thought communism was evil” does not imply “McCain thought Satan was a communist”, this is literally Introduction to Logic.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            Would McCain have called Luficer the ur-murderer? The ur-rapist? The ur-coveter-of-his-neighbour’s-wife?

            You mean literally in real life? No, because McCain doesn’t seem like he was particularly religious.

            You mean within the reality of the poem where McCain is literally trying to convince God and the angels to go to war against evil? No, because while it’s consistent with the premise of the poem, it doesn’t add anything to the premise of the poem. This is because McCain as both a conservative politician and a literal soldier in a literal conflict with a literally communist military was more notably anti-communist than anti-murder, anti-rape, and anti-infidelity (which most politicians tend to at least pay lip service to) and the premise of the poem involves him carrying on his legacy of hawkishness and anti-communism in heaven.

            “Satan is evil and McCain thought communism was evil” does not imply “McCain thought Satan was a communist”,

            Hence the admission that this constitutes mild hyperbole in service to the premise of the poem. I suspect it was also a joke. (You know what a joke is, right?) This is literally Introduction to Literary Criticism.

            this is literally Introduction to Logic.

            The fact that there isn’t literal logical implicature going on here would be relevant if Scott had written a mathematical proof or a philosophical argument, but he in fact wrote a poem instead.

            This is a weird hill for you to want to die on, I think, but if you’re still not grasping the concept of “joke” at this point I’ll leave you to it.

          • Jack Lecter says:


            This is literally Introduction to Literary Criticism.

            I took that class last semester, and we didn’t cover this. I suspect your use of ‘literally’ to be hyperbolic.

            I’ve never actually heard “joke” formally defined in a way that would explain the concept to someone who didn’t already have it. If you’ve got such a definition up your sleeve, I’d appreciate it if you’d share.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            If that is hyperbole in service of the poem’s premise, then the premise includes that McCain was the kind of rabid McCarthyist who struggles to describe evil with words other than communism, and we’re back to my objection that this is absurd and uncharitable.

            There were ways to make the same “McCain saying Satan is bad in a silly way” joke without implying that McCain fails to distinguish between rebellion against god and workers owning the means of production, and if we’re doing Introduction to Literary Criticism we should assign some significance to the fact that the author did imply such.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            So interpret the poem charitably.

            This is a weird hill for you to want to die on, I think, but if you’re still not grasping the concept of “joke” at this point I’ll leave you to it.

            Jeebus, if “joke at the expense of the recently deceased” is a charitable interpretation…

    • Enkidum says:

      But there are limits to charity. Some positions and actions are wrong, and being so charitable that you fail to acknowledge that is a mistake. I think all the community here agrees on that much?

      At least the impression I get is that for Scott, McCain’s actions over the years, particularly his support for various wars, are a specific instance of being wrong in this way. In an inexcusably bad way: there’s no sweeping it under the carpet. Since this happens to be a position I also hold, it’s very easy for me to accept.

      I you’re not in agreement with the specific wrongness of McCain, and American imperialism more generally, then… I dunno, this looks pretty bad I guess? But you can presumably see the justification?

  22. NoRandomWalk says:

    I had a profoundly negative emotional reaction to reading this. I felt it was mean, and uncharitable. And I think it violated a bunch of other norms I feel strongly about but I haven’t thought through justifying.

    That being said thank you for writing/posting it and offering an opportunity to engage.

    Rationally I accept that ‘should we venerate noble people who we have concluded made the world worse off because their views were predictably incorrect’ is an important discussion to have.
    However, my reading of the man is that he was as close to ‘good and honorable’ a man as I have seen in politics or public life.

    He had many of the virtues you claim to care about.

    He had humility, so much humility. When told by a friend he would pass the Anne Frank test (would a non-jew hide jews at risk of life) he said he wasn’t sure. This was after he voluntarily endured years of torture rather than be let free by the Vietcong because being freed ahead of ‘order of capture’ would break down norms related to loyalty to your soldiers, negotiating with terrorists, patriotism, etc.

    He was about ideas. He believed in being an American grounded exclusively in the highest ideals, as opposed to any notions of blood and soil.

    He thought that agency and independence and dignity were supremely important. He didn’t ‘love bombing things’ – he thought that genocide and oppression were so horrible that it was worth working to arm and support the downtrodden because it was better for them to die fighting than to maintain the status quo.

    He engaged with his failures, publicly reciting them often. When he got caught up in a corruption scandal early on, he held himself to account, and eschewing corrupting influences or associations in the future – on principle not allowing Manaford to run the 2008 republican convention because of his Russian ties.

    I concede that the Sarah Palin pick was not an excusable lapse in judgement; I claim only that his other positive qualities dwarf it, and others.

    Your elegy is in tension with the wonderful 3-part series you wrote about those who come to different conclusions about methods should not be automatically assumed Moral Monsters.

    • Jiro says:

      Rationally I accept that ‘should we venerate noble people who we have concluded made the world worse off because their views were predictably incorrect’ is an important discussion to have.

      People, especially when dealing with politics and culture war topics, typically have a lot of confidence in their ability to predict things, usually more than is justified.

      I’m not going to condemn a politician for being “predictably incorrect” just because someone predicted that he was incorrect and that ended up being the case. Every politician has opponents who “predict” that his policies won’t pan out, so by that standard any failed policy is predictably incorrect.

    • I think you are taking the poem too seriously. Note that McCain is assumed to go to Heaven. What does a politician who generally supported military action do in heaven? Obviously he pushes for war against Hell.

      Putting aside the argument from God’s omniscience, it isn’t an obviously absurd idea. Lots of people take the existence of pain and sin as an argument against God’s existence. Turn that around and you have someone telling God that his hands off approach obviously isn’t working and he should get serious about eliminating sin from the world.

      • NoRandomWalk says:

        Yes it is possible I took it too seriously.

        However, the reason I think I don’t is that I perceive your reading of the poem as not the most-likely given the context, or the surrounding words.

        Intent matters when it comes to morality, and all that.

        Scott’s poem doesn’t describe McCain as following the reasoning path *hates evil -> pits himself against it using any and all means necessary including potentially counterproductive measures like war -> advocates war on hell*

        Scott’s poem describes McCain as following the reasoning path *likes bombing things -> is a warhawk -> sees Hell as likeliest target he can convince others to bomb -> advocated bombing campaign against Hell”

        To me this is a huge distinction, and is a major factor in my distaste at this post.

      • herculesorion says:

        The poem itself? Whatever, hotter takes are posted about what exactly constitutes a sandwich.

        What bugs is that it was written by this author and posted at this blog, in the context of past posts which people in these comments have linked to. It seems to take a Strong Principled Stance which is entirely in opposition to other Strong Principled Stances the author has taken in the past. Which is…concerning.

  23. Leonard says:

    I kinda wanted that last couplet to be:

    Not death, with all the peace it brings
    Could stop him bombing all the things.

  24. knockknock says:

    Not exactly Casey At The Bat, Scott.

    More important, lost amid all the McCain Mania — RIP Neil Simon, arguably the second most successful playwright of all time.

    • RandomName says:

      I don’t understand your reference. Casey struck out. If you’re criticising Scott, wouldn’t it make more sense to say this IS Casey at bat?

