Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 27, 2007

MCCAIN'S ONE-TRACK MIND....Apparently within striking distance in New Hampshire, and being touted in some circles as having an indirect route to the GOP nomination, John McCain has quickly become the center of Mitt Romney's attention. The two had an interesting exchange yesterday, with the former governor accusing the senator, fairly, of flip-flopping on taxes and immigration. McCain responded:

"I know something about tailspins, and it's pretty clear Mitt Romney is in one," said the former front-runner. "It's disappointing that he would launch desperate, flailing and false attacks in an attempt to maintain relevance."

The "tailspin" reference was, of course, a reference to McCain's Vietnam service. It seems to be part of a pattern.

When McCain laments earmark spending, he emphasizes his Vietnam service. When he talks about military challenges in the 21st century, he emphasizes his Vietnam service. When he delivers a Christmas message, he emphasizes his Vietnam service.

It's a subtle theme, isn't it?

To be sure, by any reasonable measure, McCain's experience in the military during the war in Vietnam was heroic and demands respect. If he wants to use this part of his biography in the presidential campaign, it makes perfect sense -- like John Kerry, that's what war heroes do.

But let's not forget that, during the last presidential campaign, when Kerry reminded voters of his own heroic service, McCain criticized him for it.

"I'm sick and tired of re-fighting the Vietnam War. And most importantly, I'm sick and tired of opening the wounds of the Vietnam War, which I've spent the last 30 years trying to heal," the Arizona Republican said at a lunch with USA TODAY and Gannett News Service. "It's offensive to me, and it's angering to me that we're doing this. It's time to move on." [...]

McCain said Kerry may have opened himself to criticism by focusing on Vietnam. In his own primary campaign in 2000, McCain said, he didn't have to because everyone knew he'd been there. For Kerry, "it's clearly a tactical or strategic move" to shield him against "charges of being too liberal and soft on defense."

Would it be unfair to question whether McCain's near-constant references, which he intentionally avoided in 2000, are now part of a "tactical or strategic move"?

Steve Benen 3:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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Comments

Fortunately This Great Man McCain has never pandered or uttered an untruth. And he is so right so often, it is almost scary. Surely it scares liberals.

He is beyond criticism. There can be no doubt. And who can accuse him of not loving America?

The surge's great success in securing our nation and delivering democracy in Iraq means McCain is the ideal human to lead our nation to the next Milennium of Greatness. It is sure.

Posted by: Free Lover of Freedom and Free Liberty on December 27, 2007 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, the question is irrelevant. Russert and the rest of our elite pundits would never put that question to Saint McCain on his next appearance with them, unless it is well choreographed to bolster McCain.

Posted by: dathon on December 27, 2007 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Single track minds are to contemporary Republicanism what hallucinations are to schizophrenia.

Posted by: anon on December 27, 2007 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

And while the rest of the candidates are praising the bravery and intelligence of Benazir Bhutto today McCain called her "a decent woman" and then quickly changed the subject to say that Musharrif has had (9) attempts on his life and that suicide bombers exist in Iraq and Isreal. Way to go John, for stating the obvious. WHAT DO PEOPLE FIND SO APPEALING IN THIS BORING LITTLE MAN?

Posted by: lamonte on December 27, 2007 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

Are you sure the tailspin reference is only to Vietnam? Didn't his own campaign go into a tailspin earlier this year -- and might he not be acknowledging that as well?

Posted by: pa on December 27, 2007 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

That's stretching it. A tailspin is a flying experience. Even GWB can legitimately cite it. Any pilot can. It's not necessarily playing the Vietnam card. If he said he hated war, would you say it was a reference to Vietnam?

Posted by: buddy66 on December 27, 2007 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

Yes it would be unfair. Because McCain is a Republican and asking Republicans tough questions or calling them out on their hypocrisy is not the way things are done in this country.

Posted by: Joshua on December 27, 2007 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

As I have said before, I utterly loathe and despise McCain. He goes around believing he is the ultimate victim because of his experiences as a POW--as if the U.S. didn't victimize the Vietnamese far more than the other way around. Furthermore, McCain is utterly convinced that the U.S. can do no wrong. Witness his repeated sanctimonious statements about how "we come as liberators" to Iraq. That would be a great surprise to most Iraqis.

