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Thoughts on John McCain

Posted by John Reed on

John McCain

John McCain emerged from the Florida primary on 1/29/08 as the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. That has generated profound and startling reaction from Republicans. (I come closest to the Libertarian Party. The only time I can recall ever voting for a Republican was Reagan in 1980 and that was because I was so appalled at the possibility of Jimmy Carter getting re-elected. The only time I ever voted Democrat was for McGovern in 1972 and that was because I was appalled at the notion of Richard Nixon being re-elected. I do not recall voting in 1968 because I was in college and had not set up the paperwork. I never opposed the Vietnam war.)

Rush Limbaugh has been saying he may not vote Republican for the first time. Ann Coulter says she will not only vote for Hillary, she will campaign for her, if McCain is the Republican nominee.

Former Republican Senator Rick Santorum said that when he was a member of the Republican leadership, he had to work with the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and the McCain Party. Asked if the problem was McCain not being conservative enough, Santorum said the problem was that McCain was not anything enough. Rephrasing Santorum, McCain was essentially like a Chance card in the Monopoly Game or like one of Forrest Gump’s boxes of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. He is a random factor.

Sean Hannity seemed to apologize for his stance and assured audiences that he would support the Republican nominees including if it is McCain, but then he insisted that his problems with McCain were substantive and numerous and listed them. They were substantive and numerous. (By the way, my son Dan knew my Web site ranked around the top 1% in the world by traffic, but he didn’t quite believe it. So he did a 2008 comparison at of my Web site——and Hannity’s——and was amazed to discover that my traffic was only slightly below Hannity’s most days and exceeded his traffic on some days. Reminds me of when Dan was five and my wife and I were excited about my being on 60 Minutes and Good Morning America that year. Dan was not impressed. Then my wife told him I was going to be on Larry King Live. “From Ghostbusters!?” he asked. King had a cameo appearance as himself in that movie. It is possible to impress your five-year-old son, but you have to pick your accomplishments carefully.)

Mississippi Republican Senator Thad Cochran said, “The thought of [McCain] being president sends a cold chill down my spine.” Columnist Thomas Sowell’s 2/1/08 column in my local paper said similar things to what I say in this article about McCain.

I wondered what would cause such a variety of staunch Republicans to make such extreme statements. When I investigated, I discovered that McCain is, indeed, a Republican presidential candidate who

  • is not conservative as evidenced by many votes on campaign finance, global warming, and amnesty and such
  • is not liberal as evidenced by his hard-cord support of the Iraq war
  • is not a maverick as evidenced by the widespread support for many of the things he supported and his retreat when he ran into resistance as on amnesty
  • is not a moderate as evidenced by his support for the war in Iraq

If McCain is a maverick, he needs to seek the Maverick Party nomination and their campaign funds and ballot access.

No one can support him because they like his record because there is no coherent theme to his record. He is guaranteed to have spit in your face on some important issue, no matter what political point of view you have, and if he has not yet, he will soon. Conservatives have been saying he’s not conservative enough. That makes many say he must be liberal or moderate, which they like. NO! He is not anything enough. Politically, he is not anything, period. He is just some guy who may take all sorts of positions—including extreme right and extreme left—depending upon his whim.


One reader wondered if McCain is just dumb which, when combined with stubborn, can look random. Maybe. He graduated fifth from the bottom of his class at Annapolis. I suspect he got into Annapolis because of who his father and grandfather were, and that he was allowed to graduate for the same reason. McCain did not go to graduate school which was quasi-standard for those of us who went to service academies in that era.

When he was accused of being crazy in 2000, he released his Navy medical records including psychiatric interviews and diagnoses. Let him now release his SAT scores and high school and college transcripts. I am sure Hillary (Wellesley and Yale Law) and Barack (Columbia and Harvard Law) would be glad to do the same.

‘Reaching across the aisle’

McCain spins his hodge-podge record as evidence of his ability to “reach across the aisle” to the other side and get “bi-partisan” legislation passed.

McCain’s seat assignment in the Senate is, indeed, on the Republican side of the aisle, but only because he self-identified as a Republican to get access to their campaign funds, brand name, committee-leadership-by-tenure spots, and ballot access. If the Republicans had a significant majority in the Senate, they might have disciplined him for various votes he has cast. But when your party hangs on by the skin of its teeth and has a one-vote majority or a one-vote minority, you have to accept every “Republican” you can get, even a purely nominal one like McCain.

If you want to see bi-partisanship look at Republicans like Newt Gingrich and George Bush. Actually, virtually any legislation that passed in recent years was bi-partisan to an extent. Neither party has been able to pass party-platform legislation with straight party-line votes for some time. McCain’s voting record is more bi-polar than bi-partisan.