  25. Conrad Honcho says:

    I find it interesting that it’s mainly the centrists or the not particularly politically active people who are greatly upset by McCain’s death. Both the left and right did not care for the man.

    I resist the urge to rejoice, publicly or privately in the death of a politically opponent of mine. The urge exists, of course, just that I try to resist it. I was at a party Saturday night when the word came that McCain had died and I had to do the whole “oh no that sucks” thing.

    • meh says:

      He famously did not demonize Obama, which appeals to those groups.

      And I think this sums of a lot of it:
      “Even if his actions do not always live up to his own standards, McCain is an honor politician” (https://www.nationalreview.com/2008/02/honor-politics-yuval-levin/)

    • Matt M says:

      There’s nothing the establishment loves more than a non-threatening Republican.

    • Hmmm says:

      Wasn’t this the same blog that did the Osama/Thatcher death post?

      Narcissism of small differences indeed.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Yes, I thought this was a rather odd post, as it was Scott’s writing about Osama/Thatcher that made me think I should resist the urge to celebrate the deaths of my enemies. And I don’t think there’s anyone in US politics I disliked more than John McCain. Traitors before enemies and all that.

  26. ratfacedman says:

    Today is laid to rest McCain–
    Got bombed by his own cancered brain.
    He never flew the Enola Gay
    Or bombed Beijing like Curt LeMay;

    He never got to bomb the Pars
    In all our endless desert wars,
    And now he’s left the marble halls.
    Oh, spare a thought for his blue balls.

  27. aphyer says:

    Speaking as someone who liked McCain more than Obama, I didnt find this at all mean-spirited or offputting.

    Maybe not worth a comment, but it seems like a few people had the opposite view, and I dont want Scott to see only negative comments and think this is uniformly hated.

  28. Jacob says:

    Water is taught by thirst
    Land, by the oceans passed
    Trees, by the stump
    Peace, by its battles told
    Love, by memorial mould
    McCain, by Trump

  29. Doug S. says:

    War for the War Vet! Skulls for the Skull Throne! Vote for McKhorne!

  30. John Richards says:

    You should submit this to the Nation

  31. Plumber says:

    I thought the poem was fun and from my guess of McCain’s sense of humor he would’ve liked it too.
    For whatever it’s worth the City Building that most of my work is at got the word to fly the flag at half mast until sunset Sunday.

    In reflecting on McCain I realize that if all I knew of him was that he voted for Trump’s tax cut I’d say “Oh I hate that guy”, which shows me that single data points aren’t how I should judge a life.

  32. MNadolsky says:

    “Let me take this opportunity to publicly say ‘fuck you’ to someone who just died, out there where everyone, including their grieving family, can see it.”

    Shame on you.

    • Unfortunately, the death of some people is a blessing. It must be hard for the families to bear, but if they are honest with themselves they will understand if the world breathes a sigh of relief. I don’t doubt that he was a nice guy in person. It is oh so tempting to mention that a certain someone was said to be fond of children and dogs, but I don’t want to tread into Godwin’s Law territory, mainly because it is not the most precise analogy for John McCain. He was no Adolf Hitler. I would compare him, rather, to a man like the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Since 1945, the American Empire has been the “Fortress of Reaction,” the “Prison of Nations,” just as Austria-Hungary and Russia were up until 1914, and just as Japan was from 1933 to 1941, and just as Nazi Germany was from 1941 to 1945. John McCain was no Hitler, but he was as much of a cheerleader and proponent of the American Empire as someone like the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or as much as Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg was for the German Empire.

      • the “Prison of Nations,” just as Austria-Hungary and Russia were up until 1914, and just as Japan was from 1933 to 1941, and just as Nazi Germany was from 1941 to 1945.

        Oddly enough, you don’t include the Soviet Union in your list, although it got control of a bunch of eastern European countries by force, in at least one case by massacre, kept control by force, including the suppression of risings in several countries, and maintained control over the central Asian countries that its predecessor had conquered.

        • Was Revolutionary France an imperialist Prison of Nations when it got control over much of Europe by force? No, even under Napoleon France was the liberator freeing Europe from the feudal yoke and replacing it with the far more dynamic and progressive bourgeois-imperial yoke. History must progress one step at a time. To have more perfectionist expectations is impotent moralizing. The French civil law code, the waves of nationalism that were unleashed to take the place of dynastic loyalties, the spread of the idea that government required the consent of the people (even if Napoleon did not honor it in practice), all of these things were progressive.

          Similarly, the Soviet Union in East Germany, in Poland, in Hungary, in the rest of Eastern Europe, and in Central Asia replaced the yoke of Imperial Russia, Nazi Germany, Islam, etc. with the yoke of the Soviet central plan, which was not fully responsive to the needs of the people, but which was an historical advance that held great promise if it could have been democratized and improved with linear programming and other modern calculation techniques.

          Look up the “hujum,” “the storming,” a campaign where women in Central Asia shed their veils and took the first significant steps in Central Asia towards becoming fully-engaged public citizens. Even today Central Asia is a secular paradise compared to areas where the Soviet Union did not reign.

          • liate says:

            …I could see the Central Asian and previously Tsarist areas being somewhat better under communism (although it’s nonobvious that the only possible options were communism or the existing monarchy; there were at least some reform efforts, and the Mensheviks existed), but the areas under the Nazis that became Soviet / part of the Warsaw Pact wouldn’t have stayed Nazi if the Soviet’s hadn’t subsequently taken over; some of them, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, had at least governments-in-exile from before occupation, if not, like Estonia, actually forming a government at the time of their takover.

          • In the case of Poland, the USSR invaded it back when the USSR and Nazi Germany were allies.

          • liate says:

            Correction: from before Nazi occupation.

            Ofc, I notice this after the edit window…

          • The USSR and Germany were never allies.

            The USSR preferred a tactical alliance with Britain and France against Nazi Germany, but after being repeatedly spurned and seeing the Nazi takeover of Poland loom imminently (which would put Nazi Germany right on the USSR’s border), the USSR gave up its hopes of ever getting a deal with the Allied Powers and consulted with Nazi Germany to make a purely tactical compromise over Poland, which demarcated part of Poland as an area into which German troops were not to cross, as well as a non-aggression pact. Neither side trusted the other, they did not share high-level intelligence, and they did not behave as “allies.” In fact, it was not long before they would be fighting each other indirectly in Finland.

            Also, while the USSR did invade Finland out of distrust of Finland’s White Guard government having troops so close to Leningrad, the USSR did not invade Poland. The USSR originally hoped that the Polish government would retreat to the eastern zone that was out of Germany’s agreed-upon sphere of influence. There, the Polish government would be safe from Nazi Germany and would be able to sue for peace as a rump state, preserving at least some sort of buffer state between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (not that the USSR trusted the Polish government much, but it was better than nothing).

            But Poland’s government stupidly fled to a neutral country, Romania, and Romania interned the government rather than risk offending Nazi Germany by appearing to give the government shelter, let it conduct its business within Romania, or allow it safe passage elsewhere. At this point, Poland ceased to have an effective government in its territory. The USSR stepped in to occupy the eastern zone of Poland before Germany could. This occupation was widely acknowledged at the time to NOT constitute an invasion, and the Polish government, with such influence as it still had, did not call on Polish citizens to resist this Soviet occupation or state that they considered it an act of war.

