The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Lessons of Failure and Hope of Success: Reflections on the Eve of a Battle

Posted on | September 30, 2010 | 69 Comments

“When I want my men to remember something important, to really make it stick, I give it to them double dirty. It may not sound nice to some bunch of little old ladies at an afternoon tea party, but it helps my soldiers to remember. You can’t run an army without profanity; and it has to be eloquent profanity. An army without profanity couldn’t fight its way out of a piss-soaked paper bag. As for the types of comments I make, sometimes I just, by God, get carried away with my own eloquence.”
Gen. George S. Patton

“[T]herapeutic morality encourages a permanent suspension of the moral sense. There is a close connection, in turn, between the erosion of moral responsibility and the waning capacity for self-help . . . between the elimination of culpability and the elimination of competence.”
Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (1979)

You cannot expect credit for your successes if you do not accept responsibility for your failures. This is a point I made months ago at the Hot Air Green Room:

Good mental health is characterized by optimism and a sense of agency — that is to say, the belief that we are ultimately in control of our own lives. The sense of agency is critical to success and happiness in every area of life . . .
Self-pity and envy are closely associated emotions. If we are not to blame for our own failures, then others deserve no credit for their success. . . .

There is perhaps no more telling symptom of our culture’s decades-long descent into narcissism than the widespread tendency to envy success rather than to praise, admire and emulate it. So pervasive has this trend toward narcissism become that, while it finds its most gaudy examples in the precincts of liberalism — identity politics being nothing other than narcissism as an ideology — we see similar attitudes of entitlement and envy erupting even among conservatives who otherwise proclaim the importance of independence and personal responsibility.

Think back to early 2009, when Rush Limbaugh dared to say of President Obama’s agenda: “I hope he fails.”

That four-word statement elicited furious denunciations from some who insist that their devotion to the success of the conservative cause is equal to, or even greater than, Rush Limbaugh’s. And in weighing the competing claims involved in the dispute that erupted over those Four Famous Words, the question naturally arose: What motivated Limbaugh’s critics on the Right?

To which question the answer could only be: Envy.

Few public figures in the past two decades have done so much as Rush Limbaugh to popularize conservative principles and to defend those principles against all critics.

For that service to humanity, Rush has been widely hated and richly rewarded. He glories in the hatred of his enemies, and makes no apologies for enjoying the material fruits of his success. Whatever his shortcomings and failures, then, Limbaugh has been a worthy role model, an example widely emulated, an inspiration to others — and not just in talk radio, but in every field where people strive to achieve the kind of excellence that Rush embodies daily at the Excellence in Broadcasting network.

Envying Excellence

If liberals hate Limbaugh because he is so good at what he does, there are unfortunately some conservatives who envy him for the same reason. Others who are less influential than El Rushbo clearly blame him for their own relative unimportance: “If Rush wasn’t all over the radio with his millions of listeners, maybe someone would listen to me.”

Apparently these people cannot accept the most obvious explanation: Perhaps the reason that no one listens to them is that they are wrong. To admit their own error — even to themselves — would so undermine their narcissistic worldview as to bring on an existential crisis. Ergo, as a psychological defense mechanism, such people lash out at Limbaugh’s success, making him a scapegoat for their own failures.

They cannot be content merely to disagree with him on an issue-by-issue basis, but must proclaim to the world that Rush Limbaugh is the embodiment of everything that is Bad and Wrong with the conservative movement.

These attacks on Limbaugh do nothing but discredit his attackers, because Rush’s listeners sense that it is not merely their beloved host who is the target, but his audience as well. Implicit in the scapegoating of Limbaugh is the attacker’s judgment that Rush’s millions of listeners are ignorant dupes incapable of seeing his errors.

Well, it has now been more than 20 months since Rush spoke the Four Famous Words, and we may now judge between him and his critics. Obama’s presidency has manifestly failed as a matter of policy and, in less than five weeks, is quite likely also to fail as politics, sweeping from power Nancy Pelosi’s House majority that Rahm Emanuel and many other Democrats labored mightily to achieve in 2006.

Silent Vindication

Where are Rush Limbaugh’s critics now? Where are their public admissions that the course of action he advocated in January 2009 — i.e., steadfast conservative opposition to the Obama agenda — has been vindicated?

There have been no such admissions. Instead, the people who lashed out at Rush for the Four Famous Words have merely directed their scapegoating to others (notably including Christine O’Donnell) whose unexpected success defies the elitists’ narcissistic sense of their own superior judgement.

If Rush is therefore to be praised as a worthy role model, then, we must condemn his envious critics and discourage anyone from emulating their misguided example.

