McCain loses character race
October 17, 2008 · 1:57 PM
Lacking a cogent battle plan to place real issues before the electorate, the Republicans have chosen instead the quicksand of personality and character from which to stage their campaign. This trap includes references to their candidate's "heroism" and "honorable" service in uniform. Bad move.
After his plane was shot down over Hanoi, the Vietnamese discovered they were holding the son of the Commander in Chief of U.S. Pacific Command. McCain was transferred to a hospital reserved for Vietnamese officers and provided with a Soviet doctor for treatment of his broken arm and leg.
The military code of conduct specifies that the response to questioning by captors be limited to name, rank and service number. It appears most U.S. captives in Hanoi resisted laudably. Witness the group photos of POWs and the surreptitiously extended middle fingers. Witness the torture of Major Fred Cherry, a USAF pilot grievously wounded when he was shot down. But, because of his obduracy he received no anesthesia during his surgeries, nor any aftercare. This hero maintained absolute silence until the prisoner exchange.
Two weeks into McCain's hospital stay, the Hanoi press began quoting him: The name of his carrier, number of pilots lost, location of rescue ships, etc. Small stuff? Hardly. But then McCain was interviewed on the radio by his father's counterpart, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, a commander of all North Vietnamese forces. Thereafter, McCain met with foreign delegations and was on the radio in broadcasts to U.S. troops in South Vietnam to offset charges by Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird that POWs were being mistreated.
He was on the air so often, a U.S. wire service headlined a story, "PW Songbird is Pilot Son of Admiral" (June 4, 1969).
Fellow POWs Ted Guy and Gordon Larson have openly and often charged him with collusion (they have a Web site). Some academy classmates label him nasty, volatile and clearly unfit for the presidency. Then there are the tawdry circumstances attending the abandonment of his first wife.
The Republicans will win in this arena (of their choosing) only if the media fail to challenge the hype. But we are all better served if issues of policy and governance take front stage.
Cyril L. Greig