Blog No. 158. McCain, Bush and the Honey Badger

Most readers of will have read about John McCain’s speech on Monday to the National Constitution Center. Yet most will probably not have seen a video of the speech, and it is well worth watching. It was short, less than 11 minutes long, but a speech that Bret Stephens called “the finest expression of the American cause uttered by any major political figure in a generation.” The video can be found here and readers are invited to take a few minutes to watch it. (Apart from McCain’s important message, viewers can observe and appreciate his blend of humor and humility, qualities so sadly and conspicuously missing from the presidential pulpit in 2017.)

The heart of McCain’s speech lay in these paragraphs:

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain “the last best hope of Earth” for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.

McCain did not identify the “people” he was referring to but they were widely understood to include not only Steve Bannon, the President’s exiled but still hovering guru, but the President himself. The association was not lost on Trump who said in a radio interview that “people have to be careful because at some point I fight back. I’m being very, very nice but at some point I fight back and it won’t be pretty.”  Trump’s notion of intimidating a man who spent 5 ½ years in a North Vietnam prison camp, and is battling brain cancer, was as ludicrous as it was ugly.  When asked about Trump’s comment, McCain responded dryly, “I’ve faced far greater challenges than this.”

On Thursday, three days after McCain’s speech, George W. Bush evoked similar themes in addressing the George W. Bush Institute:

In recent decades, public confidence in our institutions has declined. Our governing class has often been paralyzed in the face of obvious and pressing needs. The American dream of upward mobility seems out of reach for some who feel left behind in a changing economy. Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts. Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.

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We’ve seen nationalism distorted into negativism — forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.   We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade — forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.

We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments — forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge.

In all these ways, we need to recall and recover our own identity. Americans have a great advantage: To renew our country, we only need to remember our values.

In one key phrase, President Bush echoed McCain literally, “Our identity as a nation — unlike many other nations — is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood.” (“Blood and Soil” was a slogan of Nazi Germany chanted by some of the white nationalists at Charlottesville from whom Trump experienced such in distancing himself). Bush’s speech, like McCain’s, was a relatively short 15 minutes and also merits viewing.

McCain’s speech had come on the heels of a speech by Steve Bannon two days before at a Values Voter Summit in which he had declared war on the Republican “establishment.” In the speech, he had attacked by name Senators Mitch McConnell and Bob Corker and threatened primary fights against Republican incumbents who, he believed were insufficiently supportive of Trump’s (i.e., Bannon’s) agenda. (Bannon is, for example, very actively supporting the primary opponent of Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.) Bannon’s windy call to arms is not recommended viewing, but in the interest of “equal time,” it is available here. While Bannon did not mention McCain by name in that speech, he was clearly among those whom Bannon had in mind. And at a campaign rally on Tuesday Bannon asserted that McConnell, Corker and McCain were trying to destroy him every day.

McConnell, Corker and McCain may or may not be trying to destroy Bannon every day, but destroying him as a political force would surely be a worthwhile endeavor. In an apt metaphor, Bret Stephens compared McCain and Bannon respectively to a hedgehog and a honey badger. Citing the Greek poet Archilochus, Stephens said that a hedgehog knows one thing, and in McCain’s case that is honor. In contrast, he explained, the honey badger “will do anything to get what it wants. It is wily, nasty and has as much use for honor as a pornographer has for dress.” Bannon, he continued, “is the most revolting operator in American political life since Roy Cohn. He is also the most consequential one.”

By his declaration of war on the Republican establishment, Bannon may have given the Republican Party the gift that it needed most badly—an incentive to fight back. has not been alone in remarking on the inability of Congressional Republicans to stand up to the President’s Twitter machine. But if they have not found the backbone to attempt any direct restraint of Trump, perhaps Bannon’s threats will arouse a sense of self-preservation. And fighting Bannon will, necessarily mean taking on the Bannonite elements of Trump’s agenda. Or so we might hope. was born four years ago as a voice from within the Republican Party expressing differences with the Republican establishment’s views on a variety of matters, notably including social issues and fiscal responsibility. Those differences remain and have been joined by others, but they have been eclipsed by the effect on the Republican Party wrought by President Trump.  A November 14, 2016 blog, entitled Welcome to RINOcracy 2.0, explained that, given the election of Donald Trump, would no longer claim to speak from within the Party, but would, rather, serve as a Haven for Republicans in Exile. Whether the Republican Party will ever again be an institution with which one can proudly be associated is a matter of grave doubt. Will enough Republicans listen to voices such as Senators Corker, McCain and Flake and President Bush to redeem the party of Lincoln? It is difficult to be optimistic, but Trump has an obvious potential for self-destruction that cannot be discounted.

4 thoughts on “Blog No. 158. McCain, Bush and the Honey Badger

  • A major fork in the road is clearly upon us, for the well-being of our nation, the future of the Republican Party, our role in the world, and the integrity of our political system. With negative, short-sighted forces currently seemingly having the upper hand in Wash.DC, the outcome is in considerable doubt, and abundant thanks are extended to those fighting valiantly to get our political process back onto a more insightful forward path, such as the RINO views expressed here and the other voices beginning to be more frequently heard. May they become less lonely, and drown out the Fake News emanating from the While House.


    B/GEN D

  • Doug,
    I assume you heard Nicolle Wallace’s on-air reaction to Trump’s “I fight back and it won’t be pretty” threat to Sen. McCain? She looked straight in the camera as though she were staring him down in person, and said “Nothing you do is pretty.”

    I take heart in believing you’re right…that maybe the GOP finally will develop a spine and fight back…but then again, I heard today that Donald Trump Junior is one of the most sought-after speakers on the GOP fundraising circuit…and not for crowds of tiki-torch-wielding yahoos, but for chamber-of-commerce types.
    These are scary times…so keep on keepin’ on!

  • Thank you so much for this wonderful post. And thank John McCain for his great sevice to our country. He is not alone and in time I hope the Republican Party will re-discover its identity as the party of social justice and fiscal conservatism. Not the phony “tax reform” now being promoted by Republican Congressman, not to mention our greedy president, but a fiscally sound government and a well balanced taxation system. I have not lost faith — all we need to do is “remember our ideals” — but I confess that I am tuning out Trump to preserve my own sense of well being and peace of mind. He is bad news, period, and I mustt try to focus my attention elsewhere.

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