All of which is preamble, you see, to my own admission of failure. No one hates to fail worse than I do,  yet I fail so often and so spectacularly that sometimes no amount of success can dispel the sense of hopeless doom that attends the worst of these failures.

So when it’s 4 a.m. and I’m bone-tired and find that I can no longer ignore the evidence of my latest failure, perhaps readers will forgive me when my admission comes in the form of dark humor.

Laughing at disaster is sometimes the only alternative to throwing oneself off a bridge or otherwise going nuts. Obviously, if the intention of such a jest is misunderstood, this is but one more failure for which I alone bear responsibility.

If you cannot accept blame for your failures, you cannot expect credit for your successes. Therefore it was encouraging to see that my friend Aleister at American Glob was heartened by one recent triumph:

If you ever doubted the value of hard work and persistence, look no further. . . . Congratulations, Stacy. You bring hope to the tweeters, bloggers and enterprising writers of the world.

Serving as the Bringer of Hope can be a heavy burden to bear. We see how unworthy Obama has been of such a responsibility, as the White House now tries to scapegoat its staunchest supporters for the Democrats’ electoral debacle that looms on Nov. 2.

To borrow a phrase from the president’s erstwhile spiritual mentor, failure is “coming home to roost” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The effort to externalize responsibility for that failure — to say that Obama has failed because of Republican opposition, because of Fox News or because of disillusioned fainthearts among the president’s own supporters — is a damning judgment on the president’s character.

From Failure to Triumph

No one likes to lose, and no one likes to admit that they are to blame for their own failures. Yet every failure is a lesson to be studied, if we are to remedy our own shortcomings. And we cannot fully benefit from the lessons of our failures when we deny our own role in causing them.

George S. Patton was arguably the greatest combat general of World War II and deserves mention among the finest military commanders of all time. This distinction — the glory of a great warrior — Patton had sought diligently since his early youth. He had a tremendous faith that it was his destiny to gain historic renown as a general and, as the Academy Award-winning 1970 film Patton accurately shows, he even applied his prayer life toward fulfilling that destiny.

And then, on the very heels of his triumph in the Sicily campaign, came the greatest failure of Patton’s career. His notorious temper got the best of him and he slapped and cursed a shell-shocked soldier he believed to be a coward who deserved to be shot as a deserter. Patton was compelled to publicly apologize for that incident and, as a result, lost the opportunity to command the D-Day invasion, for which responsibility no other general was so obviously suited.

That low ebb in Patton’s fortunes — the humiliating consquence of his failure — was the most bitter lesson of his life, one that drove him to his knees in prayer to beg that God would give him another chance to achieve his destiny. When that chance finally came, and Patton was given command of the Third Army in the breakout from Normandy, he achieved glory with one of the most spectacular campaigns in military history, and added even greater glory in that desperate winter struggle known as the Battle of the Bulge.

“Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost nor will ever lose a war; for the very idea of losing is hateful to an American.”
George S. Patton

Victory is the choice we make when we decide that no defeat can make us stop fighting. If you are defeated today, return to the battlefield tomorrow even more determined to prevail. And no matter how often you lose, you can never be defeated so long as you continue the fight.

We are now on the eve of a political battle that could determine whether America is to achieve its destiny or be doomed to deserved oblivion, having failed to live up to that ancient vision of the City on a Hill:

“If we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world . . .”
John Winthrop, 1630

In the battle now before us, we shall deserve every curse that posterity will heap upon this generation if we fail. Therefore let us vanquish the thought of failure from our minds and end all quarrels that impede our united struggle. Rather than blaming others for what went wrong yesterday, let us focus on doing what is right today.

Our antagonists in this struggle have already begun to despair and they are abandoning their leader, rather than remaining where they can be blamed for his imminent defeat. The blessings that have favored our cause so far should be sufficient evidence that victory is within our grasp, if each of us will renew our determination to do all we can to achieve it.

That is my promise and, if we should fail, blame no one else but me.

But we must win.

UPDATE: Stogie is a natural-born fighter, who quotes another:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood . . .”

Indeed. When it comes to a fight, the only meaningful measure of a man is, Will he fight?

Comments

  • http://theothermccain.com smitty

    Butbutbutbut. . .nobody wins unless everybody wins! *snivel*

  • JeffS

    Are you offended, smitty? If so, maybe there’s a “Success Czar” somewhere in the Federal goobermint you can contact.

    ;-p

  • http://saberpoint.blogspot.com Stogie

    A great post, the blogger’s equivalent of Patton’s speech before the big American flag.

  • jefferson101

    Capsule GSP.