Ulysses S. Grant fought for the U.S. during the Mexican War. Yet Grant felt so strongly that that war had been unjust that he said the Civil War had been America's punishment for it! A man like Grant puts McCain to shame.

Posted by: Lee on December 27, 2007 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

McCain was electable (and admirable) 10 years ago, before he inserted his head into the collective ass of the Bush family.

Posted by: Angela on December 27, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see getting SHOT DOWN as some big success.

Quite the opposite actually.

Posted by: SnarkyShark on December 27, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

It's cute, almost quaint, that people like "Free Lover..." above actually believe the line of bullshizzle they're fed by the White House Info Channel (FOX, of course) on a daily basis.

Posted by: Angela on December 27, 2007 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

McCain is sick and tired of re-fighting the occupation of Vietnam, not sick and tired of being honored for his imprisonment.

I wonder what all of those years of imprisonment taught Sen. McCain about national budgets, military strategy and the meaning of Christmas? Perhaps the Vietnamese had some educational rehabilitation I was unaware of.

Posted by: Brojo on December 27, 2007 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with pa. McCain's "tailspin" comment was relative to Romney's campaign so I assume McCain was referring to his campaign's earlier tailspin.

Otherwise I agree whole heartedly agree with your comments.

Posted by: Chris Brown on December 27, 2007 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

"Tailspin?" Hahahahaha!

I thought he was referring to his near-death experience on the campaign trail earlier this year.

I'm just saying.

Posted by: Ara on December 27, 2007 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK


I'm sure I'm not the first to ask, but is there any corroboration of McCain's "cross in the sand" story? I know Christians specialize in believing unbelievable things, but still ...

-- TP

Posted by: Tony P. on December 27, 2007 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

McCain learned a lot of lessons from the 2000 campaign. Flip-flopping on his own campaign spin as the polls cycled around was one of them. Bush flipped his message in nearly every early primary state.

John is courting the hardcore Republican base, and this works more often than it doesn't. Kerry's service message was not really targeted toward his base, and he didn't manage it very well.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on December 27, 2007 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder what all of those years of imprisonment taught Sen. McCain about national budgets, military strategy and the meaning of Christmas?

Really. If being a POW makes you eligible to be president, I guess I can, at very least, be head of the Department of Transportation because I've been in a car accident. Or perhaps I should shoot for Surgeon General because I have a cold right now. Hmmm... I've been in court so maybe Attorney General? No, wait- Secretary of the Treasury, because I lost money in the dotcom crash.

I had no idea I was so accomplished.


Posted by: gypsy howell on December 27, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, I don't think your point is fair. The quotes from McCain are almost entirely about his criticism of the Swift Boat vets, not Kerry.

His one comment--"Kerry may have opened himself to criticism by focusing on Vietnam"--is more of a tactical analysis than a condemnation. One I happen to agree with.

The Kerry campaign's assumption that Kerry's war service was some type of trump card which could be played whenever questions about his record came up is one of my biggest beefs with Shrum's tactics. (Infuriating, because the campaign forgot Kerry's genuine accomplishments in the Senate in their obsession with his war record.)

McCain does pump his record as much as Kerry did, but he is a hell of a lot better at it, making himself sound modest rather than grandstanding. He seems to be admitting as much in the article you link to:

"In his own primary campaign in 2000, McCain said, he didn't have to because everyone knew he'd been there."

Posted by: Alex Parker on December 27, 2007 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

What, you want honesty or integrity from McCain? Please. This guy is a deft practitioner of the Roveian Dark Arts. He knows how to play the Republicun game of obfuscating his own defects by projecting them on his opponents.

Posted by: CT on December 27, 2007 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry. McCain is no hero. He is a war criminal. He murdered many innocent civilians, including children, in a dastardly act during an immoral war. Let us not call a murderer a hero when we all full well know the horrid history of that war and the shame it brings to this country's legacy.

Posted by: allie on December 27, 2007 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with Pa and Chris Brown. I read, "I certainly know something about having ones campaign in a tailspin, and Romney's campaign is in one."