          • Protagoras says:

            @citizencokane, While the level of trust was not exceptional, this at least seems like it could only be described as some form of ally-like behavior.

          • Viliam says:

            The USSR and Germany were never allies.

            Sounds like an interesting setting for an alternative-reality military fiction.

            But if your argument consists of linking a homepage of some guy who claims that the expert consensus is completely wrong… well, there are many alternative timelines with similar amounts of evidence, and I see no reason to prefer this specific one.

            The USSR stepped in to occupy the eastern zone of Poland before Germany could.

            So the USSR actually liberated Poland from the national socialists twice!

            And what did the ungrateful Poles do in return?

      • ReaperReader says:

        You object to the USA invading Haiti in 1994 to oust a military dictatorship and replace it with the elected democratic leader?

        Or Eisenhower persuading Israel, the UK and France to back down in the Suez Canal Crisis in 1956?

        Or the first Gulf War in 1991? And UN and then NATO efforts to stop the Balkans Wars?

        To pick merely some examples.

      • MNadolsky says:

        You forgot to add “In my opinion.”

        And his family can do without your opinion, or anyone’s opinion, *in the context of* the death of their family member.

        If you’d like to criticize McCain, fine. If you’d like to suggest his death is a net positive for humanity where his family can see it right after the man died, you’re an asshole, straight up, as unambiguously as if you lit up a cigarette on a crowded elevator.

        And saying, “Well, some people are just addicted to nicotine” doesn’t change that.

        • Matt M says:

          where his family can see it right after the man died

          What are the odds you think any immediate family members of John McCain are regular SSC readers?

        • yodelyak says:

          You are entitled to your feelings, and I expect Scott appreciates the thoughtful feedback he’s gotten on his post.

          I think if you look again, you may find this poem isn’t celebratory or triumphalist. I’ve seen little limericks to the effect that the only thing a person felt sad about was that McCain’s cancer died. Just my opinion, but there isn’t a trace of that kind of sentiment anywhere in this poem.

          This poem gives McCain the dignity of being in Heaven and urging that evil be defeated with all force now. It’s old school, and a lot of modern ears are missing it, but this is a hero’s send-off kind of poem. And yes, it’s not a particularly flattering presentation of McCain–this is a send-off for a tragic figure, not a pure hero. But a poem that asks everyone to “say a prayer” for a tragic figure is not, merely for not taking your view of the tragedy, equivalent to celebrating his death.

  33. Randy M says:

    It would be foolish for me to speculate much on McCain, since I don’t know all that much about him. That lampshade out of the way, I think perhaps his military enthusiasm may be in part due to being in the military and then in congress, and coming to see the former as an organization that gets things done and the latter as one that talks. So if “something must be done” about, say, an Iranian Nuke or Iraqi aggression, it’s better to sent in the army and let the diplomats chat about it afterwards.

  34. ledicious says:

    Then Singer changed his tune. In the 1970s, after the sky cracked and the world changed, he announced that charity was useless, that feeding the poor was useless, that curing tropical diseases was useless. There was only one cause to which a truly rational, truly good human being could devote his or her life.

    Hell must be destroyed.

    Wasn’t the point of “The Broadcast” that evil is bad, and if you take the idea of Hell seriously, then destroying it is the most important thing in the world? Isn’t John McCain in this poem basically the Comet King?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yes, this is not as unambiguously negative a poem as everyone seems to think (though I would be lying if I said it was meant to be unambiguously positive).

  35. blacktrance says:

    This doesn’t strike me as mean-spirited. If anything, it lines up with the image that McCain cultivated. It’s good as a humorous post – if it were serious, this’d be nicer than he deserves.

  36. Auspex says:

    Hoping this is intended less uncharitably than it feels to me. SSC isn’t usually where I expect to see post-mortem outgroup bashing.

  37. IrreverentCosmopolitan says:

    The ‘too-soon’ comments here are disheartening – as a non-American, everything I’ve read and heard about McCain suggests that he’d be the first one to enjoy this. And regardless of whether the war acts he supported were right or wrong he appears to have supported them out of informed conviction – which given everything else that’s going on in the US and the world is really all that can reasonably be asked from public officials at this point.

    • MNadolsky says:

      There shouldn’t be a moratorium on criticism of someone’s views just because they died.

      There *should* be a moratorium on targeting someone for criticism *because* they died, or using their death as a weapon in that criticism, at least in public.

      It’s just common courtesy to the family members. Taking someone’s death as an opportunity to use their death in a criticism of them is like smoking a cigarette in a crowded elevator: It’s gauche as fuck, unimaginably insensitive, and people should speak up an tell the offender to cut it out.

      • cuke says:

        I think I disagree, when the person in question was a public figure whose career was built on making decisions that impacted many people’s lives, here and elsewhere.

        A person’s death is often an opportunity to examine their legacy and ask what things about their life one feels grateful for, or the opposite of grateful. If the person is a parent, say, that reckoning may happen more privately (my father was a shit for beating me, but he was also a smart and curious person, etc). This reckoning tends to happen immediately and to carry on for awhile after death, in private conversations, in small groups, and sometimes publicly if the person was widely known. It is in fact part of the grieving process, sifting through what we regard as the “good” and the “bad” of how someone lived.

        There may be some matter of respect for others that you don’t show up as an outsider to someone’s funeral and trash them in front of his/her family. I don’t think those rules apply to the internet and a very prominent politician whose choices impacted many people’s lives. It would seem in bad taste to me to mail McCain’s family a long letter describing all the ways one hated McCain. Public writing on a public figure, upon their death, seems entirely appropriate.

        As citizens of a country he helped govern, we get to reckon with McCain’s legacy in whatever ways we see fit. It makes sense we might disagree about the conclusions we each come to through that reckoning, but it seems odd to me to consider the very process of a shared public reckoning to be in bad taste.

        • The news media are the ones making this into a big issue. If they had just left it at “John McCain died today. His wife and family and grandchildren will sorely miss him.” it would not be necessary to use this opportunity to delve into his political past. But it is the news media who are bringing up the issue by romanticizing his legacy, which they just can’t resist doing to try to contrast Trump’s reckless bigotry and imperialism with the supposedly moderate, considered, reasonable, humanitarian imperialism that John McCain endorsed.

          So now we opponents of imperialism are forced to take up the issue and make ourselves look like we are flogging the dead, when really I could care less about John McCain. I am far more interested in dissuading those politicians who support his policies who remain in the realm of the living.

          • So now we opponents of imperialism

            Where “imperialism” means countries you don’t like conquering other countries. As I think you made clear in your recent comment you are in favor of what most of us call imperialism, provided it is done by a government whose political system you approve of.

            I’m curious about your attitude to English rule of India or the rule of parts of Africa by various European countries. Does the same argument that justifies Napoleon and Stalin—they were imposing a more advanced political system on the countries they conquered—apply to those cases as well?

          • Marx suspected that in some cases imperialism, such as British imperialism in India, could play a progressive function by building basic infrastructure like railroad and/or shocking a stagnant feudal or despotic native ruling class out of its complacency and forcing it to innovate, modernize, etc….if perhaps only to keep up with the modern capitalist countries that were ruling it or threatening to rule it.

