TragedyWe tend to think of victims of a tragedy as people who deserve our sympathy. In the original Greek sense of the word that is not the case. E.J. Dionne makes it clear today that John McCain is the victim of a classic Greek tragedy and deserves no sympathy.
In general usage a tragedy is a play, movie or sometimes a real world event with a sad outcome. However, throughout much of Western thought, tragedy has been defined in more precise terms, following the precepts set out by Aristotle and based upon Greek tragedies: it is a form of drama characterized by seriousness and dignity, and involving a great person whose downfall is brought about by either a character flaw or a conflict with some higher power such as the law, the gods, fate, or society. It should be noted, however, that the definition of tragedy that Aristotle puts forward merely requires a reversal of fortune (Peripeteia) from bad to good (as in the Eumenides) or good to bad (as in Oedipus Rex). In classical usages it can be spelled tragœdy, and in Elizabethan usages it can also be spelled tragedie.
The McCain Tragedy
John McCain's 2000 campaign for president failed, but it was an unruly and joyous romp. His campaign this time feels quite different: carefully planned, meticulously calculated -- and a tragedy.Yes he sold out to the very person who was responsible for his tragedy in 2000 and now that person is a liability. The second tragedy is I think he believes what he says about Iraq - the tragedy is of course he is wrong and 70% of the American people know it. But it doesn't end there.
Tragedy, not a word to be invoked lightly, typically involves a morally admirable person who struggles toward a goal and experiences suffering as his own choices collide with forces unleashed by the gods or by circumstance. The distinguished theater critic Walter Kerr once wrote that the tragic man "is free to free himself of obeisance to any power."
McCain's political trajectory over the past seven years might best be understood as a conflict between his desire to resist the Republican powers that be and his need to appease those forces lest they block his last chance at the White House.
There is another tragic element: McCain suffered mightily during the 2000 presidential primaries at the hands of George W. Bush's political machine, which smeared the senator on everything from his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam to the racial identity of his adopted daughter.
Yet McCain is being dragged down now by his loyalty to the very same Bush and his policies in Iraq. Earlier in the war, McCain was a fierce critic of the president's strategy and tactics. But those criticisms count for little now. Bush destroyed McCain's candidacy by design the first time and is smothering him by association this time.
But even the best speeches and op-ed pieces cannot free McCain from the consequences of his choices. It turns out that no matter what he does to court, soothe and pamper the right, many in its ranks will never abide him. He spoke out too forcefully in 2000 for campaign finance reform and against "the demands of big-money special interests." He condemned the "self-appointed" leaders of conservative groups -- a rather influential constituency -- and singled out Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as "the agents of intolerance." People in politics have long memories.McCain was right about the power hungry theocrat Republican operatives in 2000 but he sold out to them in 2006. A tragedy for sure but not one that should make one sympathetic. Yes a tragedy but one that is the result of "a great person whose downfall is brought about by either a character flaw or a conflict with some higher power such as the law, the gods, fate, or society."
In his book " Character Is Destiny," McCain quotes Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor from Austria, who declares that "everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
McCain is an admirable man because he seems to live by those words. That means he will make no excuses for the choices he has made, even if they turn out to be tragic.
If you haven't read Viktor Frankl you should.
Man's Search for Meaning