Posted by: sceptic on December 27, 2007 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

The distraught talk express

Posted by: Ya K now... on December 27, 2007 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Is it just me or does it strike anybody else as not particularly heroic (or successful) getting your plane shot down (McCain and Bush 1), walking your platoon into an ambush (Bob Dole) or getting your PT boat inadvertently run over by an enemy ship in the dark (JFK)? Kennedy and Dole though wounded did try to save their men from disaster which counts for a lot. But none accomplished their missions and Bush and McCain lost very expensive airplanes and JFK a boat in the process.

Maybe they made mistakes, maybe it was just bad luck or the fortunes of war. But none of these guys were particularly successful warriors and worse McCain broke under torture. There's no shame in that, that's what torture is used for: to get the prisoner to say what the torturers want to hear.

What bothers me about McCain is that it seems he believes he lost his honor over the skies of Vietnam and in the Hanoi Hilton and is out to reclaim it in Iraq, no matter how many have to lose their lives in the process. Wastrels like Cheney and the boy king have their own emotional problems in this regard, for all I know Hillary does too. There are no do overs in life. I'm not interested in electing presidents who need redemption or whatever it is that drives them. The future of this country and the world is too important to entrust to people who want to revisit
and remedy their defeats.

Posted by: markg8 on December 27, 2007 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

McCain is still a candidate? I thought he ran out of money a long long time ago when Bushies stole him blind.

With his kind of fiscal responsibility this country would be at least $9Trillion in debt!

Posted by: MarkH on December 27, 2007 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

"Is it just me or does it strike anybody else as not particularly heroic (or successful) getting your plane shot down?"

Kennedy had a good answer to that. But to me, no. But voluntarily choosing to remain in captivity and torture rather than demoralize your comrades seems pretty damn patriotic.

It's not that I'm a McCain fan (I was, in 2000, but I'm over it now). There seems to be plenty of genuine issues to criticize him over, I don't see why cheap shots are necessary.

Posted by: Alex Parker on December 27, 2007 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

First, I don't see how the tailspin reference has anything to do with Vietnam. Second, I actually read the article in reference to Kerry, and he defends Kerry repeatedly in the article.

This is probably one of the most dishonest posts I've seen at WashMonthly.

Posted by: SJRSM on December 27, 2007 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Very well said by allie at 4:50 pm. One wonders if there could be more contemptible words than what Kevin Drum has written : "... McCain's experience in the military during the war in Vietnam was heroic and demands respect." Since Kevin Drum is supposed to engage in critical thinking, let us examine what McCain did to deserve such stirring words from our fearless analyst. On his last mission, McCain was shot down while attempting to bomb a lightbulb factory, which, of course, is a civilian target, and most certainly NOT a military installation, which certainly means that McCain committed a war crime while attempting to kill innocent Vietnamese people, which is in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions. As allie correctly noted, McCain is a war criminal who deserves to be prosecuted for his transgressions. In McCain's mind, the U.S. should not have "lost" in Vietnam and is probably trying to make up for that by having the U.S. continue to fight and kill innocent Iraqi civilians.

War hero, Mr. Drum? Not hardly. War criminal is a more accurate description of what McCain did when he was in Vietnam. Yet people like Kevin Drum continue to repeat this canard concerning McCain's less than heroic military service while flying over the skies of Vietnam.

Posted by: Erroll on December 27, 2007 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Angela,

your comment at 4:09 is spot on.

As a long time reader of Political Animal, though, I can reassure you that your 4:11 comment missed the mark. The first comment on this thread is meant as parody of the wingnuts that appear here sooner or later. Trust me.

Posted by: Edo on December 27, 2007 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

My apologies to Kevin Drum. The belief that McCain is somehow a war hero emanated from Steve Benen, not Kevin Drum. His words concerning McCain are the ones that should be viewed with loathing and contempt.

Posted by: Erroll on December 27, 2007 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks Errol. Mark is also right. McCain feels unredeemed and needs to get his revenge for his humiliation and residual guilt. I find him an unstable, angry, bitter, haunted little man. I would never want him as President, especially since he chose to enable Bush and kiss the ring of the evangelicals at that phony Bob Jones "university." As mark says, he don't need some clown playing out his twisted psych-dramas in the public square.

And errol is right. The so-called heroism is often repeated nad never challenged by the major media.