            Since then, we have had a lot of historical examples, and it appears that imperialism tends to maintain backwardness, except in a few examples like Japan, South Korea, and Germany where the U.S. has seen it fitting to give those countries preferential access to American markets for the sake of developing them as strong bulwarks against regional enemies (although that has inadvertently helped create new competitors who have taken portions of the world market away from American businesses, much to the dissatisfaction of many Trump voters).

    • IrreverentCosmopolitan says:

      I guess I still don’t read it as much of a criticism – like I said I think John McCain would have approved.

      Compare that to the heaps of hypocrisy that’s been spilling off the public discourse about him while drowning any semblance of his actual self in the last couple of days and it’s actually more dignified.

      If somewhat undeserved it’s only because he basically lost the 2000 nomination because he refused to pander to evangelicals, not because he was ever shy of his hawkish military and foreign policy.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Seriously. This might be the most snowflakey, irrational response section I’ve seen in a while. In the UK they start dragging peoples’ names through the mud and dancing on their grave the day they die and nothing collapses into anarchy. I don’t see anyone saying no celebrating when a Hussein or bin Laden dies (not making a moral equivalency with McCain here, just pointing out how obvious it is no one really believes in a universal “don’t talk bad about the dead” rule if it conflicts with their own internal sense of morality.) Clearly the only fair, equitable way out of this is for everyone to accept that some people are always gonna see a deceased person as a hero, and others will see them as a villain, and will respond accordingly

      • yodelyak says:

        Speaking as someone who, probably by quirk of a very strongly there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-type religious upbringing, physically left the Osama-is-dead party*, I think there’s room to feel and express both our happiness that some bad agenda has been dealt a setback, and to express our sadness for the specific harm done to a physical human body, as well as the harm to the family and friends of that physical human body.

        In the case of Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, it’s easy to imagine something going just slightly different in Anwar’s life, and him never radicalizing, or not so much and so effectively, and the family never becoming so closely connected with militant Islam that there’d be any agenda-related reason to work for or celebrate their deaths. Fast forward to when, in a two-week period, both Anwar and his 16-year-old, U.S.-born son have been killed in drone strikes, and it’s pretty easy to understand how one could have positive feelings if one sees their deaths as a setback to militant Islamic terrorism, but also have negative feelings as well. If one or two things went differently, maybe Abdulrahman would be about 25 now–old enough to have a kid or two of his own, and be living in a suburb of Denver and making bad dad jokes and trying to raise his kids to be good Americans.

        I really like that America sometimes has that reflective bent, and I’d like to keep it. I think the problem with this thread is that people are misreading the poem (which isn’t uniformly flattering, but starts and ends with “say a prayer” and, well, IMHO is correctly read as calling for a quiet moment away from the party, where the party in question is the one that moderate blue-tribe are throwing for McCain because at least he isn’t Trump.)

        *I literally walked outside. I was mostly happy, but I wanted to take just a couple minutes to be sad and reflective about the fact that humanity is so fractured that any of us have cause to celebrate a bullet entering any of our bodies, and that most of us don’t/won’t take time to wish that some better solution than bullet-destroying-a-body were available to solve our problems.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Clearly the only fair, equitable way out of this is for everyone to accept that some people are always gonna see a deceased person as a hero, and others will see them as a villain, and will respond accordingly

        Well, this is simple. You can’t be True American(TM) and see a major political figure as a villain. They have the broad support of a huge fraction of your fellow country-men. They might have flaws or beliefs you disagree with, but that makes them the Loyal Opposition, not Team Evil.

        Hussein and Bin Laden play for Team Evil.

        What the UK does, I’m not particularly concerned with. Other nations have their own contexts. Like, I can’t blame Chileans for toasting to the death of Pinochet or Spainards toasting to the death of Franco. To me the anti-Thatcher displays are unethical, but I’m not British and am not invested in their nation.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          This is well put. To see someone like McCain as literally evil implies that lots and lots of Americans are either villains or dupes. Even if this is false, if it is believed by a significant fraction of the populace, it does not bode well for our future success.

          • Matt M says:

            What if you believe that if McCain were any nationality other than American, he would be seen as a villain by Americans?

            There’s something to be said for pointing out “This behavior is abhorrent and the only reason it’s considered tolerable is because it’s being done by someone we consider to be within our ingroup.”

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Not sure I see the relevance.

            Consider Truman and Hiroshima, for example. Sure, there probably are and even were Americans who consider him evil for his decision, but by far most Americans do not. But if Hitler or Stalin or even Churchill had dropped an A-bomb on a city instead, lots more Americans would consider that evil. So, okay, maybe we are insufficiently global in our judgments, and therefore perhaps a little hypocritical.

            This doesn’t change the fact that for our democratic nation to work, we have to give each other a certain benefit of the doubt, and admit that if we disagree with half our co-citizens, then maybe what we have is just a difference of opinion.

            I’m not perfect: I don’t always act like I admit it, and I don’t always even want to act like I admit it. But I believe our system requires that we mostly do act like we admit it. It’s the only thing that makes elections preferable to warfare.

          • Guy in TN says:

            This doesn’t change the fact that for our democratic nation to work, we have to give each other a certain benefit of the doubt

            I think a lot of people would consider a democratic system that resists succumbing to evil to qualify as “working”, and a democratic system that pretends evil doesn’t exist when its committed by Our Side to qualify as “not working”.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Sure. But the system resists evil by relying on the wisdom of crowds, which works only if the crowd displays wisdom. If you no longer believe you can count on that, then you have stopped believing in the system. If too many people stop believing in the system, it stops being the system.

            (ETA: Even most non-voters currently believe that election confers legitimacy on the winners.)

  38. Squirrel of Doom says:

    I have nothing to say about McCain as a politician or person.

    To me, the remarkable thing about him is how funny he was. Maybe one of the funniest people ever, certainly the funniest politician. The only competitor there was probably Bob Dole.

    Now, both McCain and Dole were very seriously injured in combat. Did that possibly make them funny?


    • liskantope says:

      I think Ronald Reagan might have them both beat. Perhaps Reagan’s the funniest top-tier American politician that comes to my mind. It’s interesting that I can’t think of as many funny politicians in the Democratic party, when I’ve always regarded liberal rhetoric, compared to conservative rhetoric, as better lending itself to humor.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        I didn’t think of Reagan, but sure, he’s qualified to be in the gang.

        It is odd that the funniest politicians are all conservatives when almost all successful comedians are on the left or politically neutral.

        It does fit with the stereotype of leftist politics as humorless. Then again, the sample size here is 3 people, all of which are dead, so my “study” isn’t exactly showcase science.

        Are there any politicians currently in their prime who are actually funny? I can’t think of any. Maybe the voters don’t go for that anymore…

        • liskantope says:

          Are there any politicians (prominent at the national level) currently in their prime?

          I joke (sort of). There are people like Paul Ryan, but “funny” doesn’t exactly describe him…

  39. Matt M says:

    Massive kudos to Scott for having the balls to do this

  40. Rusty says:

    I preferred this from today’s Times (London). To be honest the poem seemed wildly wrong though hard to say exactly why. ‘It offends my sense of what is decent’ isn’t much of an argument but it is all I can come up with.

