This column, written during the 2008 Republican National Convention, was noted and commented upon in the NY Times (see below)
“Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay!”
By Jim Sleeper – September 5, 2008, 3:21AM
My father, who served in Europe in World War II in the 277th Battalion Army Combat Engineers, told me that it’s those who haven’t proven themselves who keep on touting militarism. “The biggest blowhards at the American Legion are the ones who spent as much of the war as they could at the PX,” he said.
There was so much of this in the Republican Party last night that, at one point in his speech, John McCain looked annoyed. He knows the difference between flaunting heroism as some legionnaires do and making a political decision to showcase it. He and the Republicans overplayed the hero card because they have so little else to run on.
Several times during his acceptance speech, the party’s militaristic id – or is it a guilty conscience? — threatened to erupt. Whenever McCain touched even lightly on a military or patriotic theme, we heard from a somewhat unnervingly large contingent of young men whose repertoire of political expression consisted solely of shouting “Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay!”
They tried to dominate the rest of the crowd’s reactions even when McCain was sounding poignant or somber, not pugnacious. No matter how subtle, subdued or highly dignified his appeals to patriotism, the rising and sometimes overwhelming response was “Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay!”
In a voiceover, Fred Thompson said, “When you’ve lived in a box, your life is about keeping others from having to live in that box.”
“Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay!”
Someone mentioned how, a year ago, McCain’s campaign was so strapped he’d had to let go of most of his staff, but that he’d come back in New Hampshire thanks to his grit and conviction that he would rather lose an election than see his country lose a war.
“Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay!”
Sentimentally but not very convincingly, McCain named three different, hard-pressed American families whose problems he’d taken to heart, without making make clear what policies he’d support to help them. He did vow, to a family whose son had fallen in battle and whose bracelet McCain now wears, that he would “make sure their country remains safe.” As the parents grew moist, the crowd cried, “Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay!”
To introduce his theme of energy independence, McCain said, “We’re gonna stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don’t like us very much.”
“Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay!”
McCain said that he respects and admires Senator Obama and affirmed, “Despite our differences, we are all Americans. That’s an association that means more to me than any other.”
“Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay!”
I think I recognize some of the guys I saw doing this. Their buffoonish, boorish chanting is only one side of them, not necessarily the dominant one. They haven’t all curdled into fascists, as some liberals might believe. There’s a decency and clueless love in them that’s trying to find a political home, and there’s yearning for something that’s slipping away.
The problem, of course, is that the Republican Party, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are ratcheting up these hurts and pointing them toward war and nasty hatreds of dubious domestic villains. Yes, this is dangerous, and McCain isn’t on top of it.
A couple of times during his speech, lone demonstrators who’d sneaked into the audience rose, shouted out, waved some signs, and were hustled to the exits.
In that vast hall, with the media focusing on the podium, the disruptions were easily minimized – until the guys decided to counter them by chanting, “Yoo Es Ay! You Es Ay! You Es Ay!” They did disrupt McCain’s speech, far more than the demonstrators had. It was then that he looked annoyed, and rightly so.
He deflected the second uproar deftly enough, with a couple of words I haven’t had time to check. But was there any good leadership on the floor? That brings us back to the Republicans’ problem.
Compare McCain, who refused early release from captivity in Vietnam, to George W. Bush, who dodged the same war by getting into the National Guard on a phone call from his Dad and sneaked out of the Guard early. (Perhaps my father’s wisdom about blowhards who never served casts some light on Bush’s swaggering, “Mission Accomplished” flight-deck landing some 35 years after he’d left the Guard.)
It’s almost as loathsome as the Swift-Boating of John Kerry, and it highlights the larger problem: Proportionately, the Republican Party has the most members of Congress and other high officeholders who’ve never served in the military. And its loudest war-mongers, like Rudy Giuliani and, now, Joe Lieberman, haven’t served, either, although both were of draft age during Vietnam War. Neo-con war-hawks, who have battened onto McCain’s campaign, have never served, unless you count their militaristic strategizing and strutting.
Ronald Reagan never served, beyond making war movies Stateside. (George H.W. Bush did serve heroically in combat, which may have something to do with his youngest son’s desperate posturing.)
But the Republicans’ “Yoo Es Ay!” problem is about more than young men’s hormones and older men’s uneasy consciences. It’s even about more than just men, now that Cindy McCain has touted Sarah Palin at the convention as “a pistol-packing hockey mom.” (The Republican Party, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages, and the National Rifle Association have all encouraged women to pack heat.)
The Republicans’ real problem is that they have too few other ideas that most Americans still believe in or even want to hear. Desperate for heroes, they don’t even acknowledge that John McCain’s war killed 58,000 Americans and countless others, in vain: After Vietnam defeated us, it entered the neoliberal global capitalist orbit, anyway, as it would have done had we never fired a shot. There’s a war memorial in Washington, but my memorial is a T-shirt on my back whose label says, “Made in Vietnam.”
