The Stain on McCain
By Mary Lyon
Johnnie, we hardly knew ye.
You started out on the national scene as the shining hero on a hill, resplendent in your blinding white military uniform, valiantly making your way up to microphones and podiums on crutches, the handsome, though hobbled, hero, newly-freed captive of far-distant bad guys. You still stood tall.
We all knew what you went through and man, did we ever admire you for it. We saw it in your eyes and in your every agonizing step. We respected your suffering and sacrifice. We lauded you for your pain and your service. We sang songs about your bravery in the face of unfathomable fear and desolation. So much so that soon enough, you were elevated to prominence in public service. Sometimes the good guys do win.
Sadly, that was many years and many fairy tales (and a couple of unjust wars) ago. Once upon a terrifying time, you were seriously injured, your body defiled, your stamina siphoned away, from your seemingly-unending POW nightmare in the “Hanoi Hilton.” But it’s only now, lo these many years later, that you’ve truly become damaged goods. There is a horrible stain on that fabled good-guy warrior in the white hat.
I don’t know if Arizona Senator John McCain has ever received a “Dear John” letter, but I feel like writing him one now. He’s earned it, every bit as much as he had once earned my trust. At first, I believed all that “Straight-Talk Express” stuff, and the “maverick” label everybody hung on him like a halo on a Christmas angel. McCain was always portrayed as the guy on whose word you could rely, whose judgment you could take to the bank, aside from that financial mess with that Charles Keating fellow, his savings and loan failure and shady campaign quid pro quos during the late ‘80’s, of course. McCain found redemption from that Senate scandal and held on. And we forgave him. I can’t help but feel that McCain would rather have a hundred Charles Keatings darkening his door now rather than a single George W. Bush.
Our hero hung in there for another decade until he decided to make a run for the White House at the end of the Clinton era, and ran smack-faced into the Bush/Rove meat grinder. And that’s where the high regard I’d felt for McCain began to collapse, faster than the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association from the “Keating Five” days. McCain had been a rare breed in my eyes – a republi-CON whom I, the resolute Democrat, might actually consider presidential material. But I’m also a wife, a mother, AND an adopted daughter. I was outraged when I saw the filthy smear campaign launched by Karl Rove and company before the 2000 South Carolina primary to besmirch not just McCain but also his wife and adopted Bangladeshi daughter (Psst: “would you vote for John McCain if you knew that he’d fathered a black child out of wedlock??? Shhh – pass it on…”). It was bad enough when the Bush machine spread rumors questioning McCain’s sexual preferences and sanity. But when they went after his marriage, his wife, and their little girl – noncombatants both – that was just too low a blow. What was far worse in my eyes, however, was McCain’s reaction to it. I saw nothing that would even begin to move the needle on the old Richter scale. Years later when John Kerry, a brother-in-arms from the Vietnam War, was also smeared by the same Bush jackals, McCain reacted from the same bowl of soggy, warmed-over milquetoast. The most he offered was some bland reference to having something similar done to him once, too. Listen, pal: if I had been the subject of a psychological attack when I was a little girl, MY father would NEVER have sat still for it for a nanosecond. Nor would he have offered such a nearly nonexistent response. In fact, there were two such cases, when I was in grade school and then again in high school. My dad went after the perpetrators both times with a proverbial howitzer and the threats of an avenging army of bloodthirsty attorneys if I was ever so much as looked at the wrong way again. But from John McCain, with his own little girl victimized by a political lynch mob, I heard NOTHING. And I found it personally revolting.
To add insult to injury, there he was, four years later, out in public, smarming around the country on the campaign trail, hugging, kissing, and fawning over the same George Bush in whose name McCain’s own wife and child had been so ruthlessly evicerated. How could he? That was awhile ago and I’m still smarting from the very thought of it. I’m not just disappointed. I’m not merely shocked. I’m disgusted, and deeply appalled.
And now, the passage of time finds our former hero pathetically mewling about what a cakewalk it is to stroll the streets of Baghdad, in the midst of the world-class disgrace of a war which that same George Bush just had to have, and lied America into. If ANYBODY would know a wrong turn in warfare when he got stuck in one, you’d think it would be John McCain. He barely survived our country’s last ill-fated international adventurism. But there he was again, this time out in the marketplace, trying desperately to prove his point, looking like a feeble ex-Ninja Turtle as his head poked up from out of a heavy flak jacket, surrounded by dozens of armed guards, soldiers, snipers, and hovering helicopters and gunships overhead. Why yes, John, we ALL dress in Kevlar when we go grocery shopping. It’s the newest thing for spring. All the fashionistas are wearing it. I think I saw Paris Hilton in one just the other day.
John, I’m sorry, but you looked like an idiot – and not just because of what you were wearing. Your dress-for-success strut through the Baghdad bazaar was sad, and ridiculous. If ANYBODY had the chops to know better, especially about a war badly planned and an occupation horrendously mismanaged, it should be you. You should be the FIRST to be standing up and calling this fiasco in Iraq exactly what it is. You could be THE man leading us OUT of it. Instead, you feel the need to continue your simpering and pandering, shoring up and making excuses for the arrogant, closed-minded idiot who insists we have to stay on this road to Hell. Whether you realize it or not, you’re showing the voters, the country, and the world, what you’re made of, and it’s something none of us are happy to see. Your reputation, your standing, your judgment, all smeared and stained as badly as though you were running against Junior yet again.
If I’d ever considered John McCain even remotely-possible presidential material, that’s long gone by now. I used to look up to him. Now my lip curls at the sight of him. If I were ever going to be even slightly tempted to cross party lines and vote for someone from the other side, if only in the interest of trying to bring our battered, divided nation back together, he’d be last among the prospects. Not that the rest of ‘em are any more appealing, mind you. I might once have pulled the lever for you, Mr. Senator. But you’ve made sure that will never happen.
Dear John, once upon a time, your uniform may have been stained with your own sweat, grime, and blood. Now, it’s stained with the blood from thousands of needless, preventable deaths of American troops and indigenous civilians doomed in the epic failure that is Iraq. It’s stained with shame. Keeping yourself inexplicably tied to George W. Bush has left you damaged far worse than you ever were at the hands of the Viet Cong. The really sad part is that, like all the other victims of Bush’s reckless policies and colossal incompetence, you deserved so much better. This stain won’t wash out. But your misguided loyalty guarantees that you will.
Then go DO something about it.