You cannot support him because you like his program because he doesn’t have a program. For example, he tried to get amnesty and then retreated into obfuscating what he favors with regard to immigration. Over the years, he has gotten his name on all manner of awful bills with all sorts of odd-bedfellow co-sponsors (most notably McCain-Feingold which is an unconstitutional violation of free speech; McCain-Kennedy which is amnesty for illegal immigrants; and McCain-Lieberman which forces U.S. taxpayers to pay big for Al Gore’s nutty “global warming” obsession).

Ann Coulter said Hillary is better on national defense than McCain and rattled off a dozen facts that proved it.

Starting a new party?

Some Republicans are so astonished and shaken that such a person as McCain may capture their presidential nomination that they are talking of starting a new party. Indeed, I can think of no modern precedent for an unfocused gadfly like McCain being a presidential nominee of either party. The most disastrous Republican presidential nominee ever came from the same job as McCain: Arizona senator. That was Goldwater in 1964, but he was the polar opposite of McCain. Goldwater stood for something consistent in everything he did. His friends and allies could rely upon him. Hell! His enemies could rely on him!

The most disastrous modern Democrat presidential nominees—McGovern in 1972 and Mondale in 1984—were also quite consistent and liberal.

McCain to Republicans: ‘Give me your campaign funds, brand name, and automatic nationwide ballot access but shove everything your party represents up your a**’

Neither of the two major parties has ever nominated a person who repeatedly spit in the eye of the majority of the people in his party over one issue or another over decades or whose record was so devoid of any pattern that would enable a neutral observer to reverse engineer what party he must be from.

Media stories almost invariably say that McCain not only defied the Republican party again and again, but that he did so “gleefully” or that he went out of his way to poke the Republicans in the eye during his forays against them.

John S. McCain III does not have a voting record that would enable him to prove he is a member of the Republican party. One conservative group ranked him 49th or some such among the 100 senators. In contrast, a liberal group ranked Obama 1st. McCain also does not have a voting record that would enable him to claim membership in the Democrat party. If this were the Olympics, where they gender test, he would flunk the test for being a man—or a woman!

McCain’s membership in the Republican party seems totally arbitrary and appears to have no basis other than he declared himself to be a Republican when he first entered politics as a candidate and has not changed his affiliation since. He appears to have no business running in either Republican or Democrat primaries. His party choice appears to be like that of another career military, service academy graduate: Wes Clark, who was never either a Republican or Democrat, but who appeared to pick the party (Democrat) that seemed most likely to award him the nomination the year (2004) he decided to run—solely because it was the only party with a presidential opening that year. The Republicans had a sitting president—George W. Bush—at the time.

But at least Clark had the decency to conform his views to the Democrat party after having arbitrarily selected them. McCain arbitrarily selected the Republican party then told them to shove their views after he got their endorsement at the beginning of his career. He continues to get the Party’s powerful financial support decade after decade in spite of showing not the slightest interest in anything they are about.

In short, McCain’s position is, yes, it’s true that I never supported the Republican Party, but now the Republican Party has to support me. Deal with it.

He now demands that which he refused to give all these years: support for the Republican party.

Does McCain buy green bananas?

Some who fear a McCain presidency may take solace in the fact that an overweight, crippled, 72-year-old, former smoker who spent five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam may not remain sufficiently healthy to serve a full, four-year term. (When McCain sought a campaign loan in 2007, he was reportedly forced to purchase a life-insurance policy as part of the deal—apparently unprecedented for a presidential candidate.) The bad news for those who take solace in the possibility he may not be healthy enough to serve his entire four-year term is that his vice president will probably be Ted Kennedy or Russ Feingold.

McCain likes to put his 95-year-old mom on display to refute the age issue. That would be more persuasive if she were accompanied by Senator McCain’s father, who died at age 70, and if both McCain’s parents were overweight, crippled, former smokers who spent five-and-a-half years as prisoners of war.

I am not opposed to 72-year olds. I hope to be one some day. I recently attended a speech by 72-year-old former NFL coach Dick Vermiel and he looked “mahvelous.” But he spent his whole life taking good care of himself and was not prevented from doing so for five-and-a-half years.

Torture and solitary confinement as preparation for controlling the nuclear button

There is also the issue of whether being tortured and held in solitary confinement for years is good preparation for having your finger on the nuclear war button. I suspect not. According to McCain’s military medical records, he tried to commit suicide twice while he was a POW. Can we blame him? Not me. Being tortured and in solitary is way beyond my experience. But that’s not the question. The question is whether we let a person who tried to commit suicide twice have control of the nuclear war button.

