John McCain had some very moving elements in his acceptance speech on Thursday night at the Republican Convention. We can all recognize that his story from long ago in Vietnam represents extraordinary heroism, love of country, and strength. His personal account of being a POW is an account of courage. Yet we are not just judged by how we act in the moment, but how we take life’s most harrowing moments to inform our choices.
Listening to McCain discuss his torture in the Hanoi Hilton, part of my consciousness struggled to see what was wrong with the picture. It eventually came to me. McCain should never have been asked by his country to go into a war that was unjust, despised and ultimately considered one of the great mistakes in American history. He shouldn’t have been there, period.
One would expect that coming back from that horrifying experience, Senator McCain might have felt a burning desire to make things good and right for future members of the American military. Instead he voted, supported and continues to support a war in Iraq that is unjust, despised and is akin to his war long ago. Where is there evidence that his experience taught him the very nature of the risk Americans take when they go into battle? Senator McCain, to quote Barack Obama, doesn’t “get it.”
The GOP has worked hard to sell McCain’s maverick image. He’s scrappy, he’s a rebel (5-10% of the time), and he’ll be tough on the world’s terrorists. Never keep the gun holstered, shoot first and ask questions later McCain, “Bomb, Bomb Iran” McCain.
This brand doesn’t work well when viewed in parallel comparison to McCain’s personal story. What did such experiences teach McCain about judgment? He didn’t just learn to love his country but has embraced its worst qualities and converted them to policy. His absence of reflection on why he should not have been in Vietnam is a serious flaw. The man is still looking at why we lost in Vietnam, falling to recognize that the moment American military boots hit the ground there, no possibility of winning existed.
From this position, Senator McCain has attacked Senator Obama’s patriotism, claiming that he’d “rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.” I assert we lost the minute we decided to invade a sovereign nation with the cry of WMDs. We shot first and we still can’t get an answer to all our questions.
McCain took a lot of time to illustrate his personality, since the campaign, is to be won on that, according to campaign advisors. He was a rule-bending kid, a bit belligerent, with a penchant to get into trouble. Has that essence really changed and why do we need to know?