A Great Cause

Gene Healy published this post on John McCain’s fetishization of the idea of serving great causes a while ago, but I really like this one parenthetical joke:

McCain’s sometime ideological guru and op-ed page cheerleader, David Brooks, expresses similar themes in his writings. Even in Bobos in Paradise, Brooks’s foray into “comic sociology,” he warns darkly of “the temptations that accompany affluence.” “The fear is that America will decline not because it overstretches, but because it enervates as its leading citizens decide that the pleasures of an oversized kitchen are more satisfying than the conflicts and challenges of patriotic service.” (As a young man, Brooks served abroad with the Wall Street Journal Europe.)

This is a theme with a substantial lineage including, notably, important affinities with a lot of Theodore Roosevelt’s thinking. I have a piece forthcoming about McCain’s foreign policy which notes that one distressing possibility is that he actually believes this stuff and sees war-induced hardship as a benefit rather than a cost when thinking about foreign policy decisions. The President was, I think, getting at a similar idea when he claimed to envy our troops serving on the front lines since he was missing out on on the “exciting” and “romantic” opportunity to experience “great danger.”

Normally when you hear this kind of stuff it mostly seems foolish, as when middle aged men such as Brooks or Bush who chose not to serve when they had the chance start musing about the romance of war. Coming from someone with John McCain’s background and experiences it has much more credibility (which I think Brooks was and is shrewd enough to understand — part of his initial late-nineties enthusiasm for McCain is precisely driven by the reality that McCain is one of the few politicians who can say this kind of stuff in a credible way) but also more troubling in some respects. McCain, after all, knows what he’s talking about so it seems relatively unlikely that he’s going to suddenly realize how perverse this is (the risk is that life will get good, we need policies to ensure a healthy baseline of death and destruction ) and reconsider.