McCain has a well-known, legendary volcanic temper that he cannot, or chooses not to, control. Again, this is not the description of a person whose finger should be on the nuclear war button.

Why do we have his medical records? He released them during the 2000 presidential race to prove he was not, as some had suggested, crazy. Considering the suicide attempts, I think he was crazy to release them.

Did his POW experience turn him into some sort of Manchurian Candidate? I see no evidence of that. But did his POW experience screw him up for a job as sensitive as leader of the free world and the commander in chief of the world’s only super power? It is an open question. The medical records are not encouraging. The biggest expert on how McCain was changed by his time as a POW would be the college sweetheart wife who was waiting for him while his was in North Vietnam—the woman he traded in for a younger, blonder, cleavage-displaying, beer heiress.

Laura Bush is the First Lady. I said when Bill Clinton was president that Hillary was not the First Lady; she was the First Woman. By that token, Cindy McCain would be the First Other Woman.

John and Cindy McCain make an odd First Couple visually. He looks like he just left Ed’s Rodeo Tavern. She looks like she just got back from Rodeo Drive—or a Paris Hilton look-alike contest.

Rebel without a cause

His medical records also reveal that he told his military psychiatrist that he was a “rebel without a cause.” Rebel without a cause was the name of a classic movie starring the late James Dean. It is also a precise description of some people. I knew one of those when I was in the Army. He got out and went on to be a rather prominent white-collar criminal.

I have coached over 900 athletes. Some of them were rebels without causes. I have concluded that being a rebel without a cause is a dangerous psychiatric defect. As a coach, whenever I spotted a potential rebel without a cause on one of my teams, I would talk to him and watch him closely and, if that diagnosis was confirmed, I could not throw him off the team quickly enough. A rebel without a cause is simply a person who seeks to disrupt the organization for the sake of disrupting it. Their motto is, “I disrupt, therefore I exist.” You cannot please them. They will not take yes for an answer. Not agreeing is their goal. Psychiatrically healthy people negotiate to achieve a goal. Rebels without a cause negotiate just to jerk the negotiating opponent around.

Newsweek says McCain‘s nicknames at his fancy prep school high school were “Punk,” “Nasty,” and “McNasty.” McCain spins that and the rebel without a cause as in the past. It all looks like it’s still what he is. Maybe he was not affected enough by being a POW.

Am I opposed to all rebels? Hell, no! I are one. But I have always been a rebel with a cause. What cause? When I was in the Army, I raged against what I called OVUM and OPUM. OVUM stands for things that are Officially Voluntary but Unofficially Mandatory. It’s ass-kissing stuff like requiring junior Army officers to attend so-called “command performance” parties hosted by superior officers. See my article on OVUM. OPUM is things that are Officially Prohibited but Unofficially Mandatory, like signing false reports. See my article on military integrity. By the way, McCain’s father and grandfather were also Annapolis grads and they were big-shot admirals. I presume all three McCains had to go along with, and did go along with, the same OVUM and OPUM that I rebelled against. Rebels without causes within the military know exactly which things they had better not rebel against—namely kissing the asses of the brass and signing whatever false reports the brass want signed. Indeed, Newsweek says McCain “seemed to know exactly how far he could go.” I do not respect that sort of selective rebellion that ends abruptly when you may suffer an actual consequence. Real rebels continue to rebel when the consequences are triggered. The cause is important to them, not rebellion for rebellion’s sake.

In real estate investment, I have rebelled against the get-rich-quick infomercials. In baseball, I rebelled against the lack of appropriate safety regulations. In football, I have rebelled against the lack of contrarianism and competent clock management and lousy decision-making in areas that lend themselves to mathematical analysis like fourth downs. In publishing I have rebelled against book stores and distributors.


Romney called McCain a liar recently—said he would tell any lie to get elected. A number of mainstream media organizations promptly agreed with Romney on the alleged lie. I agree with Romney on that.

Above, I said I only vote Republican or Democrat when I am so appalled by the main party alternative that I feel I must vote for the other one to try to save the country from the appalling major party alternative. Is McCain appalling? Absolutely.

If I have to choose between Hillary and McCain would I vote for Hillary?

Hillary is a liar. (See David Geffen’s 2007 comments or a zillion others.) She and her husband should have been disbarred and locked up when they were in Arkansas ($100,000 bribe disguised as a commodities trade profit; false financial statements to get Whitewater loans; rape of Juanita Broderick; yadda yadda)

John McCain is also a liar as I just mentioned.

But unlike Hillary, McCain lies from a bus labeled the “Straight-Talk Express.” That makes him a lower form of scum than Hillary.

