McCain Falling into the Kerry Trap?
John McCain has a new campaign video out, entitled “Service With Honor.” It’s pretty powerful.
As good as it is, I think the letter accompanying it by Marine legend Orson Swindle, who was imprisoned with McCain in the same camp, is even better. (Although the story Swindle tells in the video, about why McCain didn’t become a Marine, is pretty funny.) Here’s an excerpt:
Things could have been very different for John. The son and grandson of Navy Admirals, the North Vietnamese quickly realized when they captured him that they had a special prisoner from a distinguished military family. In an effort to embarrass us and our country, they offered John early release. John consistently refused those offers, understanding that freedom without honor was not worth having. He kept faith with us, his fellow POWs, and stood by the Code of Conduct through which we pledged “I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.” Because of his dedication to principle, the North Vietnamese made his life a living hell for a number of years.
I was fortunate to know John in prison, and we have remained the closest of friends. His refusal of early release, his constant resistance, and his undying sense of humor were traits we all admired. We were inspired by his commitment to honor and encouraged by his sense of humor. His commitment to principles, straight talk, and honesty in Washington continues to inspire us today. I could never have imagined all those years ago that one day the man sharing a concrete slab for a bed next to me would be a candidate for President of the United States. I am very proud to stand next to him today.
As our country battles a new kind of evil and our fighting men and women take the battle to the terrorist, making incredible sacrifices in their efforts, I think back to those days in Hanoi, back to the experiences that have shaped my life ever since. My friend, John, has been tested through circumstance and fire, has met the challenge, and he is prepared to lead America in difficult times ahead. No one is better qualified to be Commander in Chief. He has made me proud over the years, and I know he will do the same for us all as President.
All that said, though, I wonder if McCain isn’t falling into the same trap as John Kerry in 2004: Campaigning as if it’s 1973. Both men earned Silver Stars for gallantry in battle, more than passing the threshold to be called “war hero” without embarrassment. And what McCain went through in that prison camp for five and a half years is unfathomable to the rest of us. Then again, James Stockdale endured that much and more and became a laughingstock in an hour with one bad debate performance; the public is fickle.
John McCain came home from Vietnam in 1973 and retired from the Navy in 1981 after twenty-three years of honorable service. He got elected to the U.S. House of Representatives the next year and then to Barry Goldwater’s Senate seat in 1984. That means he’s been a Member of Congress for longer than he was a naval officer.
There’s not a Republican voter who doesn’t honor McCain’s sacrifices for his country in Vietnam; not too many Americans, period, probably. On the other hand, he’s got a lot of explaining to do about his record as a United States Senator. Ultimately that, not his time in Vietnam, is what voters will judge him on in 2008.