The Legend of John McCain

This year marks the forty fourth anniversary of the making of legend John McCain. Imprisonment in the “Hanoi Hilton” we’re told, defined his life. Incensed enemy jailors tortured his shattered body, and the indelible experience helped secure the prisoner of war’s future status as political icon.

Accepting the adage, “my country right or wrong,” he served honorably in a dishonorable cause.  As a young Navy pilot embodying honor, duty, country, he treated those words as a code to live and die by. Wiser, older politicians like Kennedy and Johnson reminded him God was on America’s side, and that freedom is a righteous cause. But Jesus never dropped napalm on defenseless villages, and the real heroes of that struggle weren’t wearing U.S. bomber jackets they were the Vietnamese Nationalists.

Ironically American anti communist hysteria provoked the governing Democratic Party to swindle our young men into dying to prevent what they were supposed to be fighting for, freedom. Ho Chi Minh wanted independence for his tiny Asian country and was rewarded with more bombs than were dropped in all of W.W 11.  Even more disgracefully, the most powerful military in the world then used Dow Chemical’s innovative Agent Orange to declare war on the peasant’s children. This disgusting American policy cannot be blamed on John McCain. McCain served with honor. A young man who forty four years ago did his duty, as his father and grandfather did before him, and when he was captured torture to his credit made him stronger.

He talks about those years, “After torture broke me I became more compassionate… falling in love again with my country… I loved it for its decency.” Torture doesn’t have a monopoly on change. Injustice in synergy with old age can also alter a man’s perspective making him harder, more cynical.  Specifically injustice of the kind suffered by the honorable Mr. McCain at the hands of George Bush in the South Carolina Primary eight years ago.  Bush and Rove accused McCain’s wife Cindy of being a pill popping alcoholic; and insinuated his adopted daughter was the bastard result of an adulterous affair. The Republicans also implied his time imprisoned left him mentally unbalanced, and even accused the war hero of collaborating with the enemy. Succinctly, they, “swift boated” him.

Eight years ago dishonorable Texas politics carried the day.  Bush won the primary in South Carolina and the better more honorable man lost.  Republicans are fond of calling election’s street fights and for Rove the gutter is his home court. The allegations by the Bush slime machine were of course all lies. Lies so egregious and malicious, McCain’s family suffered emotionally from the attacks years after the primary was over. Yet when McCain gritted his teeth, and endorsed Bush’s run for the presidency one understood.

Political ambition forced a grinning McCain to throw his arms around the man who smeared his family. Even overlooking this obsequious behavior, one finds it difficult to come to grips with the path the “honorable man” chooses now only eight years later.  He has not only embraced the libelers; he has hired them. The political slime machine, in his employ, put out a reprehensible and startling ad containing a leering photo of Obama claiming he wants to teach sex education to children before they can read. What makes this libelous and preposterous fabrication worse is that it is not a 527. This outright slander is approved by the candidate himself. I approve of a message insinuating a man with two small children is a pervert. I am John McCain and I approve this attempt to destroy another mans character. I am John McCain and I approve because I learned the hard way; this is what it takes to win.

This ad speaks loudly about how low McCain will go, and the results of his lesson learned eight years ago. This ad speaks louder than talk about honor, louder than talk about his country’s decency, and is absolutely deafening juxtaposed to words he used when accepting his parties nomination. Referring to his opponent in his acceptance speech then he said “…there are big differences between us, but you have my respect and admiration.”- Respect and admiration, even though you’re a pervert-.

The outdated, irresponsible campaign he is running is reflected not just in his disgusting tactics, but by his choice of running mate and even in the demographics of his supporters. The tactic by the desperate Republican has degenerated into the “Are you comfortable with a black man sleeping in your nice White House” variety. Currently in vogue is the insinuation Obama a U.S. Senator, a Harvard graduate and a millionaire author is a terrorist.

McCain also put ambition before country by choosing, the dangerously uninformed, Mrs. Palin to be his running mate; and then sequestered her like Garbo to disguise blatant inadequacies. As her slow pitch interviews gravitate into print and become embarrassments for conservatives nationwide, the fractured syntax brings to mind Lyndon Johnson’s quote, “Thin boys, thin as piss on a rock.”

The crowd McCain addresses at his rallies is as dated as his politics. The xenophobes screaming for Obama’s blood aren’t representative of America. It’s almost if over weight Scandinavians were locked in a darkened cellar for months and then released solely to cheer for Palin. This is a crowd so unrepresentative of America that having a deep tan at a Republican rally would be as out of place as a yarmulka at a pig roast.

McCain’s- politics as usual- cynicism magnifies the stark contrast between the two men. His mundane campaign is neither worthy of that tortured Vietnam P.O.W., nor of this monumental election. Consider that the University of Mississippi, who played host to the first debate, is the same University that only forty years ago would not even allow a black man through its doors. This testament to fairness is a tribute to our country and a proud time to be American; but there is still a long way to go. Senator Obama has been competing in this contest with five fouls.  Reverse the circumstances; consider what the polls would be like if Obama had divorced his hospitalized wife to remarry, if Michele Obama introduced to the convention her 17 year old unmarried pregnant daughter, or if McCain was black and Obama white.

The cynicism of McCain is contrasted by Obama’s conviction that when Americans see him they see a man, not a color. The look in Mr. Obama’s eyes belongs to an idealist who has lived the American dream and believes if given the opportunity he can accomplish historic things. It is a dangerous look because it is fragile. Optimism exists where hope burns, and hope always blazes brightest in the young.  Before age and experience extinguish this optimism- morphing him into the other candidate- we must harness it. These are truly dangerous times requiring fresh ideas and vision.

McCain’s painful lesson to win at all costs was learned well; but his education mirrors all that is wrong with American politics.  He was accurately defined as a hero forty four years ago. But seeing a less honorable, less deserving Bush claim the prize he coveted has redefined him. Disillusioned eight years ago his bitterness is understandable, but he might do well to remember Adlai Stephenson’s quote, “He who slings mud loses ground.”  McCain’s scorched earth politics allow lies and smears to preempt discussion of issues that crave solutions, issues affecting our children and our nation.

This is not the same heroic young man who was imprisoned in the, “Hanoi Hilton” and should not be treated like it. His cynical campaign has concentrated on inane distractions about lipstick, terrorists and perverts which is not worthy given the challenges we face. It is indicative, however, of how little is left of the concentration camp captive’s character. The malicious ads and speeches should be seized on, noted, and dismissed vehemently. This unconscionable assault on his adversary has ripped the “country first” mask off the candidate, and what remains is a tired, cynical old man, desperate to finally seize the prize that eluded him in South Carolina.  For a man of honor, a lot can change in forty years. Sadly for candidate McCain even more has changed in eight.

William P. O’Connor enlisted in the Air Force on August 1, 1966. He served in the Vietnam War from August 1969 to August 1970 in Nakhon Phanom in Northern Thailand. William was born in County Cork, Ireland in 1948. He is a former pub owner and retired NYC fire fighter. He may be contacted at

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