    “Attack, Attack, Attack!”

    Rush took that one to heart, for sure.

  • http://teaparty-editor.blogspot.com T.L. Davis
  • http://FilmLadd.com FilmLadd

    Should print this, laminate it, and send it to every GOP “consultant” in D.C. that thinks there are “unwinnable” Congressional and Senatorial districts out there.

  • J David

    Wow! Too bad you couldn’t have thrown Stonewall Jackson into that list somewhere, too…But for sure, Patton ranks with the best military leaders in all of human history, and Rush as a leader marshaling the citizens to THE righteous ideological(in SPITE of his own party’s efforts to the contrary) cause.

    Rush likes to quote from Churchill’s (another pet hero) “…Never, never, never, never give up…” speech. He really took that to heart.

  • http://theothermccain.com Robert Stacy McCain

    @Stogie
    You see that this entire essay was inspired by my need to admit: I fucked up. Blame me.

    When I get downhearted and discouraged by my repeated failures, there are times I wonder, “Why even try?” And that’s how I felt this morning at 4 a.m. when I put up that post about my failure — once again — to be deemed worthy of inclusion in a conservative event.

    Deep reflection required me to admit that, indeed, their judgment is correct: I am unworthy, because if I were truly worthy, no one could overlook it. And then, as if to further demonstrate my utter worthlessness, this admission was made in such a way that it was misinterpreted as some sort of attack on others and . . .

    Well, you see that my failure could not have been more spectacular. Here I am, having devoted myself to a career as a communicator, and I cannot even communicate at a basic level.

    To let myself be the only one to benefit from the lessons of my failures would be selfish, and so I felt the need to generalize my personal fuck-up into something that might be of some help to others, and of some use in the present crisis.

  • http://www.Troynovant.com/ Robert W. Franson

    Principled, clear, and eloquent!

  • http://lonelyconservative.com Lonely Conservative

    Not to be disagreeable, but you, sir, are no failure.

    I’m the Lonely Conservative, and I approve this message.

  • http://saberpoint.blogspot.com Stogie

    Stacy, well I felt your post was inspiring; it really picked up my spirits! I even wrote a post about it here:

    “General McCain’s Speech to the Troops on the Eve of Battle.” It is at this link:
    http://saberpoint.blogspot.com/2010/09/general-mccains-speech-to-troops-on-eve.html

  • http://sisu.typepad.com Sissy Willis

    A tour de force. I’m breathless … and ready to fight another day.

  • http://warlocketx.wordpress.com/ Ric Locke

    You also need to internalize the difference between “worthy” and “member of the club”. There’s nothing inherently vile about preferring to associate with those you’ve associated with before versus newbies, and newbies need to take that into account rather than seeing it as a personal attack.

    It all comes under the head of “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s ass.” I have a new neighbor whose ass is eminently covetable, so it’s on my mind, you see.

    Regards,
    Ric

  • http://teaparty-editor.blogspot.com T.L. Davis

    Stacy, if they are overlooking you, they should check and see if people understand the rules of getting a million hits a year. Almost every blogger I know uses or references these rules. That’s impact.

  • http://teaparty-editor.blogspot.com T.L. Davis

    Hell, I had to explain Rule 5 to my wife, for heaven’s sake.

  • http://maaadddog.wordpress.com/ NeoVictorian

    A reminder to everyone to hit the link to Frum’s “furious denunciation(s)”:

    On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of “responsibility,” and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined…

    Oh dear, that hasn’t stood the test of time. It’s also rather creepy.

  • jefferson101

    @ NeoVictorian, #16…

    Why would I care about anything that the egregious Frum says?

    I would not urinate in his ear if his brain was on fire.

  • http://maaadddog.wordpress.com/ NeoVictorian

    @jefferson101, I suppose I should have said hit the link for amusement value only. I mean, it was published in March 2009 and he seemed to still be convinced the seas were receding and the planet was beginning to heal. Right after laundry listing his conservative bona fides.

  • jefferson101

    @NeoVictorian….

    I knew that, pretty much. But being a serious fan of Dr. Jerry Pournelle, I can’t help but use his line about “The Egregious Frum” whenever possible.

    And that was a spike right over the net.

  • http://theothermccain.com Robert Stacy McCain

    @TL Davis

    That’s impact.

    And that is also a function of entrepreneurial necessity. If the blog is to be a self-sustaining enterprise, increasing traffic is essential. Why should blogs link my stuff if I never link their stuff? What can I offer that is different than what other blogs are offering? How can cooperation be a strategy of competition?