Posted by: allie on December 27, 2007 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

Alex I don't consider that a cheap shot at all. . The North Vietnamese considered McCain a "celebrity" prisoner once they learned his dad was a high ranking admiral. He was treated differently
that the other prisoners, sometimes well, sometimes brutally as they tried and succeeded in breaking him. When he broke in 1968 he wrote and sign a confession that he was a "black criminal." In 1969 he participated in a broadcast
purportedly admitting "to having bombed civilian targets in North Vietnam and praises medical treatment he has received since being taken prisoner." New York Daily News, June 5, 1969

He was interviewed by a French journalist, a Spanish pscychiatrist, North Vietnamese generals and even a North Vietnamese author who wanted nothing more than to learn about Hemingway. Most of his time was spent in isolation, away from other prisoners.

As for your argument that McCain was particularly patriotic for refusing early release that may be. There are other prisoners who doubt he was tortured in the prison he said he was tortured in:

Ted Guy and Gordon "Swede" Larson, two former POWs, who were McCain's senior ranking officers (SRO's), at the time McCain says he was tortured in solitary confinement, told the New Times that while they could not guarantee that McCain was not physically harmed, they doubted it.

"Between the two of us, it's our belief, and to the best of our knowledge, that no prisoner was beaten or harmed physically in that camp [known as "The Plantation"]," Larson says. ". . . My only contention with the McCain deal is that while he was at The Plantation, to the best of my knowledge and Ted's knowledge, he was not physically abused in any way. No one was in that camp. It was the camp that people were released from."

I have no doubt he was tortured, but probably in one of the other prisons he was shuffled to. I have no doubt it worked. I have no doubt he stood up to it better than most of us would. I have no doubt he bears more than physical scars from getting shot down, imprisoned and tortured in a war we eventually lost. Most people would.

Posted by: markg8 on December 27, 2007 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with Pa and Chris Brown. I read, "I certainly know something about having ones campaign in a tailspin, and Romney's campaign is in one."
Posted by: sceptic on December 27, 2007 at 5:03 PM

Ditto.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 27, 2007 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

"One wonders if there could be more contemptible words than what Kevin Drum has written : "... McCain's experience in the military during the war in Vietnam was heroic and demands respect."
"McCain is a war criminal who deserves to be prosecuted for his transgressions."

What nonsence. This is the kind of dopy loony thinking from certain "progressives" that got us 8 years of Bush. McCain believed in the war and stood up for what he believed in. And, although the man is a punk for many other reasons, I respect him for that, unlike most republicans who spent the war years hiding under the covers.

I can think of a million reasons for attacking McCain, but branding him a "war criminal" is simply moronic.

Posted by: Mutaman on December 27, 2007 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

Our national discourse is so fucked up.

The fact that John McCain got himself shot down and taken prisoner in Vietnam doesn't mean that he knows jack shit about foreign policy.

For example, McCain's experience as a prisoner didn't prevent him from supporting and continuing to support the greatest strategic disaster in American history. Which is really surprising because you would think that several years without books in a prison camp would make you smarter than Henry Kissinger, right?

Just sayin'.

Posted by: The Fool on December 27, 2007 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not a fan of McCain's politics, but Alex Parker has it right. The "It's offensive to me, and it's angering to me..." quote was in reference to the Swift Boat ads, which he also called "dishonest and dishonorable." Bob Dole defended the swiftboaters, McCain went out of his way to denounce them. This post seems to be trying to create the opposite impression. Disappointing.

Posted by: Daz on December 28, 2007 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

To The Fool, no one says that his prisoner of war experience makes him smarter at foreign policy. His experience in government, however, does.

And the tail spin comment about Romney was clearly a reference to his own campaign over the summer...not a Vietnam reference. The author of that piece is a complete moron.

Posted by: JJ on December 28, 2007 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

McCain believed in the war and stood up for what he believed in.

McCain believes in killing civilians with bombs. McCain's beliefs are very much like his enemies'.

Posted by: Brojo on December 28, 2007 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

McCain has little foreign experience. I do not respect him for "believing" in the Vietnam War at all. He simply believed in the wrong thing. Now he "believes" in the Iraq aggression. He has been wrong twice.

