Last weekend John McCain accused the president of carrying on a “feckless foreign policy” that has led Vladimir Putin to have his way with Ukraine and not worry about pissing off the Americans.
It should be noted that he made the statement in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and any time a politician talks to an interest group you have to, almost automatically, dismiss what he says. And his making the statement on the same day the president was supposed to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu further impugns his motives. Then there’s that whole Sarah Palin thing…but, as Arlo Guthrie once said, “that’s not what I came to tell you about.”
I want to talk about words. Years back when I was teaching English full time, I always attached a great deal of significance to vocabulary study. I often appended the students’ prescribed word lists with some of my own: Götterdämmerung was a favorite. And apocryphal. Even tsunami way back when the word was more hypothetical than disastrous.I liked the ones that we appropriated from foreign countries and the ones that had fallen into desuetude…like desuetude.
And feckless—a perfectly good word which had spent its entire existence stuck in an expression with youth, much as lunatic has been imprisoned with fringe; foregone with conclusion. As for Feckless, it seems to derive from an old Scottish word, pretty much the same word as our effect. In a sense then, we could define feckless as effectless—it even sounds the same. But more accurately the word implies a lack of character or strength—cowardice in the face of important decisions. To translate that into McCainspeak—it’s the unwillingness to start a war even though we’re overdue for one.
To Senator McCain (whom many in his own party consider too far left…really) manpower and weaponry are the only solution to crises like the current one in Ukraine, even though this essentially mirrors Putin’s approach. And the other day some of the senator’s compadres, patriots all, offered to pitch in and help our feckless president if he promised to get tough with the boldly unfeckless Russian president. Getting tough is the way conservatives do things—they get tough with the immigrants, with the poor, with minorities, with low-income wage earners. So far they haven’t gotten tough with the insurance companies or bankers, but I’m sure those people are on the list. After all, getting tough proves you’re not feckless.
Getting tough also means forgetting certain facts, like seven-thousand American soldiers dead in battle since 2001; close to 120,000 Iraqis, civilian and military—dead; somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000 Afghan civilians killed during the first four months of U.S. air strikes. (We’ve been there 150 months.) Numbers sometimes become meaningless, but if you want some perspective, go to the following site:
Attaching a name and face to a casualty list makes the avoidance of war seem a lot less feckless, doesn’t it?
John McCain, for all his history of service, has become pretty much a caricature of himself, and under ordinary circumstances I would ignore him just as most others have learned to do. But when he starts rattling that saber in hopes that Russia will respond, and seems to have forgotten about our recent thirteen years of war, well…Götterdämmerung—the twilight if the gods—was one of my words. I’d hate to have to put it to use out of necessity.