    These are questions I was forced to work through, on a trial-and-error basis, if there was to be any hope of making the blog produce any revenue to compensate my labor. This was a sweat equity project, and failure . . . well, I prefer not to think about it.

    Contrast my life-or-death struggle to pay the bills this way, with however it is that people who organize these conferences make their living. Is a link from me worth anything to them? Or is teaching newbies how to get their blogs linked a skill they consider worth sharing with conference attendees? Has anything I’ve done since January 2008 made any impression on them?

    Well, I’m at home tonight and not somewhere else.

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  • http://teaparty-editor.blogspot.com T.L. Davis

    Stacy, let me ask say this: name recognition and a hook are powerful. As a writer I can say that ultimately it is the ability to sell books that interest me in blogging. Don’t you think that a Stacy McCain’t Rule 5 Calendar would sell, or not?

  • http://teaparty-editor.blogspot.com T.L. Davis

    Okay, loaded with typos.
    Let me say this:
    Stacy McCain’s Rule 5 Calendar.

  • http://theothermccain.com Robert Stacy McCain

    Stacy McCain’s Rule 5 Calendar.

    Hmmmm. Every month, the same Speedo picture?

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  • garden brinjal

    RSM:

    Reading this remidned me stragely (both on tone and content) of a blog post i read some time ago…. You may be aware of Tim Andrews who blogs at Inside the Mind of Tim: The musings of an Australian classical liberal in Washington DC.

    (Incidenally, Tim was one of the guys i suspected to be the ghostwriter behind Sarah Palin’s famous facebook posts right after she resigned.)

    Failures, taking responsibility, politics, self-defense mechanisms… you use Patton’s story, Tim uses his experience as a Scout leader…

    A fantastic read:

    A Lesson for Life, Love, & Politics
    By Tim Andrews
    2 Jun 2010

    It is so easy to blame others when things in our life go awry. It is even easier to blame others when the ill is specifically their fault.

    Doing this is quite justifiable. I quite understand it. Yet it is wrong. And not only wrong, but damaging. And, in my first-ever self-help blog post, I shall at least attempt explain why I feel this to be the case, and why, if someone has done you wrong, then you have no-one to blame but yourself. Always. No exceptions. As strange as it may seem, if someone has wronged you, I say blame yourself.

    This seems somewhat counterintuitive. After all, if someone has wronged you, and committed an act of evil against you, why ought you blame yourself?

    In answering this, I wish to share something that is, in all seriousness, probably the greatest lesson I have ever learned. One that has profoundly affected how I approach not only my political career, but indeed all aspects of my life. It is a lesson that has stayed with me for over 15 years, and one I hope might perhaps be of use (and one I may not always follow, but I certainly do try to).

    This is a lesson that for me applies to politics, to friendship, to love, and to life.

    As many of you would know, I am involved with the National Organisation of Russian Scouts (heh, I just realised I’m wearing a NORS shirt. Coincidence win, hey?). Anyway, back when I would have been in my early teens, I was a Patrol Leader. Now, when I was younger, I was even more of an annoying git than I am now. One summer camp, I had a bunch of new kids in my patrol, […]Read on…

    Blame myself for not having the ability to make them do what was required.

    It was only some time later that I truly understood the meaning of these words.

    We have within us the power and the ability to be able to influence others, yet we so often simply expect them to do the right thing for no reason. Such an approach is intrinsically flawed. People are not angels. They require you to present yourself in such a way as to respond accordingly. And the implications of this go far, far, far beyond a children’s scout camp.

    Being a realist, I recognise that Russian Scouts is perhaps not the most easily-relatable situation for normal people, so, allow me to give a few other examples.

    How often do we say after an election loss “how could the voters have been so stupid?” This infuriates me more than anything else; if the voters really are that stupid, what does it say about us that we couldn’t get them to vote the right way? I mean, think about it. How can you say in the same sentence that people are idiots, and that you couldn’t get them to do what you want; it defies logic. In reality, as any decent political operative knows, the fault lies not with the voters: it lies with us. We failed to show them why they should vote for us. The fault was ours.

    To continue. How often, after an act of political betrayal, do we say “what a cad this person is”, and yet never stop to think of how, had we acted differently, we might have prevented the betrayal from occurring. I have sat in on so many political meetings condemning individuals for their actions, where no-one was willing to even countenance the possibility that their own mishandling was responsible. The fault lies not with Brutus, rather, it lies with us for taking the steps to ensure another outcome. Because treachery is always preventable.

    <We can even extend this to the personal. […]
    I do not like (and indeed am not qualified for) giving advice on a blog. Yet, on this occasion, I shall attempt to give some anyway. And the greatest advice I can give anyon is this: the next time someone wrongs you, do not blame them. Rather, as hard as it may be for you, turn your attention to what you could have done to prevent it.

