As we briefly discussed in the Quick Hits, John McCain knew who was to blame for a violent, sexually-confused psychopath buying an assault weapon and pledging vague and meaningless allegiance to a terrorist group.
Now, McCain went on to say that he hold’s the President’s policies responsible, not Obama himself. Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate says that “In summary, John McCain is not going to be the Republican Party’s voice of reason on this one,” but in a way he sort of is. After all, unlike a lot of his colleagues, he isn’t whispering that Obama wanted this to happen (or, like the presumptive nominee, he isn’t shouting it). Unlike Ted Cruz, he isn’t saying that the FBI would have kept up their investigations on Mateen due to a series of incomprehensible and contradictory boasts and the fact that he went to Mecca, indefinitely, if only Obama said “radical Islamic terrorism” every once in a while.
The Cruz line is interesting, because, as Simon Maloy points out, the FBI is doing exactly what Ted Cruz says they should do: investigate anyone who might have any connection whatsoever to terrorism, even if it is specious at best. (Even though he, in theory, is against “Big Government”, and the tyranny of insurance regulations, these sorts of prolonged and rights-denying investigations are ok.) But for Cruz, the FBI would have somehow found something, found a non-existent connection, and arrested and stopped Mateen for a crime he hadn’t committed, for allegiances, even tenuous ones, he had yet to pledge, if only the magic words were uttered. It’s less the obvious anti-democratic and terrifying nonsense here, although that’s important, as it is the level of mental contortions that make even John McCain’s fabulisms look logical.
Obviously, Obama demolished this line of thinking, as he has before, but that doesn’t matter. The words “Radical Islam” have achieved totemic power on the right. Their incantation of it isn’t so much to stop ISIS, but to create a witch’s brew of allegations against Obama. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t make any sense. In a political climate where certain phrases, like Keystone XL and (of course) Benghzai, take on a meaning far beyond their actual physical weight or strategic merit, the President’s refusal to say a phrase becomes all-encompassing. It becomes an article of faith.
This sort of faith-based fippery of the professional amnesiac is what is driving nearly all of Republican thinking, especially on foreign policy. They don’t even engage with Obama’s arguments for why he doesn’t say the phrase. There is even a case. Not on their terms, but it is possible to say “Oh, come on- explaining why you won’t say it is basically saying it. At this point, it doesn’t matter if you do or don’t. It’s not like ISIS is waiting for you to say ‘Radical Islam’ before they get really cocky.” But nope. There is no actual debate. They just get angrier and angrier at it, because it is a worldview, not a thought.
This brings us to McCain. He’s running for office, as we said, so he has no interest in being even a semi-decent person, but it’s more interesting that he blames Obama, directly, for ISIS. On one level, that’s politics, of course- he’s not going to blame himself! But it’s also a matter of deeply internalized cognitive dissonance. The right has wholly swallowed up the idea that we were about to win in Iraq, because it was relatively peaceful, until we pulled out, and then ISIS formed. On a very surface level, that makes some sense. It did happen like that, chronologically.
But think about it more. That basically means that our “victory” was such that as soon as we left it all fell apart. Our great triumph was a “peace” held together only by limitless troops staying there from now until infinity. But that doesn’t matter. The myth has, contra Lord of the Rings, faded into history, and become reality. The present started in January of 2009.
The whole right-wing foreign policy mentality consists of this kind of magical thinking. When McCain says that Obama is responsible for Orlando, or when moderate New Jersey governor Chris Christie says that we have to hit them where they live, when they live here, they aren’t fringing out. They are in the dead-center of their mainstream, and, given the reality they have constructed, are acting perfectly reasonable.