Thursday night, the McCain Campaign announced they were making a — previously unsuspected — side trip from Denver to Aspen in order to let Senator McCain meet with the Dalai Lama. As a member of the World’s Smallest Demographic (Choctaw Indian Buddhist Republicans) it fell to me, at the suggestion of Pajamas Media, to write a piece on it.
I tried for most of the morning, I really did, and what I got was 200 boring words about how McCain was going to, you know, go to Aspen and meet the Dalai Lama. I could have puffed it out a little longer — who is the Dalai Lama, why does it matter, why was he in Aspen — but frankly, that would have made it a 500 word boring no-news story. After all, McCain has already said he supports Tibetan autonomy and objects to the Chinese policy of suppression and ethnic cleansing. The pool report has come out now, and from it we learn that the Dalai Lama wants McCain to support greater pressure on China, that he presented McCain with a white scarf. (Just as an aside, the pool report says it’s a “sign of hospitality and respect,” but that doesn’t say it, any more than a Rosary blessed by the Pope is just a keepsake of a trip to Rome for a Catholic. It may not mean as much to McCain, but it’s an important thing to a Tibetan Buddhist.) He was also concerned it not be seen as “an endorsement,” and that’s proper as well: he’s not just a spiritual teacher to Buddhists, he’s the head of state of a government in exile.
But still, what was the news value?
I submitted the article, and the editors (correctly) rejected it. Hell, I hated the article: why would anyone else want it. It was only later, as was thinking about something else, that it came to me: I was angry. Not at the Pajamas Media editors, but at myself, and at the news cycle. Why wasn’t it news?
I looked around some of the left-wing blogs, and I was struck by one comment: “Does McCain think the Dalai Lama is a gook?” This because of the infamous statement about how McCain “hates gooks.”
Well, you know what? If McCain “hated gooks” at some point — after being captured, tortured, beaten, eventually crippled — I think most people would understand that. On the other hand, he has returned to Vietnam on several occasions, and had as much to do with Vietnam and the US reestablishing relations as anyone. Somehow, for all this “hatred,”he’d been on the side of the Vietnamese people since, and even the prison director now says “If I were an American, I’d vote for McCain.”
So here’s John McCain, who “hates gooks,” going out of his way to visit the head of state and most visible spokesman of the Tibetans. He’d already spoken out in support of them (as had Obama, to be fair.) The visit wouldn’t get a lot of press coverage, really, and the number of new Buddhist votes he was going to get from the visit — literally dozens, no doubt — weren’t going to make a really big difference.
What it was, what it appeared to be, was an actual sincere visit to the leader of a people who, if they aren’t suffering genocide, are certainly enduring the next best thing. Offering support to people who just wanted to live their own lives.
Contrast that with Barack Obama, who discovered that the Department of Defense didn’t want him to include campaign aides and a campaign photo-op in a visit to wounded American soldiers and Marines at Landstuhl. (Think of it: what could be lonelier than being severely wounded and in a hospital in a foreign country?) When there wasn’t anything in it for him, what did Obama do? He canceled out, so he could work out at the Ritz-Carlton and do a little Berlin site seeing.
We Buddhists talk about karuna, the compassion felt by the Buddhas toward all living things: a compassion that grows from understanding, and feeling empathy for them. Who was showing karuna here: Obama? Or McCain?
That’s why I’m mad. Given the chance to support American soldiers, and no photo op, Obama said, “not worth the trouble.” McCain, given the chance to meet with the leader of millions of oppressed people, goes out of his way, even though the visit is unlikely to win him much goodwill, much less any votes.
And that’s not news. But it should be.