Hillary lies. She knows everyone knows she lies. If asked point blank, she will deny lying—if she cannot change the subject. But unlike McCain, she has never gone out of her way to claim to be a straight talker or truth teller. He has, in spite of the fact that he is every bit as quick as her to lie if he thinks he needs to to get elected.

So if I were forced, I repeat, forced, to chose only between Hillary and McCain, I would choose Hillary. I think she would run the country similar to Bill without the blowjobs and sexual assaults. Bill is slime, but nothing good or bad happened to the vast majority of us as a result of his being president.

With McCain, on the other hand, I have no idea what he would do. Like Santorum said, McCain is the political equivalent of a random-number generator. All I know is he will favor some unknown legislation or military adventure I hate, plus he will have the power of the presidency to make it happen. He will do the same with regard to some legislation or military adventure you hate.

Hillary, in contrast, will have no interest in anything other than advancing her own career like her husband. Consequently, she will only do things that are likely to get her re-elected and get Democrats elected to the House and Senate—moderate, middle-of-the-road stuff. Ignore what she says on the campaign trail. Bill said the same stuff. All the want is power, not left-wing stuff. Bill and Hillary say they will “fight” for this or “fight” for that. Neither of them has ever fought for anything in their lives other than power. If you get between them and power, they will cut your throat. But they wouldn’t even cut wind for a cause or issue.

In fact, since both Hillary and McCain are appalling, I will continue my usual habit of voting for a third party candidate, usually the Libertarian. When you vote third party, there is no need to examine the character of the individual. They have no chance. You vote only for the platform to send a message to the two major parties. For example, in 1992, the big third-party candidate, Ross Perot, wanted to balance the budget. He got 19% of the vote, including mine. And guess what we got a year or two later under Bill Clinton? A balanced budget. Why? Clinton could count the 19% and recognized that he won because of it. He feared Perot or another member of that party taking away enough votes in the next election to cause him to lose. The Clintons will do ANYTHING to get or keep power, including balance the budget, which has long been anathema to their tax-and-spend party.

Support the Republican party nominee whoever he is?

Many people, like Sean Hannity, have said, “Of course, I will support the Republican Party nominee whoever it is.” Limbaugh and Coulter, to their credit, have the brains to recognize that the Republican Party is not some great human Wizard of Oz with a coherent brain. Rather, the Republican nomination is the result of a goofy mathematical formula based on a polyglot series of elections almost all of which have different rules, including allowing Democrats and independents to choose delegates for the Republican nominating convention. Limbaugh and Coulter have the brains to recognize that it is quite possible and even likely that the “Republican Party” nominating process may select a non-Republican, namely John McCain, as its candidate.

‘Yellow dog’

There is an old phrase—“yellow dog Democrat”—that refers to voters who would vote for a yellow dog if he were listed as a Democrat on the ballot. Years ago, you could pull a single lever to vote a straight party line for all candidates for all offices. Machines do not allow that mindlessness anymore.

But even yellow dog democrats were voting for Democrat Yellow Dogs. The Yellow Dog metaphor referred to the lack of character of the Democrat candidate in question. It absolutely did not have anything whatsoever to do with whether that candidate would vote with his or her fellow Democrats in the legislature. He or she damn well would vote the party line.

McCain and Hannity give new political meaning to the phrase “Yellow Dog.” Hannity is claiming to be a Yellow Dog Republican, that is, he says he will vote for whomever the Republican party selects, period. But the issue raised by McCain’s success thus far at garnering delegates is not whether he is a Republican of low or high character. It is whether he is even a Republican at all. In fact, he is a free-form gadfly who cares not one whit about any reasonable list of Republican, Democrat, Labor Party, Baath Party, or any other party principles.

It has been said that the U.S. Constitution is not a suicide pact. Limbaugh and Coulter take the position that neither are the Republican Party presidential nominating rules. Hannity, nice guy that he is, is not bright enough to figure that out.

‘War hero’

If McCain is a maverick, why is he popular? Mavericks, by definition, have no base. Even other mavericks don’t like them because maverick behavior does not align among mavericks. It is random. It seems that those who are supporting McCain do so solely because he is a “war hero.”

Let me discuss that from the perspective of a Vietnam veteran. I also happen to be a service academy graduate like McCain. He went to Annapolis (Navy). I went to West Point (Army). I was ten years behind him.

McCain’s Vietnam service

McCain was a Navy pilot. He got shot down over North Vietnam and captured and imprisoned by the enemy. Both his shoulders were broken by the sides of his cockpit when he pulled the ejection handle. He was a prisoner of war for five and a half years and was tortured and put in solitary confinement for much of that time. He was offered some deal that would let him go home early and refused to comply with its terms as required by the U.S. Code of Conduct. He was also ordered to turn the deal down by his commander among the P.O.W.s.