    After David Ifshin’s wife phoned to say that her husband had died of cancer at the age of 47, John McCain asked his secretary to hold any other calls and sat in his office for an hour speaking about his friend to anyone who’d listen. And then later, delivering the eulogy at Ifshin’s funeral, the senator broke down as he recalled the times they had spent together.

    Ifshin had beeen an adviser to Bill Clinton, but earlier in his life he had been more radical. As a student leader he had gone to Hanoi and urged American troops to turn against the Vietnam war. And his broadcast on Radio Hanoi had been played in the prison cell of John McCain.

    McCain spent more than five years as a prisoner of war. He was tortured repeatedly, strung up, deprived of sleep, his bones broken so badly he was never again able to lift his arms above his shoulders. And all because he refused a North Vietnamese offer to release him early as the son of an admiral. He determined that this would be to break the army code and betray his fellow prisoners.

    When he was released, John McCain made a decision not to criticise the behaviour of others during the war. But he did make one exception. At the request of the Reagan presidential campaign he made a speech attacking Ifshin, who was aiding Reagan’s opponent. He instantly regretted it and so, when the two bumped into each other, meeting for the first time, it was McCain who held out his hand and apologised to Ifshin. The latter was stunned. For he was ashamed of his Hanoi speech and felt it was he who owed McCain an apology. The two became the unlikeliest of friends.

    This is one little story of the greatness of Senator McCain who died last weekend. One little story among many of his amazing bravery, and his equally amazing generosity of spirit. If we are tested, may we all behave as John McCain behaved and may we all live as he lived.

    The senator was not a saint. He was a womaniser during his first marriage, he had lapses of judgment both personal and political, he made compromises that he shouldn’t have made, veering to make himself viable as a Republican as that party moved rightwards, and he showed flashes of a terrible temper.

    When one met McCain he was charismatic, funny, engaging. But he could make speeches that rambled and lost his audience. He could be inspiring but also, as his presidential campaign showed, totally undisciplined.

    Yet no one is without flaws, and few of us demonstrate greatness. So America is right to lower its flags for John McCain, an authentic hero. We may not see his like again.

    But by this I do not just mean we may not see someone of his character. I mean that the ideas that McCain supported and personified are in desperate trouble. John McCain was an American exceptionalist. He believed there was something special about the republic, “a nation of ideals, not blood and soil” as he put it in his farewell statement. This was the core of what was dubbed national greatness conservatism, which departed from the libertarianism fashionable in Republican circles.

    McCain believed his country had a mission to advance democracy and liberty around the world, supporting dissident groups, speaking out against authoritarian regimes and dictatorship. He supported armed interventions and strong security measures but argued that neither must be at the expense of American values.

    He strongly criticised the Bush administration’s support for enhanced interrogation techniques which he correctly described as torture, he was dismayed by President Obama’s failure to act in Syria and he explained why it wasn’t good enough to stay quiet when an ally like Saudi Arabia offends against decency in its Yemen campaign.

    He recognised the need for compromises and the capacity for errors (made repeatedly before and during the Iraq war, for instance). But he remained all his life an idealist.

    Beyond America, he thought his country’s duty was shared with other liberal democracies. When he came to Britain in 2006 to share these ideas with fellow Conservatives, it seemed beyond doubt that we too would accept this task. But now?

    Now the idea of American exceptionalism and of a liberal internationalist duty seems almost quaint.

    One of the ironies of Donald Trump’s slogan Make America Great Again is that it is a rejection of national greatness conservatism and American exceptionalism.

    Mr Trump does not believe that America has a duty to anyone beyond itself, nor is he much taken with the idea of spreading the values of liberal democracy around the globe. His policy is America First and that means he doesn’t much care what his allies do, or even if they are allies, so long as they do not threaten America’s security or his ego.

    In Britain, the McCain idea of national greatness and liberal democratic duty isn’t faring well either. Jeremy Corbyn believes the whole idea is a fantasy. He regards as arrogant and oppressive the notion that capitalist democracies have anything to contribute to the governance of other countries. He sees exceptionalism as an excuse for imperialist adventures. He thinks it delusional to believe that we were on the right side of the Cold War.

    On the right there is confusion. Those who believe in leaving the European Union include many who think Britain is different from its European partners precisely because we are less insular and more committed to internationalism. Yet there are perhaps more Leavers who hanker after an isolationist Trumpian approach.

    Among Remainers there are liberal internationalists but also many who think the idea that Britain can be a force in the world is an anachronism. We no longer have the heft.

    Many mistakes have been made in service of the idea that the western powers have a special mission. The war in which John McCain was shot down was one such. It would indeed be folly to think ourselves special people and think of others as unschooled foreigners.

    Yet the notion that human rights should be universal, that the right use of power is to promote and defend those rights; that liberal democracies and market economies have lifted people out of poverty and provided citizens with the protection of law; that foreign policy should be driven by ideals as much as interests, indeed that our interests lie in the advancement of our ideals — these notions still seem to me to be right and to need leaders.

    This week, we have lost one.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I’m not going to speak ill of the dead. However, reading that made me want to scream “BUT! BUT! BUT!” after each paragraph.

      There are a lot of people who spoke very ill of McCain while he was still alive. You might want to look around for some of those writings to understand why that article is not a particularly accurate view of the man.

      And for the record, I read McCain’s autobiography, Faith of Our Fathers cover to cover. So I’ve definitely given the best side of the man a fair shake.

      • cuke says:

        I really appreciate your response here. It seems to me the definition of kindness that you gave “the best side of the man a fair shake.”

        And having done that, (IMO) you get to speak however you wish of the man. Your negative judgments are just as valuable as the positive ones, and as good now as later.

        A eulogy is for a specific time and place. It is a religious rite. It’s not a set of rules for how we talk about powerful public figures who have died.

        Beyond that, it seems to me we have a larger duty as citizens to make sense of our leaders and their choices, to learn from their failings, and to name them clearly as we can.

        This isn’t about speaking ill of Aunt Edna to her children while one is standing in her kitchen at her wake. This is about making sense of the life of a hugely powerful politician who shaped the trajectory of our lives in some significant ways. I feel like the distinction between these two things is pretty clear.

      • Rusty says:

        Thanks. I don’t rally have much knowledge here though at least I know I lack the knowledge! Was the article too kind (talking about his generosity of spirit, values etc) or too harsh (talking about his womanising, poor judgment, lack of discipline etc) or just plain wrong in other ways?

  41. ana53294 says:

    While I do have a personal policy of not speaking badly about the dead, I don’t think speaking badly about a statesman is on the same level.

    If I had an annoyingly litigious neighbour who buried everybody in spurious lawsuits, engaged in spurious gossip that harmed reputations, and was also very annoying, I would not speak about him, on the grounds that you shouldn’t talk badly about people once they are dead. But if Putin or Kim Jong Un drop dead tomorrow, I would say what I think about them, and it wouldn’t be nice.

    My neighbours told me that when Franco died, they opened a bottle of Cava they had saved for the occasion. This did not make me think any less of them, and I know that they wouldn’t speak badly about dead neighbours or family members.

    Plenty of articles criticised Margareth Thatcher when she died. Plenty of people had a lot to say when Chavez died. When Pinochet died, a lot of people were happy that at least he died after being judged.

