John Sidney McCain III is a victim.
That is the frame that Democrats and progressives need to aggressively push if they want to win in November. That is how they need to redefine McCain.
Barack Obama only hurt himself when he opened a speech in Ohio with “John McCain is a great American hero.”
What he should have said was “John McCain has my greatest sympathy for what happened to him in Vietnam, but his policies are bad for America.”
I have written in other essays about framing and how it is the most vital skill Democrats and progressives need to learn in order to win in modern politics. One of the most key elements of framing in politics is to define your opponent and define yourself in the public’s mind. Democrats have a very bad habit of buying into Republican frames and thus allowing Republicans to define themselves, their opponents and the entire debate in the public’s mind. This is why we have the common media narrative of Republicans as ‘macho’ and Democrats as ‘weak’ even though the facts do not match the story. It is a testament to how good cons have gotten at framing and to the inherent bias by the conservative corporate media.
John Sidney McCain III is no more of a hero than every other soldier who actually did go fight in Vietnam.
John McCain is a victim of torture, a victim of bad policies that put him in Vietnam in the first place and ultimately a victim of his own hubris that comes from his elite status in society as the son of an Admiral.
There is a difference between feeling really sorry for someone and considering him or her a “hero”.
Sure there is some argument to be made that everyone who goes to war at all is a “hero” in some sense of the term. But no one can expect that to be enough to warrant the title “war hero” when running for national political office, yet John McCain is trying to do it based on his story that he got shot down in Vietnam, taken prisoner and held captive for five years.
What exactly is a “Hero” anyway?
The dictionary says a hero is:
1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal:
Generally a hero has come to mean someone who as the second definition states, “performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal”.
Martin Luther King, Jr. for example, is rightly considered a hero for his non-violent approach to civil rights and his unwavering courage in sticking to his message in the face of threats that ultimately were fulfilled.