The media says he was given a chance to leave Vietnam and go home but he “refused.” Well, wait a minute. How, exactly, does one refuse to leave North Vietnam when one is an unarmed, crippled prisoner of war? If the North Vietnamese want you returned home, they just fly you to a neutral country and dump you there. They do not ask your damned permission. There has to be more to the story than “McCain refused to leave.”

Getting shot down

Civilians are impressed with McCain’s having gotten shot down. Those of us who were in the military know that getting wounded or shot down can stem from three categories of reasons:

  • brave acts like out-of-ammunition American planes “attacking” Japanese ships at the Battle of Midway to draw fire away from armed U.S. planes
  • bad luck
  • screwing up

According to McCain himself, as quoted in the 2/11/08 Newsweek, McCain screwed up—characteristically out of “stubbornness, or a mad kind of bravery.”

McCain lacks the temperament needed to be Commander in Chief of a nuclear superpower. Last time he was on active duty and needed to respond to the danger signal he heard in his earphones—a tone that told him a surface-to-air, radar-guided missile had locked onto his plane—he rebelled against his training and orders to take evasive action. He was shot down, severely injured, almost killed, got an expensive jet destroyed, failed to deliver his bombs to his assigned target, and got captured by the enemy. Now he wants to go back on active duty, as Commander in Chief, only this time, we will all be in the cockpit with him next time he gets a danger signal. Combine his borderline, suicidal rebelliousness with his volcanic temper and his do-my-own-thing approach to life and he is not presidential material.

I saw an interviewer tell McCain he was a war hero once. McCain responded with a nervous laugh and a statement to the effect that he did not see how letting the enemy shoot you down made you a war hero. He was obviously mindful of us veterans in the viewing audience and his knowledge that we were less quick to apply the word “hero” to a guy just because he got shot down.

President John F. Kennedy was once asked how he became a war hero. “They sank my boat,” he answered. Actually, a Japanese destroyer cut right through his PT boat. Generally, we veterans find that unheroic, more likely, dereliction of duty. The Japanese destroyer saw Kennedy’s PT boat. I saw its captain interviewed about it on TV. If the Japanese destroyer could see Kennedy’s boat, Kennedy’s crew could see the destroyer. Why didn’t they? Not paying attention, apparently. Yet Kennedy has always been regarded as a war hero. He was pretty heroic after the sinking, and his medal was pointedly only for his actions after the sinking.

Generally, military personnel are not supposed to get wounded or shot down or have their boats cut in half. It cannot always be avoided and it’s usually not the fault of the victim, but getting shot down by the enemy over North Vietnam is not, per se, evidence of war hero-ness. Getting shot down because you ignored your training and standard operating procedures definitely does not make you a war hero.

Non-military people throw the phrase “war hero” around far too casually. There are plenty of genuine war heroes out there. Their true heroism is mocked by applying the same phrase to lesser veterans.

There is a very detailed article about how and why McCain was shot down and injured in the ejection at I highly recomend that you read it. Basically, it says it was mainly McCain’s fault and that he was a general pain in the ass and bad midshipman, pilot, and officer.

General Wesley Clark comments
On 6/30/08, General Wesley Clark said,

"I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces, as a prisoner of war," he added that these experiences in no way qualify McCain to be president in his view:

“He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn't a wartime squadron,” Clark said.

“I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.”

Clark and I shared a ten-man mess hall table for a while in 1964 and/or 1965. He was two classes ahead of me at West Point.

I suspect that Clark made his comments as part of his campaign to become Obama’s vice-presidential running mate. He seemed to be attacking McCain on one of McCain’s strengths—a strength that Obama cannot himself attack because he has zilch military experience or training. Clark, in fact, does have the sort of military experience that would qualify him for Commander in Chief. He is a Rhodes Scholar and valedictorian of his West Point class, a decorated veteran of Vietnam, was NATO commander and was commander of the generally successful allied war efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Apparently, the McCain comments backfired and Clark’s political career may now be over as a result.

This is not because Clark said anything wrong. Rather, it is because of the ignorance and lack of military service of the vast majority of Americans. That lack of military service engenders guilt which causes them to overpraise military veterans. Also, they are enthralled by anything remotely resembling war heroism and too willing to not think about the details like the difference between charging up a hill held by the enemy versus being beat up in an interrogation room. Getting tortured is not, per se, admirable. The fact that the torturee could not do anything about being tortured does not change that. Resisting torture pressure to denounce one’s country is heroic. There is a difference between admiration and sympathy. That is what Clark was talking about. He was also saying there is a difference between being a combat commander of large numbers of men in the military and being the operator of a military aircraft. Commander in Chief is an executive position to end all executive positions. While light attack bomber pilot experience is pertinent and somewhat useful to a president, commanding armies as President Eisenhower did in World War II in Europe, is far more of a qualification.