    I think this policy mostly applies to ordinary people, and is a social rule designed to maintain order. But if these people can influence and decide the lives o millions, this rule does not apply. It does not mean that you shouldn’t criticise policies or decisions made by dead people, or their personalities, if those personalities are what lead them to make those choices.

    • Jiro says:

      But if Putin or Kim Jong Un drop dead tomorrow, I would say what I think about them, and it wouldn’t be nice.

      If tomorrow the US declared war on Russia or North Korea, and Putin or Kim ended up being shot dead or killed by a bomb, I would certainly shed no tears.

      If someone is not so evil that you’d be okay with them being shot, you should think twice before using their death as an occasion to speak ill of them.

      Plenty of articles criticised Margareth Thatcher when she died.

      And Scott didn’t think it was good to do that, contrary to what he’s doing here.

      • My feeling about John McCain’s death, insofar as I care at all, is how the peasants feel in this clip of “Novecento” (a film about peasants in fascist Italy). After decades of suffering the rule of their overseers Attila and Regina, they finally get an opportunity to liberate themselves from that yoke, and it feels cathartic. Viewing this clip in isolation, you might be confused why heartwarming music is being played over peasants wrestling a fleeing couple to the ground, but if you saw the atrocities that led up to this in the film, you’d understand.

        Whenever I see the truth spoken about McCain’s legacy (as I see in Scott’s poem), it feels thrilling. The phrase “speak truth to power” is overused, and yet here is an example when I feel a thrill every time someone stands up against the blatant narrative being pushed by the media that imperialism and its advocates such as McCain are noble and moderate and reasonable and whatever. No, imperialism is a scourge upon the Earth, and it will feel thrilling to break free from it someday.

      • ana53294 says:

        And Scott didn’t think it was good to do that, contrary to what he’s doing here.

        And I think he was wrong then, and he is right now. Ossama dying was a good thing. Margaret Thatcher was not a monster, but it is OK to point out the mistakes she made.

        I think the left is trying to convert McCain into some imaginary Republican who is the opposite of Trump so the GOP can be made Grand again. He wasn’t as opposed to Trump as they paint him; while he may be opposite to Trump in his style, they are the same in the content of most of their policies, and I think it is OK to point that out.

        The social rule that usually applies in these cases is, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything. There is no rule that says you have to praise the dead.

        I find all the praise McCain is getting slightly nauseating in its hypocrisy. I am pretty sure that if we were in a Clinton presidency, we wouldn’t be having so much praise for McCain. If McCain died in 2016, there wouldn’t be so much praise for him. The man has not changed since 2016, though. He is the same hawkish, warmongering fellow who was part in that Iraq mess.

        In the middle of this, finding people who point out McCain’s faults does not look like bashing a dead horse, such as what was done with Margaret Thatcher. McCain is too useful dead as a hero, so the media will idolize him. But they wouldn’t idolize the man if he were alive. I thing it’s wrong to praise somebody you wouldn’t praise when he was alive.

        • Matt M says:

          I think the left is trying to convert McCain into some imaginary Republican who is the opposite of Trump so the GOP can be made harmless respectable losers again


          • Agreed. It is baffling to see so much of the Establishment “left” spend so much airtime romanticizing one wing of their ostensible “opponents” rather than talk about, ya know, Medicare for All or anything of real substance that the Left would care about. Talk about a loyal opposition! (The Democrats, that is). Kyle Kulinsky at SecularTalk calls it “resisting without resisting” and that hits it right on the mark because the Democrats fundamentally agree with most of the GOP on most issues (such as on opposing Medicare for All), but they gotta distinguish their brand somehow.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        “So evil you shouldn’t be shedding a tear over their sudden unexpected death” is a threshold that a majority of American national political figures in both parties have already passed.

        • ana53294 says:

          If any of the Clintons died tomorrow, I wouldn’t have anything nice to say about them, either. I don’t wish them death, because it wouldn’t matter anymore. But I would not cry, either.

          • Jiro says:

            I probably should have phrased it a little more strongly. If you think it’s a good thing for them to be killed, then you can speak ill of them at their death.

            I might add a little leeway to this for people with harmful terminal goals (such as Mary Whitehouse), but unless McCain was deliberately trying to kill Iraqis for the sake of them being Iraqis, he would not qualify.

          • Guy in TN says:

            unless McCain was deliberately trying to kill Iraqis for the sake of them being Iraqis, he would not qualify.

            Even Osama bin Laden wasn’t “killing Americans for the sake of killing Americas.” He had political goals that he thought was worthwhile, and he viewed 9/11 as the means of achieving those goals.

            I’m not even sure you can say killing Jews was Hitlers “terminal goal”, rather, in his mind an unfortunate necessity for what he viewed as the best interest for the non-Jewish German people. (I’m not a WW2 historian, I may be wrong.)

            I’m still glad bin Laden and Hitler area dead. And I’m glad McCain is dead. I wish all of their deaths would have come sooner.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I am okay with not speaking ill of the dead.

      I thought this poem navigated a line between “glorifying” and “insulting” which I thought was the correct level of ambiguity for the situation, and I wouldn’t have written it if my feelings about McCain were as 100% negative as people seem to think.

      That having been said, I obviously mistargeted it, and this probably deserves a place in my mistakes file.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        This comment (and your other comment upthread about your motives regarding your post) restores the small credibility loss that I felt when I read this poem. Thanks. =)

      • Viliam says:

        I thought this poem navigated a line between “glorifying” and “insulting” which I thought was the correct level of ambiguity for the situation

        For the record, I think you were right.

        Like, if all comments written about dead political opponents would be made in a similar style, this world would be a much better place.

    • herculesorion says:

      Because It’s Me Doing It.

    • phi says:

      Maybe you interpreted this poem differently than I did. But I didn’t really read it as being happy that McCain had died. It was not the most flattering of portrayals, true, but it wasn’t a celebration of the end of a human life, which is what I think Scott was objecting to in that article.

      I actually would be perfectly fine with people writing this sort of humorous, mocking poem about me when I die. If I had to sum up my position in one sentence it would be this: To complain about how someone lived their life is fine, but to celebrate their death is cruel.

  42. physticuffs says:

    I agree that not speaking ill of the dead is really for regular people–it is reasonable to critique a politician’s legacy after their death. [Edit for clarification: I don’t think that your average politician should be examined in a black-and-white way. Critique =/= “ding dong the witch is dead,” but I don’t think this poem is on that level.] This is actually a pretty complex critique of McCain–he’s warmongering, but it’s due to his fury at the Heavenly host for permitting evil. Hell, I kind of want to fight God.

    Besides that, it is pretty much in keeping with his sense of humor. My parents helped open the embassy in Vietnam (two of the first three American diplomats sent there), and guided congressional delegations around the country during the time when America was considering normalization of relations with Vietnam. There’s a statue to McCain’s plane getting shot down, honoring those who captured him. Apparently, members of Congress used to ask my parents to show it to them, because “Johnny told me I had to get a picture with his statue.” When McCain arrived there himself, my father handled his delegation and told me that of all the delegates there, McCain was pushing the hardest for normalization, was most enthusiastic about moving beyond the past, and had the strongest belief in a good relationship between the two nations going forward.

