Pepe Escobar and Paul Jay react to McCain’s speech to the RNC


Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Good evening, and welcome to our ongoing coverage of the Republican National Convention. Tonight was the official coming-out party of candidate John McCain, the new official nominee of the Republican Party. Joining us from Saint Paul, the Xcel Center, to discuss his speech is Real News analyst Pepe Escobar. Pepe, what did you think of the speech?

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST: Well, we have just watched a movie. The name of the movie is Full POW Jacket. Well, there’s no Stanley Kubrick directing this movie. This is a bit of a throwback to a ’40s melodrama. It would be directed by Douglas Sirk, probably with William Holden as the main character. Anyway, Holden will be playing John McCain. But this is the ’60s. We are in Hanoi. John McCain is bombarding civilians in Hanoi. [His plane] goes down in a lake in the middle of Hanoi. I saw that place—the Vietnamese took me there. And after that, in the Hanoi Hilton, McCain had an awakening: he finally discovered that he was in love with America. Before that, he was a tough guy. He was too young. He took all his privilege for granted. And after five years in a Vietnamese jail, he discovered himself, he discovered the real McCain. So this is what McCain’s basically selling: it’s POW, POW, POW, POW, POW forever. That’s it. And Iraq and the Middle East nowadays is just a sideshow. He made a reference to the surge in Iraq. He was the first to say that the surge in Iraq would succeed, contrary to American public opinion at the time, more than 80 percent. He demonized Russia, as it was expected: Russia invaded Georgia—and that’s not what happened. He demonized Iran as full of terrorists; they are trying to acquire nuclear weapons. But the last third of the movie, that was the climax. It was built like a melodrama. McCain is a very good actor. He was very well coached these past three or four days. He was reciting his narrative of personal awakening, careful, with enormous details, details that many of his biographers don’t have, and obviously casting himself in the position of a victim. He was McCain the Sufferer pitted against Obama the Vapid, Pampered Celebrity. It’s absolutely flawless. I would say this has a very good chance of convincing a lot of Americans in the next two months.

JAY: Other than my involvement in The Real News Network, I’m also a filmmaker, and a film that I’m known for is something called Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, about the World Wrestling Federation. And this speech was mostly like what they call a “turn” in the wrestling business, where a wrestler goes through a bad guy, and reaches his moment, and becomes the good guy. And we had this wrestling moment, “turn,” where John McCain said to us that under torture he broke, and he goes through this catharsis and reemerges, and there’s something about it that touches people. It’s like a good country and western song: I was a broken man, but I was saved, this time not by a good woman as most of the songs would have been, but I was saved by my country. It’s a good narrative, I guess, for some people.

ESCOBAR: Yes. It’s a fascinating script, because if you analyze it in literary and cinematic terms, it’s extremely effective. It’s a direct appeal to emotions. McCain knows he doesn’t have an economic [sic], ’cause he doesn’t understand anything about the economy. He cannot rally people saying that he’s going to have more wars; he’s going to attack Iran, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran; he’s going to antagonize Russia, or even China, which was not even mentioned in his speech. What does he have, in fact? He has his personal story. And that’s the personal story as staged by McCain and his speech writers. There are some very good investigative reporters who will debunk the myth of McCain as the ideal prisoner of war in Hanoi. In fact, Douglas Valentine, a few months ago in the counterpunch.org website, he totally debunked the story of McCain’s years in Vietnam and said that in fact McCain was a collaborator to the Vietnamese.

JAY: Pepe, George Bush, after 9/11, instead of, as people have said, going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, where they say the attacks originated, always had the agenda of Iraq. Now McCain—and this is the really dark side, I think, of this speech—in his one paragraph on foreign policy, he spends three-quarters of the paragraph targeting Russia, one sentence on al-Qaeda. So in some ways he’s positioning himself with Obama, saying sort of owns the ground, that the next front is Afghanistan, going after al-Qaeda. Now, in the tradition of George Bush heading to Iraq instead of Afghanistan, now let’s head to Georgia. And Russia now is going to become the new enemy-number-one.

ESCOBAR: Absolutely. Russia’s the new bogeyman. And, in fact, for McCain it’s back to the Cold War. In fact [inaudible] said, “I don’t want a return of the Cold War.” What he’s advocating, what he’s been saying for past month at least, is a return to the Cold War. He’s demonizing Russia; he’s antagonizing Russia. And the narrative with Iran continues. The rest of the world does not even exist. They didn’t even mention Europe; they didn’t mention the rest of Asia, didn’t mention South America. It’s still a narrative of war. The main character in the whole narrative is a prisoner of war.

JAY: Prisoner of war who knows how to make war. Just as a final point, you’re there, but from this side, watching it on television, the speech felt extremely flat. If I were a Republican right now, I would have hoped that the convention would have ended last night with Sarah Palin. Did it feel flat in the place, in the stadium, or not?

ESCOBAR: Look, the convention should have ended last night, because Palin, she got a standing ovation, and when she came to the stage tonight, her standing ovation was even louder and more enthusiastic than McCain’s. I would say that McCain, considering that he have an insurance/car-salesman delivery, he was very forceful tonight. I think he studied his script very well. But he cannot energize an audience the way Sarah Palin does. Today I was talking to a woman, a director of a pro-life organization with more than 140,000 women in 50 states in the US, and she’s saying that Palin now is the new cultural phenomenon, so forget about Obama. You know, her dressers are talking about the Palin beehive, the glasses. You know, the hockey moms see all the paraphernalia around her. So in terms of a pop culture phenomenon, the whole thing [inaudible] Palin. This will deflect criticism from McCain, because it will occupy the media a lot, and McCain will be free to keep reinventing his melodrama every night in town halls all over America, just like the fake town hall right behind me.

JAY: Pepe, before Sarah Palin’s speech, when people were attacking Palin’s inexperience, the answer was, “Listen, it’s not about the vice president; it’s about the president. The campaign’s going to be about McCain versus Obama.” Maybe after tonight they’re a little sorry that’s the case. Maybe they’d rather be running Palin against Obama, but they don’t get that chance. Thank you very much for joining us, Pepe. And thank you for joining us.

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