McCain Plays the POW Card Like a Pro

John McCain has played the prisoner of war card so many times that others are doing it for him, as Sean Hannity recently demonstrated. Alan Colmes suggested that if having an affair makes John Edwards unfit for the White House, then John McCain must be unfit as well. Hannity’s response? McCain’s affairs didn’t count because they took place after he was a prisoner of war.

John McCain has traded being a prisoner of war for a lifetime Disney E-ticket since he returned to the United States. He used it to win his first race, blatantly exploiting it in his 1982 bid for a Congressional seat.

It’s not my intention to demean McCain’s imprisonment. I am just sick of hearing him use it, hide behind it, and pimp it out to explain racism, infidelity, hot-headedness, or any of his other failings.

McCain saturated local TV with an ad focused on his military record that showed him getting off a plane on crutches shortly after his release as a POW.

“It showed he was a hero. It would bring tears to your eyes,” said rival candidate Ray Russell, a veterinarian who finished second in the Republican primary that year.

In his 2002 book “Worth the Fighting For,” McCain himself acknowledged his strategy: “Thanks to my prisoner of war experience, I had, as they say in politics, a good first story to sell.”

And sell it he has.

When he won his first primaries earlier this year, what did he talk about? Being a prisoner of war.

Republican John McCain recalled his struggle as a Vietnam prisoner of war as he celebrated victories in presidential primaries in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia on Tuesday…

“I seek the presidency with the humility of a man who cannot forget that my country saved me,” said McCain, a former Navy aviator who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam after his plane was shot down.

When after a full week, he finally called the lone black reporter to “apologize” (if you can call saying it wasn’t his fault, it was the Secret Service’s an apology) for being thrown out of the media pool at his event in Florida, McCain made the stunning leap that being a prisoner of war exempted him from charges of racism.

“I know what it is like to be deprived of your rights. I know what it’s like to be in confinement. I know what it’s like to be beaten. I know what it’s like. So I think I have a special appreciation that maybe a lot of people don’t have for what it’s like to be deprived of your rights.”

Hannity defended McCain by saying that his affair(s) were 30 years ago — suggesting time is on John Edwards’ side — and in any case, took place after he was a POW. The London Mail recently followed up with McCain’s ex-wife, who bears him no animosity for his loutish behavior when the alleged war hero returned home. After reading what really happened, it’s hard to see how the two things are related.

McCain’s first wife: ‘My marriage ended because John McCain didn’t want to be 40, he wanted to be 25. You know that happens…it just does.’

But when McCain returned to America in 1973 to a fanfare of publicity and a handshake from Richard Nixon, he discovered his wife had been disfigured in a terrible car crash three years earlier…Her pelvis and one arm were shattered by the impact and she suffered massive internal injuries…In order to save her legs, surgeons had been forced to cut away huge sections of shattered bone, taking with it her tall, willowy figure. She was confined to a wheelchair and was forced to use a catheter.

Through sheer hard work, Carol learned to walk again. But when John McCain came home from Vietnam, she had gained a lot of weight and bore little resemblance to her old self…

For nearly 30 years, Carol has maintained a dignified silence about the accident, McCain and their divorce. But last week…she told The Mail on Sunday how McCain divorced her in 1980 and married Cindy, 18 years his junior and the heir to an Arizona brewing fortune, just one month later.

Carol insists she remains on good terms with her ex-husband, who agreed as part of their divorce settlement to pay her medical costs for life. ‘I have no bitterness,’ she says. ‘My accident is well recorded. I had 23 operations, I am five inches shorter than I used to be and I was in hospital for six months. It was just awful, but it wasn’t the reason for my divorce.

‘My marriage ended because John McCain didn’t want to be 40, he wanted to be 25. You know that happens…it just does.’

Some of McCain’s acquaintances are less forgiving, however. They portray the politician as a self-centred womaniser who effectively abandoned his crippled wife to ‘play the field’. They accuse him of finally settling on Cindy, a former rodeo beauty queen, for financial reasons.

McCain has also cashed in his POW status for a free pass on veterans’ issues, where his record is inexcusably weak. According to the AFL-CIO, McCain has voted consistently against veterans’ health care increases, counseling services for veterans with mental disorders, cost of living adjustments for vets, access to health care for members of the Guard and Reserves, and funding for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (V.A.). He did vote yes on one veterans’ issue: to outsource jobs at military facilities including Walter Reed Army Medical Center. This privatization was later cited in scandals concerning the hideous treatment wounded vets were found to have received there. But (say it with me) he was a POW so none of this counts.

After Katrina devastated New Orleans, Barbara Bush, mother of the Current Occupant, looked at the devastation and noted, “…so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.” Bush was wrong about the Katrina victims but her comments fit John McCain’s misuse of being a POW to a “T.” It’s working very well for him.

When McCain became his party’s nominee, we at Pensito Review had a discussion around our virtual water cooler about allegations that as an admiral’s son, McCain received special treatment from the Vietnamese. I took the position that I never wanted to go in the direction of saying someone hadn’t been tortured enough, especially when they were willing to serve their country in a way many of us are not.

It’s not my intention now to demean McCain’s imprisonment. I am just sick of hearing him use it, hide behind it, and pimp it out to explain racism, infidelity, hot-headedness, or any of his other failings. McCain has played the POW card like a cynical opportunist, knowing we all respect such service. It’s gotten him pretty far in life. I just don’t want to see it take him to the White House.


  • GarryInNola
    August 14, 2008 - 9:23 am | Permalink

    And let’s not forget that McCain, after allegedly being tortured, “sang” for his captures while he was a POW, providing them with sensitive information. While I can’t blame him for that as I have no idea what it would be like to be a POW, it smacks of irony how, now he has defending the Bush Administration’s use of torture. But then it’s obvious McCain has flip-flopped all over the place in an attempt to satisfy the Hard Right elements currently in charge of the Republican Party.

  • Joan
    August 14, 2008 - 9:02 pm | Permalink


  • Bonnie McLean
    August 17, 2008 - 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Great Article. I just changed my party affliation from Republican to Democrat… no way can I vote for this man with a selective memory. Sick of hearing about him being a POW. At this point, I don’t even care he served. When he musters up tears it is just way over the top for me.

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