John McCain hates talking about his experience as a P.O.W. in Vietnam. He detests using his military service, and his selfless sacrifice for his country, as a political asset. Everybody know this, right? After all, every time he or someone from his camp mentions that experience, it is always coupled with that disclaimer.
But, of course, Sen. McCain isn't really reticent to describe his time in the Hanoi Hilton, especially in the midst of a political campaign. In fact, these days it is his most frequent (sometimes only) defense of his many gaffes and/or moral lapses.
Cheat on your first wife?
Lie about being in a "Cone of Silence"?
Call the Czech Republic by the wrong name?
Confuse Sunnis and Shiites?
Forget how many houses you own?
I'm beginning to think that Sen. McCain's campaign ads should begin or end not with "I'm John McCain, and I approve this message," but rather with "I'm John McCain, and did I mention I was a P.O.W.?"
Like the rest of America, I'm grateful for Sen. McCain's service to his country, for his ability to endure under unimaginable duress. But I'm also beginning to wonder when the "honorable" man who all but accused Sen. John Kerry of pimping his military record isn't guilty of doing that very thing. I understand that Sen. McCain's military record is a great political asset. I just resent the media narrative that he is reticent to use it as such.
To that end, check out this ad (a tip o' the hat to The Stump), from his first political campaign - way back in 1982:
John McCain is not reluctant to speak of his experience as a P.O.W. He is not reluctant to talk about it in a political setting, or to use it as part of his campaign strategy. He has, in fact, from the very beginning seen it as his greatest asset. And, of course, he's right to see it as such. I just hope it isn't his only asset, because he may be beginning to max out that metaphoric line of credit.
That, at least, is the thesis of a recent op-ed piece by Maurine Dowd. And a compelling thesis it is, made all the more compelling by the fact that it is coming from someone in the mainstream media, a group that has more often than not aided the creation of the "McCain doesn't like to talk about it" myth.
John McCain's war record is heroic, and - despite the fact that Republicans have shown little hesitancy to attack Democratic war heroes - should be off limits in attack ads. However, by making his service the central theme of his campaign (the only coherent theme I can discern, with the possible exception of "experience") he runs the risk of turning his greatest asset into a great liability. If the media ever warms to the fact that he has never shown the slightest reluctance to use his experience as a P.O.W. politically, it may not only greatly devalue that experience, but may also call into question those other great myths upon which the McCain campaign has been built.
Then what will remain standing? An angry opportunist, much more comfortable dishonestly attacking his opponent and threatening his enemies than saying anything constructive about himself or his vision for America.
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