McCain is a wretched, twisted, dishonest, haunted little man. His judgment scares me. He should retire gracefully. We can't afford a third mistake from this limited man.

Posted by: allie on December 28, 2007 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Brojo at 10:53 am

Very well said. Mutaman at 09-27 at 9:21 pm believes that my branding McCain a war criminal "is simply moronic" without ever disputing the fact that McCain did indeed attempt to bomb a lghtbulb factory in Vietnam, which is certainly a violation of the Geneva Convention of attempting to kill civilians during wartime. As I stated in my earlier comments, McCain is not a war hero. On the contrary, McCain certainly merits the definition of a war criminal for attempting to bomb a civilian target which, again, violates the Geneva Conventions.

After McCain was shot down, Vietnamese peasants pulled him out of the water and attempted to beat him to death for what he had attempted to do to them. Luckily for McCain, another Vietnamese villager took pity upon McCain and protected him from the other villagers, which was more compassion than what McCain had demonstrated toward those Vietnamese civilians. McCain has never expressed remorse for what he had tried to do to those people. To this day, he believes the U.S. should have stayed in Vietnam until, somehow, victory had been achieved. McCain, along with Bush and Cheney and others, should be tried in The Hague for the war crimes that they have committed against the people of Vietnam and Iraq.

Posted by: Erroll on December 28, 2007 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Erroll is correct. McCain lacks the judgment we need to be president. He has been so horribly wrong so many times. We need to make sure we interrogate media assumptions and postulates about political reality. Don't allow ourselves to be manipulated by allowing media and political hacks to frame reality for us.

And yes, McCain should have been tried for war crimes and multiple murders in Vietnam. He is far from a hero.

Posted by: allie on December 28, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Erroll, you don't know what you're talking about. First, the overwelming evidence shows that McCain was shot down while bombing a power plant, a facility that is a "proper military objective" under the rules of the Convention.

Moreover, even if MCCain was attempting to bomb a "lightbaulb factory", it is only a violation if one "intentionally" bombs a target with no military purpose. Good luck proving the intent and reasonableness of an individual pilot who is following orders.

As far as Bush and Cheney being war criminals, its this kind of thinking and argument by those like Erroll and his ilk that put these two in a position where they could carry out their conduct.

Posted by: Mutaman on December 28, 2007 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

Mutaman:

Bush and Cheney are war criminals. Regardless of whether or not they are in a legal sense, they certainly are as far as any reasonable concept of morality is concerned. They started an aggressive war against a nation that posed no threat to the U.S., and they lied (or at the very least, mislead to such an extent that it amounted to lying) to justify the war. As Lincoln said about slavery, if that isn't wrong, then nothing is. Just because many Americans don't want to hear that a U.S. president is a war criminal doesn't make it untrue.

Posted by: Lee on December 29, 2007 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

There's a funny thing about the concern trolls who insist that the thuggish Bush and Cheney are the fault of progressives: there's simply no facts to back up such a laughable assertion.

The premise, one assumes, is that by pointing out that (rather like Iraq) Vietnam was not a threat to our national security and that bombing the innocent people of Vietnam was a criminal act, progressives are denigrating the glorious military - who can do no wrong, even when they manage to slaughter a million people for, what history shows was, nothing - no strategic, no economic and certainly no national security benefits came from our involvement in Vietnam.

Well trolls, the United States spends too much money on the military. By doing so it creates an unfortunate situation where the incentive to use the military is high, even when there has not been a legitimate threat to our national security in more than four decades.

(to be clear, the issue of nuclear proliferation is a military one, but it is more a diplomatic one and one where the truth is that if we get to the point where we need the military response we are already talking about millions of dead - a real threat to be sure, but not one where a bunch of planes and tanks will be much help)

Bush and Cheney are the natural outgrowth of an over militarized nation. Their love of war echoes that of the worst elements of the military. The guys who cheer on any chance to turn human beings into carnage. The guys whose charnel house odor infects their every discussion.

Bush came to power pretending he wasn't a warmongering thug. He held onto power by wielding the specter of 9/11 and maintaining the fiction that his assault on the people of Iraq was a cure for his ineptitude prior to the most successful terrorist attack on American soil. None of that can be pinned on progressives.

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