John McCain Helps to Kill Parody


Parody is becoming impossible.  Parody ridicules by means of exaggeration, but exaggeration becomes harder and harder as real life becomes more and more extremely ridiculous.  Case in point: Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), who was caught playing video poker on his phone during yesterday’s Senate hearings on military action in Syria.  McCain admitted it and tried to laugh it off, noting that the hearing was over three hours long and that sometimes he gets bored.

I can understand getting bored during a Senate hearing.  Senators have to attend lots of hearings, and they often go on for a long time.  Still, it is a little hard to understand mentally checking out in this manner during a hearing on whether to enter somebody else’s civil war.  This is the stuff of parody, or would have been until recently.  You could imagine a Senator playing a video game during hearings on whether to go to war in, say, a movie in the spirit of Doctor Strangelove.  But any up-and-coming Stanley Kubrick out there has just been aced out by McCain, who has made such hilarious fantasy impossible by instead making it frighteningly real.


I wonder if many Americans will detect in this episode an unpleasant air of establishment entitlement.  After all, graduate seminars go on for a long time, too.  But most graduate students would be pretty scared of getting caught by the professor playing a video game during class.  Lots of Americans working the private sector have to attend long meetings that they find boring.  No doubt they often check their e-mail or send text-messages during such meetings.  But how many of them would play a video game during a meeting on a matter of vital importance to the company?  And if they did it, wouldn’t they expect the boss to either fire or discipline them?  McCain, however, is not afraid of being fired or disciplined.

Of course, this also calls to mind the double-standard with which such stories are often treated.  The press has reported McCain’s gamesmanship, but not really in such a way as to suggest they are out to punish him.  The establishment press is fond of establishment senators, so they will make sure that any criticism of him does not get out of hand.  But heaven help Ted Cruz or Rand Paul if they get caught playing a video game in committee hearings.

This is, admittedly, a relatively small matter, but I can’t help but wonder whether it portends much bigger things.  There is a segment of our political class that seems to view the American people with contempt.  The health care law was enacted despite the fact that the polls showed the people did not want it.  I think it is safe to say that right now there are many people in America’s political establishment (of both parties) who would be pleased to pass a very complex and controversial comprehensive immigration reform bill, whether or not the polls show public support for it.  And finally, we can be sure that Senator McCain and many others will vote to authorize the use of military force in Syria, even if the polls say most Americans don’t want to.  And on top of all this, McCain, after telling the country what a grave situation this is, will play a video game during the hearings on whether to bomb Syria.

All of this might make you wonder whether the voters will at some point have had enough and exact some electoral retribution.   Are our political elites are playing with fire without realizing it?

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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