McCain is not a hero to me and Clark was out of line speaking for all veterans on that subject. However, the other comments Clark made in this thread were accurate. If I may paraphrase General George Patton in the memorable scene at the opening of the movie Patton,

Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by getting shot down and captured for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard get shot down and captured for his country.

Some would say McCain was a hero for putting himself in a position where he could be shot down. Nope. He was following his orders for the day. All of us Vietnam veterans routinely subjected ourselves, pursuant to various routine daily orders and SOPs, to possibly being wounded or captured in Vietnam to one extent or another. Also, tens of thousands of U.S. pilots flew missions over North Vietnam without being shot down or captured. Same is true of all military personnel in all wars. We were not all heroes but we almost all did put ourselves in various positions where we could have been wounded, killed, or captured.

Hostages as ‘heroes’

Since the Iran hostage crisis, Americans have made heroes (yellow ribbons and all that) out of any U.S. hostage or POW, to the puzzlement of the hostages themselves. Obviously, being a hostage or POW is a passive role. It is altogether fitting and proper to feel sympathy for U.S. hostages or POWs who were tortured. It is quite correct to recognize that they are being tortured for what they represent, namely, the rest of us and our country. We owe them for their suffering because of representing us. The suffering was “in the line of duty.”

However, we do not owe them the White House.

Worse places to be in a war

Early in the war, the Hanoi Hilton was one of the worst places an American military person could be. But as horrific as it was there with torture and deprivation of medical care and adequate living conditions, there were worse places to be. They included a fire fight that was not going well and the various hospital facilities where they deal with military personnel who have been burned, blinded, paralyzed, lost limbs, or been killed.

During the latter portion of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese could see that releasing the POWs was going to be part of ending the war so they radically changed their treatment of the POWs to clean them up. At that point, they were released from solitary, allowed to fraternize with each other, treated better medically and the torture stopped. At that point, the number of worse places than the Hanoi Hilton to be as a U.S. military person in Vietnam greatly increased.

Jumping the line

What I and many other vets resent about guys like McCain is that they used their combat veteran status—which they share with millions of other Americans—to jump ahead in the line for political office. The approved behavior among vets with regard to combat veteran status is to forget it and move on with your life. You do not trade on your status as a combat veteran. The greatest example of that was Sergeant Alvin York, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War I. When he started getting all sorts of offers from Hollywood and politics, he asked if it was “because of what happened over there.” Told that it was, he politely declined and went back home to Tennessee where he had to be persuaded to accept a free, modest farm house as a token of gratitude from his fellow citizens.

If you formed up all the Vietnam vets who could claim the title “war hero,” John McCain would be in the line, but way back. He would not even be at the head of the line of the 801 Americans who were P.O.W.s in Vietnam. Eight Vietnam-Era POWs received the Medal of Honor: VADM Jim Stockdale, USN, who was Ross Perot’s vice presidential candidate in 1992 thereby helping elect draft dodger Bill Clinton; Col. Bud Day, USAF; Col. Don Cook, USMC (Posthumously); Capt. Lance Sijan, USAF (Posthumously); Capt. Rocky Versace (Posthumously) for action above and beyond the call of duty as POWs and Col. Leo Thorsness, USAF, SGM Jon Cavaiani, USA and SGT William Port, USA for heroism prior to their being captured. McCain received the lesser medals that were given to all the P.O.W.s.

Ahead of him would also be all the other Vietnam Congressional Medal of Honor winners, the paraplegics, quadriplegics, amputees, blind, burn victims, medics, and medevac and pilot rescue chopper pilots, as well as miscellaneous John Rambo types who blasted away at the enemy in fire fights or who pulled their wounded fellows out of the line of fire. John McCain would be so far back in the line that he would feel like someone on the waiting list for a Green Bay Packers season ticket. I, and probably many other Vietnam vets, resent McCain’s jumping ahead of those guys in the Vietnam “war hero” line for things like the presidency and seats in the House and Senate. McCain moved himself to the head of the line solely by being more willing than the vast majority of Vietnam war heroes to use and trade on his POW status. He is most certainly not a better man than they. Rather, he was simply more shameless about using his POW status to advance his own career.

