I’ve been contemplating the many lies we’ve all been treated to by the McCain/Palin campaign. These continuing and obviously strategic lies remind me of the Nixon years, when the war in Vietnam was raging. In 1970, in response to Vietnam, Robert Bly wrote what is perhaps the greatest anti-war poem in the language, “The Teeth Mother Naked at Last,” and one of main threads in the poem is the culture of lies that surrounded and sustained that war. Here’s an excerpt [I’ve used the revised version here, as published in Eating the Honey of Words; the online version is the original, I think, and unfortunately is full of typos]:
Now the Chief Executive enters, and the press conference begins.
First the President lies about the date the Appalachian Mountains rose.
Then he lies about the population of Chicago,
then the weight of the adult eagle, and then the acreage of the Everglades
Next he lies about the number of fish taken every year in the Arctic.
He has private information about which city is the capital of Wyoming.
He lies about the birthplace of Attila the Hun,
Then about the composition of the amniotic fluid.
He insists that Luther was never a German,
And declares that only the Protestants sold indulgences,
That Pope Leo X wanted to reform the church, but the liberal elements
That the Peasants’ War was fomented by Italians from the North.
And the Attorney General lies about the time the sun sets.
This sounds familiar. It should remind us that McCain’s great personal suffering came about because of the lies that kept us in Vietnam. The terrific conflict we see in McCain between honor and craven power-lust is a legacy of those lies, and it should be no surprise that his power-lust has led him toward the kinds of lies that wounded him. (Palin is a different case. Her lies are Rovian, grounded in nothing but expedience and arrogant ideology.) It’s McCain who inspires a tremendous sadness. You see it in his eyes on the stump as he spins out the lies. He can almost taste the power that will justify his suffering. In other words, McCain’s campaign of lies rhetorically reenacts his physical torture of 40 years ago; and every lie wounds his honor. But he’s trapped. He can’t justify his torture without inflicting more of it—on the public and on himself.
Not since Nixon have we seen such a complex psychodrama played out on the national stage.