    It doesn’t excuse or eliminate the bad policies he held or things he caused. But of the opinions I’ve seen expressed, almost no matter the opinion, he was more complex than that.

  43. rlms says:

    What was the typical/intended takeaway from the Bin Laden/Thatcher post:
    a) You shouldn’t speak ill of the recently deceased.
    b) It’s fine to speak ill of the recently deceased and these people are being hypocritical regarding Bin Laden.
    c) These people are hypocritical; no comment on what you ought to say about the dead.

    I would say (c).

    • Jack Lecter says:


      (In ICTAETO, he actually links to an old Livejournal entry where he’s very much not broken up about Osama dying. The point isn’t that it was bad to criticize Thatcher, it’s that it was inconsistent to celebrate her death but turn your nose up at people celebrating Osama’s.)

      It bugs me when people mix up the object and meta levels this way. I admit most people wouldn’t have made that particular meta-level point unless they also felt some dissapproval about the object-level behavior, but conflating the two just makes it that much harder to communicate.

  44. rahien.din says:

    On a close reading, this poem is quite vicious.

    Most impressively, McCain is immeditely shown denouncing both Christ and the Holy Spirit, and gathering angels to his banner of war. Consider the two instances of the word “dawn.” The first is the light from which Lucifer falls, the second is the light reflected in the angels’ breastplates. Given that the light is reflected from their breastplates, it can only be that they, too, are at some distance from this light. McCain is depicted as the second coming of Lucifer, recruiting angels away from the service of peace. He is literally the Antichrist.

    Reinforcing this notion is the earthly consequence of his bellicosity. In describing the weather as “meteors falling lazily” and the intimate locale of one’s own neighborhood being “a John of Patmos fever dream” (invoking the book of Revelation), the poem suggests that McCain is bombing not hell, but the earth, and indiscriminately.

    The third line of the second stanza is clever and exceedingly pointed : “six thousand years of detente with the darkness.” This serves two purposes.

    The first purpose is to erode any notion that McCain had noble character or motives. Six thousand years is what fundamentalist Christians consider to be the age of the earth. In invoking this number, the poem describes McCain as either deluded or a hypocrite. It does so in concert with the description of the Book of Revelation as a “fever dream.”

    The second purpose is to attack McCain’s credibility as a survivor of torture during his time as a prisoner of war. “Six thousand years of detente with darkness” is deeply evocative of his six years of imprisonment and powerlessness against his captors. Furthermore, the angels are depicted as drawing swords made from “sighs of the martyrs,” suggesting that martyrdom is a resource from which are made the implements of revenge. In making these invocations, the poem is suggesting that McCain was, quite simply, made violently deranged by his experiences in Vietnam – and moreover, that this is a natural response of religion to such suffering.

    Having assaulted religion in such specific senses, the poem’s intended meaning of “say a prayer for John McCain” is shown to be entirely sardonic. It is clear from the storyline that any such appeal to heaven will fall upon deaf ears, as John McCain has rightfully usurped God’s peaceful reign for his own violent and indiscriminate purposes.

    In summary, the poem derides the recently-deceased John McCain as a man so twisted by his experiences that he became the Antichrist, and, that this derangement in response to suffering is the expected course of action for religious persons.

    • I agree. It is sheer genius how many (justified, IMO) angles of attack Scott managed to weave into this poem. Although the part about mocking McCain’s time in captivity is probably reading too much into the author’s intent.

  45. hnau says:

    Uh… Scott? This post is 0-for-3 on your own true/necessary/kind standard.

    • “Necessary” if only because the rest of the news media is hitting us with an onslaught of romanticizing the man. If they kept it at a neutral, “John McCain passed away today. His wife and kids will sorely miss him.” it would not be necessary to remind the world of his imperialist past and dredge up all of this controversy.

      “True” because…well…it can’t be literally true because it is a fictional poem, but wanting to wage war in the afterlife would be an entirely appropriate extrapolation of his past actions.

      “Kind” is subjective. Is it kind to all of John McCain’s victims, direct and indirect, to gloss over or romanticize the man and his actions, or say nothing in the context of most of the news media romanticizing him?

      • Matt M says:

        Agreed. As far as I’m concerned, this hits necessary out of the park, and qualifies for true as well.

      • hnau says:

        Not “necessary” because it doesn’t contribute anything to the discussion– it’s the purest kind of in-group humor. People like you who are inclined to think of McCain this way clearly don’t need any “reminding”. Can you imagine anyone changing their mind about McCain or his policies based on this post?

        Not “true” because it’s “controversial, speculative, or highly opinionated”– not to mention that it relies on misleading caricatures of both McCain’s position and Christian teaching on war, as others have pointed out.

        Not “kind” because it’s sarcastic and insulting, and also because it violates a widespread societal norm. Mocking a recently deceased war hero is hard to beat as an example of “don’t speak ill of the dead”. Your attempt to redefine “kind” is beside the point– read the descriptions / examples at the link.

  46. RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

    I don’t mean to pile onto any negative reaction, here. The poem was well-crafted and clever, and even though I am a McCain fan I have zero problem with different opinions. I guess the aspect that I found ineffective was that the characterization of McCain didn’t feel like effective parody because it wasn’t an exaggeration of the way the man actually spoke or the views he actually held. McCain didn’t go on about “commies,” let alone “hippies.” The voice and characterization was so far from McCain’s that, even factoring in the exaggeration that goes along with parody, it seemed more a parody of someone I didn’t recognize. We could argue whether he was a “warmonger.” I don’t think he was, but someone could disagree and parody his relatively activist tendency in foreign policy as warmongering. Seems highly simplistic to me, but that would be fair game as far as it went. The “hippie”/“commie”/etc. stuff seemed hard to read as a parody of John McCain.

  47. alcoraiden says:

    Well written, and the last line got me laughing.

  48. WafflesWaffles says:

    “They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.”

  49. Doctor Mist says:

    On first glance I didn’t even finish reading it, thinking, “Ugh, tasteless,” even though I’ve never been particularly a fan of McCain. When so many people seemed to find it good and clever, I went back and read it through several times looking for the goodness and cleverness, and failed to find them. In particular, to explain even the most hawk-like statesmen as having a “love of bombing things” is both insulting and childish.

    Still, whatever. Our host is not obliged to follow his imposed dicta of kind/true/necessary. My biggest source of bafflement was how completely the first long verse failed to scan. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how it is supposed to sound in my head. Is this a takeoff of some other poem with the same flaw?

    • Randy M says:

      The verse pacing seems mostly okay to me, although I think it would read better if it was “he mongers war” rather than as is.

    • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

      I wonder if any part of that reaction stems from a larger phenomenon. Ever since (at least) the Iraq reconstruction became problematic, there has been a thing, disproportionately on the left, where people have extreme emotional reactions to foreign policy views that support certain military actions, to the point where they just cannot bring themselves to acknowledge there is any intellectual disagreement at all. Proponents of, say, the operation in Iraq are just morally bad “warmongers” — often “chicken hawks” who evaded military service themselves but have no problem putting others’ sons in harms way — who just (I guess) love killing because it makes them feel masculine or something. It’s a shockingly widespread thing. I talk to people all the time who just abandon all pretense of analysis when it comes to what they perceive as “warmongering,” and just cannot get beyond emoting. I’m confident that Scott Alexander is NOT one of those people, and I’m not saying that this attitude motivated the poem. But I fear that it may inadvertently reinforce that attitude.