To his credit, McCain worked to normalize relations with Vietnam. But Republicans are so much in denial about the Vietnam war – and so eager to milk McCain’s sacrifice in it – that they don’t even mention that the war was conceived and conducted mainly by liberal Democrats..
McCain knows, of course, and he and John Kerry once bonded over it years ago in the Senate, despite their diametrically opposite conclusions about what the war had been for. At one point in his acceptance speech, McCain mentioned the vanity of young men like him who’d rushed into war to be “my own man,” and he recounted that his torturers had cured him of it: “They broke me,” he said quietly, to silence in the hall.
“I wasn’t my own man anymore,” he added. “I was my country’s man.” He claimed that his love of America had saved him, and that now “I will fight for her so long as I draw breath.”
It was a difficult, fraught confession, somewhat dissonant and troubling. McCain said not a word – as the young John Kerry had, years before — against the senators and presidents who’d sent them to kill and be killed in a misguided, fraudulent, massively destructive, and futile venture. Its hardest lesson is that the American blood it shed does not retroactively justify, much less sacralize, America’s betrayal by its leaders. One of them, Robert McNamara, understood this and, to his everlasting credit, confessed it.
McCain seems to have drawn a different lesson. “I hate war,” he claimed in his speech, insisting that good judgment and principles are as important as the will to fight. I can believe him and acknowledge that Iraq is not Vietnam. But the Republican convention was desperately, indiscriminately seeking political clarity in fogs of war and bellicosity in all directions, and McCain played to it.
He reaped what he sowed: His account of his brutal transformation in captivity from self-regarding flyboy to selfless patriot deserved strong, voiceless applause from a mature, deeply moved audience.
Instead it got, “Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay!”
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/04/riveting-one-way-or-another/. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on Sep 4, 2008 22:41:25 GMT. The current page could have changed in the meantime. Learn more
These search terms are highlighted: jim sleeper opinionator
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TOBIN HARSHAW AND CHRIS SUELLENTROP
September 4, 2008, 9:06 am
Riveting, One Way or Another
It’s the Morning After, and the reviews keep coming. Let’s tune in to the left side of the dial:
“Sarah Palin gave a riveting and devastating nomination speech on Wednesday night,” writes Ari Melber at the Nation….
Bill Scher at LiberalOasis agrees: Gov. Sarah Palin can give a speech. She can deliver sarcastic one-liners. She can repeat long debunked misinformation about her opponents and misrepresent herself.
Closer to center (and, the Opinionator suspects, to use one of the left’s favorite terms, “reality”) is Michael Crowley at the Stump:
Several moderate-Democrat friends of mine have been emailing–few if any would ever vote for McCain–but all agree that Palin was very strong. The more liberal among them are a little panicked.
Along those lines, the most penetrating assessment comes from Jim Sleeper over at Talking Points Memo:
If you didn’t sense last night how deeply Sarah Palin channeled some of the country’s deepest, most powerful currents of pent-up indignation and yearning, you don’t sense the trouble we Democrats are in.
Rhetorically, she was the anti-Obama. She was stirring precisely because she was so artless, matter-of fact, and “American” — with no cadences or grand, historic resonances, but with plenty of mother wit and shrewdness. Credit her as much as the speechwriters.
The two currents she tapped — the ones that roared up from so deep in the crowd that you could feel them riding on love more than hate — weren’t the ones unleashed by her or Rudy Giuliani’s disparagements of Obama.
They were riptides of deeply wounded pride and groping loyalty, a yearning for vindication of something that is not to be disparaged at all.
The first such riptide was unleashed by Palin’s and Giuliani’s accounts of John McCain’s career-threatening commitment, a year ago, when his campaign was hopeless, to an American military victory in Iraq. Right or wrong — and I think it was wrong — it was a commitment grounded in an uncommon courage that will be dismissed as stupidity only by smart-asses who really want to lose this election.
The second current was tapped by Palin’s own grounded, calm confidence that “ordinary people’s” common sense – her kind, and a lot of other people’s – is what it takes to pull this country through its converging crises.
The question is where those currents will carry us; Sleeper’s answer is unsettling: “if McCain and Palin win, they will lose the America they mean to defend.”
(Among the 136 comments:)
2008 Correct, the most penetrating assessment comes from Jim Sleeper over at Talking Points Memo as quoted above.
The GOP candidates know the power of TV and radio to turn reality upside down. If the Dems can’t get smart about that this year, anything short of a demonstrably incipient Depression may not be enough to save them. — Posted by Rich Turyn
September 4th, 2008
Any moderate observer of the election can only skim over the reader comments posted on the NYT these days as they get increasingly nasty and personal (NYT are you really doing your job of screening out abusive comments?). It’s a telling sign, like a deer frightened by a car’s headlight, that they really don’t know what to make of the last week.
A brilliant excerpt of Jim Sleeper’s writing. The NYT should balance up their editorial board with the likes of such a writer.
Posted by L. Ngo