    As in politics, as in love, as in life.

  • garden brinjal

    RSM:

    Reading this remidned me strangely (both in tone and content) of a blog post i read some time ago…. You may be aware of Tim Andrews who blogs at Inside the Mind of Tim: The musings of an Australian classical liberal in Washington DC.

    (Incidenally, Tim was one of the guys i suspected to be the ghostwriter behind Sarah Palin’s famous facebook posts right after she resigned.)

    Failures, taking responsibility, politics, self-defense mechanisms… you use Patton’s story, Tim uses his experience as a Scout leader…

    A fantastic read:

    A Lesson for Life, Love, & Politics
    By Tim Andrews
    2 Jun 2010

    It is so easy to blame others when things in our life go awry. It is even easier to blame others when the ill is specifically their fault.

    Doing this is quite justifiable. I quite understand it. Yet it is wrong. And not only wrong, but damaging. And, in my first-ever self-help blog post, I shall at least attempt explain why I feel this to be the case, and why, if someone has done you wrong, then you have no-one to blame but yourself. Always. No exceptions. As strange as it may seem, if someone has wronged you, I say blame yourself.

    This seems somewhat counterintuitive. After all, if someone has wronged you, and committed an act of evil against you, why ought you blame yourself?

    In answering this, I wish to share something that is, in all seriousness, probably the greatest lesson I have ever learned. One that has profoundly affected how I approach not only my political career, but indeed all aspects of my life. It is a lesson that has stayed with me for over 15 years, and one I hope might perhaps be of use (and one I may not always follow, but I certainly do try to).

    This is a lesson that for me applies to politics, to friendship, to love, and to life.

    As many of you would know, I am involved with the National Organisation of Russian Scouts (heh, I just realised I’m wearing a NORS shirt. Coincidence win, hey?). Anyway, back when I would have been in my early teens, I was a Patrol Leader. Now, when I was younger, I was even more of an annoying git than I am now. One summer camp, I had a bunch of new kids in my patrol, […]Read on…

  • Estragon

    IMO, these conferences were quite meaningful 15 years ago or so, when the blogosphere was in its infancy and online technology also in early development. Nowadays, they are vehicles by which some people make money. Little can be accomplished that could not be more efficiently done via video conferencing or virtual meetings.

    The various groups which put these on also wish to promote themselves and present an unrealistic picture of their own influence. If memory serves, those responsible for excluding our host seem always to be fresh-faced youngsters of no particular distinction or experience.

    Stacy’s background and experience, added to his ground-breaking blogging, would evidently add something to these meetings, assuming of course that valuable content were a primary objective. But it apparently is not.

    Rather than take it personally, adopt the Groucho Marx attitude: “I’ve been thrown out of much nicer places than this . . .”

  • http://teaparty-editor.blogspot.com T.L. Davis

    Well, Stacy, I kind of thought you would hold an editorial position, rather than a modeling position with the calendar.

  • garden brinjal

    Indeed. When it comes to a fight, the only meaningful measure of a man is, Will he fight?

    John 9:41 — Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

    As long as you are thick, dense and dull, you suffer as through a glass darkly, and through your insensitiveness inflict such amount on others too:

    “Through the travail of the ages
    Midst the pomp and toil of war
    Have I fought and strove and perished
    Countless times upon this star.

    I have sinned and I have suffered
    Played the hero and the knave
    Fought for belly, shame or country
    And for each have found a grave.

    So as through a glass and darkly
    The age long strife I see
    Where I fought in many guises,
    Many names — but always me.

    So forever in the future
    Shall I battle as of yore,
    Dying to be born a fighter
    But to die again once more.”

    –General George Patton

  • J David

    I wouldn’t be showing up at this site two-three times a day to read a “fuck-up”…Happily, I missed whatever slip is causing this extended self-flagellation session, but I have gotten great encouragement and early scoops from this place amongst fellow patriots, and wouldn’t fret not being invited to every party, for whatever reason.

  • FenelonSpoke

    “Well, Stacy, I kind of thought you would hold an editorial position, rather than a modeling position with the calendar.”

    The T in your name, TL, stands for “tact”, doesn’t it? LOL

  • http://teaparty-editor.blogspot.com T.L. Davis

    I guess in this case. Some illusions must be destroyed.

  • Cc

    The Lord works through his creations, and this post came at a critical time for me. Fascinating that just by being yourself, accepting responsibility, and having the courage to share it with others, you have performed a tremendous service.

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