      • I acknowledge that there is intellectual disagreement. I just happen to think that the pro-occupation side doesn’t have a leg to stand on. They have a fundamentally skewed view of reality in which the U.S. military is potentially a force for good in the world, whereas the longer the U.S. stayed in Iraq the worse Iraq was bound to get, for reasons explained in this thread. The sooner the foreign occupier is kicked out of a country (even if by theocratic dictators), the sooner a secular nationalist progressive bourgeoisie can take over and start developing the country in an historically-progressive way. Being a quisling colony of an imperial power short-circuits this development process. As it was, we were lucky to get away with “just” ISIS taking over half of Iraq and igniting a several-year civil war. Pro-Iraq War people are not evil, just gravely mistaken.

    • MasteringTheClassics says:

      It’s all dactyls (dactylic tetrameter?), with breaths after every second line. I found it easier to read while snapping on the downbeat:

      All of the weak and the cowardly policies
      Heaven pursues that let sin subsist still
      Six thousand years of detente with the darkness
      In hippie cliches about “choice” and “free will


      • Doctor Mist says:

        Bu golly, you’re right. I could not make that out, though I managed to get that structure from the second long verse. Maybe the unvoiced “subsist” is what threw me, or the fact that it was an abrupt change from the first two.


    • MasteringTheClassics says:

      Also, I sense an opportunity to plug one of my favorite poems (best memorized and recited at a high rate of speed):

      The Embarrassing Episode of Little Miss Muffet
      by Guy Wetmore Carryl (1873-1904)

      Little Miss Muffet discovered a tuffet,
      (Which never occurred to the rest of us)
      And, as ’twas a June day, and just about noonday,
      She wanted to eat — like the best of us:
      Her diet was whey, and I hasten to say
      It is wholesome and people grow fat on it.
      The spot being lonely, the lady not only
      Discovered the tuffet, but sat on it.

      A rivulet gabbled beside her and babbled,
      As rivulets always are thought to do,
      And dragon flies sported around and cavorted,
      As poets say dragon flies ought to do;
      When, glancing aside for a moment, she spied
      A horrible sight that brought fear to her,
      A hideous spider was sitting beside her,
      And most unavoidably near to her!

      Albeit unsightly, this creature politely
      Said, “Madam, I earnestly vow to you,
      I’m penitent that I did not bring my hat. I
      Should otherwise certainly bow to you.”
      Though anxious to please, he was so ill at ease
      That he lost all sense of propriety,
      And grew so inept that he clumsily stept
      In her plate — which is barred in Society.

      This curious error completed her terror;
      She shuddered, and growing much paler, not
      Only left tuffet, but dealt him a buffet
      Which doubled him up in a sailor knot.
      It should be explained that at this he was pained;
      He cried, “I have vexed you, no doubt of it!
      Your fist’s like a truncheon.” “You’re still in my luncheon,”
      Was all that she answered. “Get out of it!”

      And THE MORAL is this: Be it madam or miss
      To whom you have something to say,
      You are only absurd when you get in the curd
      But you’re rude when you get in the whey!

      • Doctor Mist says:

        That’s always been one of my favorites, my introduction to the word “albeit”. I still say “Madam, I earnestly vow to you” a lot, for no particular reason.

  50. behihoo says:

    Every once in a while, I decide to give reading poetry another try. Every time, I’m reminded of Paul Dirac’s description of this horrible art form:

    In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in the case of poetry, it’s the exact opposite!

    The TLDR version of this poem, to explain things in such a way as to be understood by everyone, seems to be: John McCain liked to bomb things.

    • MasteringTheClassics says:

      Ah, but “John McCain liked to bomb things” doesn’t make me laugh. Let us recall the words of our host:

      Part of me secretly thinks part of the answer is that a lot of these beliefs are not argument but poetry. Try to give a quick summary of Shelley’s Adonais: “Well there’s this guy, and he’s dead, and now this other guy is really sad.” One worries something has been lost.

      Less snarkilly: I feel you; the VAST majority of poetry isn’t worth the pixels that display it. One thing that might help is to regard poetry not as a medium for communicating ideas but as an art form closer to music than anything else. Most song lyrics are poetry (generally inferior poetry, but still) and rap takes this to the logical extreme of simply reciting poetry over a musical backdrop.

      Poems that got me started: Byron’s The Destruction of Sennacherib (summary: God killed the Assyrian army) and Yeats’ The Lake Isle of Innisfree (summary: nature is pretty and peaceful). See if those do anything for you (don’t worry, they’re short).

  51. Scott Alexander says:

    Okay, I accept everyone’s criticism and have added this one to the Mistakes Page.

    • J Mann says:

      I wasn’t going to say seconded on true/necessary/nice, but you beat me to it. As far as I can tell, McCain honestly believed you should make peace with your enemies wherever you can, and confront them when you can’t. His filter was a lot more bomb heavy than mine, but I don’t know that I was right, and he was serious about, and prioritized, that first part.

      And I guess it’s fair to ban me for a while, so I wouldn’t argue – your answer was well put, and this post isn’t necessary or nice; it’s just something that I’ve been chewing on all day and need to spit out.

    • Auspex says:

      It’s funny, I’ve seen a number of much less creative and much less flattering snipes at McCain over the course of the last few days, but this post left me feeling worse than any of them. I’m realizing now that 1) this is because my regard for you is so very high, and 2) because I let the character of other commentary influence what I expected to see, and therefore did see, in this one. Just wanted to say that I’m ever impressed with your willingness to consider criticism and oddly relieved – although growing concerned that I put you on too precarious a pedestal.

    • MasteringTheClassics says:

      I loved me some John McCain, and I busted a gut reading this.
      It’s not worthy of you’re mistakes page: McCain was a borderer, after all, and a warhawk with the battle-scars to own it. And he had a killer sense of humor. People take politics too damn seriously – let’s cast someone less serious and see if the intuition holds…

      Connor McGregor would love to have this as an elegy.

      Surely McCain would’ve loved it too.

      (Sufficiently farcical to be excused as true. If not exactly kind, certainly not mean, so call it a draw. And I needed a laugh, so at least marginally necessary. #closeenough.)

    • cuke says:

      For what it’s worth, your posting the poem led the three of us at our dinner table last night to have a raucous, philosophical conversation about norms like “don’t speak ill of the dead,” public vs private rights, notions of chivalry, what constitutes “tacky” and whether it’s a useful idea, and so on. I’m confident our dinner table conversation was much enriched by your being willing to risk this post.

    • A Rash Anion says:

      The act of adding it to the mistakes page should be on the mistakes page, imo. It’s a fine poem.

      • Plumber says:

        I agree, I liked the poem and don’t think it was a mistake.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Most of the additions to the mistakes page are mistakes.

      • James Kabala says:

        I also did not find it offensive. I am surprised by how many people did. I guess that memories of Iraq have already begun to fade. (I do agree with someone who said that the repeated references to “commies” are an aesthetic flaw – McCain actually seemed to become much more hawkish once the Cold War was over.)

  52. irefusetosignup says:

    Incredibly tacky poem.