Friday, August 22, 2008

John McCain Was a POW!

Did you know that John McCain was a prisoner of war during Vietnam? Of course you did. Anyone who has paid any attention to politics over, oh, I don't know, maybe the last 20 years or so, knows that Sen. McCain was a POW. But does that give him a free pass on any and all election issues? Unfortunately, his staff seems to think so.

For example, a question has arisen about whether Sen. McCain had the opportunity to hear (or be told) the questions posed to Sen. Obama by Rick Warren during last weekend's "Am I a Good Enough Christian" conference. (Was anybody else offended by an evangelical minister getting to question the candidates like that? I've worked on a post on that topic, but I just can't get the tone right...). Who knows. Maybe Sen. McCain was given the questions in advance, maybe not. I'd like to take him at his word when he says that he didn't have an advantage. But it isn't enough for Sen. McCain's campaign to simply ask the public to trust Sen. McCain. Nope. Instead, his spokeswoman, Nicole Wallace, in response to allegations that Sen. McCain knew some of the questions in advance said: "The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous..." (emphasis added). What, precisely, does Sen. McCain's status as a former POW have to do with whether he would cheat? Are we to presume that, because Sen. McCain was a POW thirty-five years ago, he wouldn't lie or cheat today? I didn't know that being a POW turned someone into a sin-free saint. And, as a fellow blogger noted: "the insinuation that a former prisoner of war would never cheat is in and of itself outrageous. Just ask [McCain's] first wife." Ouch.

Similarly, when Sen. McCain was unable to recall how many houses he owned (and remember, he also said that the threshold to be considered rich was $5,000,000!), his aide Brian Rogers told The Washington Post: "This is a guy who lived in one house for five and a half years -- in prison." Ah, so because Sen. McCain was a POW thirty-five years ago, he shouldn't be expected to know how many houses he owns today. Just out of curiosity, do you know how many houses you own? I suspect you do. In fact, I suspect that you can recall virtually every house you've ever lived in (certainly by street name if not by address, too). But not Sen. McCain. He may remember the Hanoi Hilton (circa 1967) but he can't quite recall how many houses he owns today.

But these aren't the only examples of Sen. McCain playing the POW card, simply the most recent (I'd say twice in a week is fairly excessive, but hey, that's just me). In the past, Sen. McCain has fallen back on his POW legacy as a knee jerk response to duck discussion of substantive issues or to defend his lack of familiarity with American pop culture:
  • When Elizabeth Edwards (wife [or is that soon-to-be ex-wife] of John Edwards) criticized Sen. McCain's health care proposals and noted that McCain had always been the beneficiary of government health care, Sen. McCain's response was to claim that he knew what inadequate health care was because he'd gotten it from "another government".

  • Sen. McCain ridiculed Sen. Clinton's proposal to fund a museum honoring Woodstock (I'll admit that I might have ridiculed that idea too), not by noting simply that it was a waste of money, but rather by saying that he didn't know why Woodstock should be honored because he was "tied up" and missed Woodstock.

  • Sen. McCain has recently said that his favorite song is Dancing Queen by ABBA because his musical taste "stopped evolving when his plane intercepted a surface-to-air missile". Of course, the missile hit his plane in 1967, he was released in 1973, and Dancing Queen wasn't released until 1975, so I'm not quite sure what being a POW had to do with his liking ABBA (who, according to many music critics, was successful as a counterpoint to the musical styles of 60s...).

And just remember how angry many people were when General Wesley Clark said that Sen. McCain's time as a POW had no relevance to being Commander-in-Chief. I find it interesting that being a POW is, at least according to Sen. McCain's supporters, relevant to being President but a convenient excuse to forget how many homes he has and a reason not to discuss health care policy. In other words, he is using the POW card as a club and a shield, especially when he wants to deflect attention from an actual discussion of issues.

For the record, I (and most voters) understand that Sen. McCain was a POW. We value his service to our country and we understand that those years in captivity helped form the values and judgments and opinions that are at the core of his personality and goals today. Fine. We get it. But enough is enough. How the North Vietnamese treated Sen. McCain has nothing to do with whether he would lie or cheat, should have no bearing on his views on health care for working class Americans (let alone Iraq war veterans; remember that Sen. McCain voted against increased education grants for veterans), should not prevent him from knowing just how wealthy and privileged he really is, or from connecting with the American electorate through some familiarity with modern pop culture. Then, again, given that Sen. McCain "has never felt the particular need to e-mail" (his words...) and is "illiterate" when it comes to the Internet (again, his words), can we really expect him to have much of a feel for life in modern America? So just how out of touch with America is this man who wants to be our President and who thinks that only those with more than $5,000,000 are rich and can't be bothered to know how many houses he owns? Do we really want him in the White House?

Shouldn't the President be at least a little bit in tune with America today and not be stuck in the America that he left behind when his plane was shot down?

One more point: After the treatment that John Kerry got in 2004, I'll be curious to see how Sen. McCain's supporters react when Sen. McCain's service is questioned by groups like Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain (note that I'm not endorsing or agreeing with that group at all; but if it was fair to drag Sen. Kerry's career through the mud, then people shouldn't protest if Sen. McCain get similar treatment). We got a glimmer of this with the reaction to General Clark's comments. It wasn't pretty, was it?

I just wish that we could stop talking about what candidates did way back when, who they were friends with way back when, whether they tried drugs way back when, or any of the host of other red herrings that have nothing to do with what the candidates propose to do when they become President. Let's look forward, not back. Let's force our candidates to stop relying on old crutches, cudgels, and cliches, and force them to address the real issues facing our country with concrete answers and detailed policies.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, let's stop questioning the patriotism of someone who has a different viewpoint. Both of the candidates want what is best for America; they just differ on what that is and how best to achieve it. But because one candidate has a different view, be it on a domestic or forign policy issue, that candidate is no less patriotic than the other. Sen. McCain wants to keep fighting in Iraq. OK. Good for him. I disagree. So does Sen. Obama. But both Sen. Obama and I are as patriotic as Sen. McCain and just because we disagree with the war does not make us any less patriotic. In fact, I could agrue that not wanting to allow American soldiers to die to fight someone else's civil war (not to mention forcing future generations to pay for that war) is more patriotic than fighting that war to its bloody conclusion, but that's precisely where I don't want to go. Thus, I'm willing to recognize Sen. McCain's patriotism if he is willing to recognize mine and that of Sen. Obama. If Sen. McCain cannot come to terms with the notion of patriots disagreeing on policy, then I'm truly frightened of what a McCain presidency might look like. Oh, wait. I know what it would look like; it would like like the last 7 years under President Bush.

To me, it is unpatriotic to question another's patriotism just because you disagree; after all, disagreement and discussion of those disagreements is precisely what the democratic process is all about.


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