Time and again, I have heard pundits admiring McCain’s reluctance to use his POW background for political benefit. That’s an obvious lie. He often mentions it and puts POW photos of himself in his campaign literature and commercials. He has done that his whole political career and none of us would ever have heard of him had he not played the role of POW war hero for all it was worth. He used it to get laid when he came back from Vietnam while he was still married to his first wife. Throwing in an occasional “Aw shucks” and speaking about it only briefly (not counting his books where he discussed it at great length) is part of his reluctant hero act. It is merely a fig leaf of camouflage of what he’s doing. I am astonished that otherwise intelligent people fall for this.

Jimmy Carter’s comment

Former president Jimmy Carter said McCain was draining every drop of political advantage out of his experience as a P.O.W. Carter is right. Although McCain does execute his “aw shucks” routine with regard to his P.O.W. experience frequently, he just as frequently tells about it including mention or photos or video of it in his campaign commercials. If McCain does not want to capitalize on it, he should keep it out of all of his campaign literature and refuse to speak about it.

Remember who Carter is. Carter graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946. That is McCain’s alma mater. McCain graduated 12 years after Carter. Carter also went to Georgia Tech and Georgia Southwestern State University before he went to Annapolis. Carter graduated 59th in his class of 820. McCain was fifth from the bottom of his class. Carter was senior officer on a diesel submarine. Carter is, at present, the only U.S. Naval Academy graduate to ever be president. He was Commander in Chief of all U.S. military forces for four years as president.

Like his story

Bill O’Reilly and others have said they like John McCain’s life story. Actually, I do not care for it at all.

He is John S. McCain III. John S. McCain I was an Annapolis grad and a big shot Navy admiral in WW II. John S. McCain II was another Annapolis grad and a big shot admiral in Vietnam. Presidential candidate McCain was told, as a boy, that he was going to Annapolis and make a career of the Navy whether he liked it or not. What kind of egomaniacs are these various John S. McCains that they deny one of their sons the opportunity to have his own name, his own identity, his own unique career that fits him, not his grandfather? He wanted to go to Princeton (so he could become Mitt Romney). McCain’s youthful rebellion was largely the result of the roman numeral, Annapolis, and the Navy being shoved down his throat according to McCain himself.

What about McCain’s siblings who do not have the first and middle name John and Sidney? In England, the media refer to the late Princess Di’s two sons William and Harry as the “heir and the spare.” In the McCain family, is the son who gets the name John S. the heir and all the other children are the spares? What kind of men do that to their sons?

I find all that I, II, and III stuff and everybody going to Annapolis and making a career of the Navy downright creepy. It is reminiscent of third-world cultures where they only have marriages arranged by their parents. Most Americans admire families where generation after generation goes to the family service academy and makes a career of that branch of the service. It strikes me as egomaniac behavior that treats the son as a clone of the father rather than the unique individual that he actually is.

When I was a cadet at West Point, we occasionally, uncomfortably, discussed the fact that we were trained, professional killers. True, we studied calculus and civil engineering and marched in theatrical full-dress parades during the academic year. But for two months every summer we were learning things like firing your weapon can help get your stuck bayonet out a guy you just stabbed to death or that crossing your wrists before you attack is the best technique for garroting someone.

I don’t want my three sons, none of whom are “juniors” or have Roman numerals after their names, going through any of that unless there is a declared war with complete mobilization and a fair draft that applies to everyone. My dad, who had a different first name from me, and uncles got drafted into World War II and Korea. They served and came home as soon as they were allowed.

The job of the military is akin to the job of the executioner at your state prison. For a family to proudly want to do that generation after generation makes one’s skin crawl.

The rest of John McCain’s story is that he dumped his POW wife and never made a dollar doing anything other than working for the government or for his father-in-law’s beer distributorship, or marrying an heiress, in his life. He was literally born into the government (career Navy father) and spent almost no years outside of it since.

You’ve heard the expression “spend money like a drunken sailor?” McCain was literally a drunken sailor. And when he wasn’t spending money like a drunken sailor, he was spending it like a guy who married money and like a Congressman and Senator. He was a member of the notorious Tailhook Association and, it would appear from all accounts, that he did his best to adhere to its group norms about how to treat women.

He is a narrow man who has lived a narrow life and who comes from an extremely narrow family. He knows little of the Real World yet now asks us to make him its leader. He also knows little of the military because his career was truncated by his disabilities from being shot down and imprisoned. If the American people want a president with relevant military experience to the job of commander in chief, they should elect Wes Clark—a former four-star general and NATO commander during the Bosnia war. If McCain had somehow stayed on active duty after Vietnam, I doubt he would have even made admiral. He is too much of a maverick and his father’s and grandfather’s influence would have waned after they died or retired. I would agree that McCain has more military experience than Obama or Hillary. Obama might mistake a general for a bellhop. She only has experience protesting against the military and none serving in it or even being married to a veteran. Her main qualification for being commander in chief is being married to draft dodger in chief Bill.

