John McCain and Liberal Anti-Politics

There’s something to be said about the American liberal insistence on subordinating politics to bland nationalist platitudes and fantasies of bipartisanship. In a recent editorial for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes of John McCain, “for all our disagreements, I deeply admired his guts, passion and determination to follow his moral code.” Granted, this is a particularly insipid example of what I have in mind, but something like it is so common that it seems to capture something essential about American political culture: the dangerous idea that all perspectives are equally valid and worthy of respect. Is following one’s moral code always cause for praise, even when that moral code is seriously misguided? What exactly does it mean when liberals say they admire someone who consistently advocated for American military aggression at every opportunity up until his death? Frankly, this kind of mindless praise simply reveals just how extra-political American militarism has become. The routine use of American military power is the neutral background condition upon which the rest of political life occurs, whether manifest in Obama’s “disposition matrix” or McCain’s rendition of “Bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran.” We can argue over the details—how many to kill and in what way—but behind the liberal desire for bipartisan harmony is an anti-politics that accepts American military aggression as a geopolitical constant.