Whiskey for me, beer for my campaign
And how much do those who “like McCain’s story” like this part? After he got out of Vietnam and the Navy, he cheated on his wife and while working in public relations (celebrity P.O.W. greeter?) for a zillionaire Phoenix beer distributor married the boss’s daughter and began running for Congress for the first time.

His first (1982) campaign fell deeply in debt and was bailed out by his wife’s money. The Federal Election Commission ordered McCain to give some of the money he received from the beer family back to them because it exceeded some rule. McCain’s campaign also used the beer distributor’s office equipment. McCain appears to have lied to the Federal election Commission about where the money was coming from—joint accounts with his wife or her money. If it was her money, it was against the law. She can only give the same to the same low limit as anyone else. The claim that it was from joint accounts did not compute with his income at the time—$61,000 a year—and huge amount of the “joint-account” money given to the campaign—$177,000.

When McCain got caught up in the Keating Five scandal, partly because his wife and father-in-law were involved in a real estate deal with S&L owner Charles Keating, the Senate Ethics Committee let McCain off because his pre-nuptial agreement with his wife kept almost all her money in her separate accounts. To the extent that his spending on lifestyle and-or campaigns exceeds his always relatively modest income, McCain is a kept man.

McCain is justly proud of his recent refusal to seek earmarks. Beermarks, however, appear to have been another story.

Inspiring. I can’t wait for the made-for-TV episode that details that chapter of the straight-talking war hero’s “story.” No doubt young people all over America are now planning on going to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis so they can study public relations and marry a rich boss’s child and maybe someday grow up to be president.

Oh, you may wonder if famously rebellious John S. McCain III finally ended this McCain family patriarchs cram-your-name-and-Annapolis/Navy-career-down-the-throats-of-successive-male-offspring cycle? Ask current Annapolis midshipman John S. McCain IV.

Support from other vets

Some would point out that McCain has a lot of support from Vietnam vets. He has both support and non-support (See The support stems to a large extent from Vietnam veterans being glad to see one of their own have a shot at the presidency. When you think about it, the last four presidential elections pitted a combat veteran against a draft dodger. In each case, the draft dodger defeated the combat veteran.

  • 1992 George H.W. Bush (WW II Navy torpedo bomber pilot who was shot down by the Japanese and rescued by a U.S. sub) v. Bill Clinton (who got out of the draft by lying to his draft board about enlisting in the reserves)
  • 1996 Bill Clinton vs. Bob Dole (WW II vet of the 10th Mountain Division badly wounded in Italy by German machine gun fire)
  • 2000 George W. Bush (Air National Guard during Vietnam—which was draft-dodger behavior back then) vs. Al Gore (Vietnam vet—Stars and Stripes reporter)
  • 2004 George W. Bush v. John Kerry (Vietnam swift boat commander)

If the nominees are Hillary and McCain, most likely, the Vietnam vets will suffer one more defeat at the hands of the draft dodger crowd in 2008. Unless al Qaeda pulls some stunt, in which case McCain is president. If things go on as now, without any military scare to the American people, the Democrat will win the presidency.

Some may say how dare you question McCain’s war hero status? I do not question it. I question his using it to advance his political career, his lack of deference to the greater war heroes of Vietnam, and I question the public’s fawning overreaction to McCain’s “war hero” status. I expect that McCain himself would agree with almost everything I said about his “war hero” status. So don’t get mad at me until you ask McCain if he disagrees with what I said about his service and where it ranks him among other Vietnam vets.

President of the U.S. is the world’s most important job. If it were filled by a logical selection process, John S. McCain III would not even get an interview. Nor would Hillary or Barack. But because it is filled by politics, it is possible that John McCain could be the next president of the U.S. for no reason other than having been one of 801 U.S. military personnel who was tortured by the North Vietnamese.


Peggy Noonan column

On 3/15/08, Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column was about McCain. She said much the same thing I have said here only with a different slant that is useful for you to read.

Her take on it was that McCain is a narcissist who sees life as a sort of movie in which he is the hero. His hero’s shtick is to fight with and defeat the powerful. Noonan says he is not interested in the economy or defense or health insurance or any other issue. He is only interested in seeing media stories that call him a maverick. He has no interest in making America better or safer—only in gaining more glory for McCain the maverick. He is interested in proving that he was right and you were wrong. He is far less interested, if at all, in what is right or best.

A president must have a guiding philosophy. Some, like Reagan and Lincoln, did. But where those guys had a philosophy, McCain—and his opponents—just have an ego.

I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions.

John T. Reed

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