The Heroism of John McCain
It is a safe bet that the Obama campaign will attempt to neutralize charges that he lacks experience by pointing to his years spent living in foreign countries and his community work as examples of real-world experience. Neither of these actions really qualifies Obama for the presidency—after all, five years in Indonesia for five years as a middle schooler does not make one presidential material. Likewise, heading up the neighborhood get-out-the-vote drive may be admirable, but is not an important qualification for being leader of the free world. And representing civil rights and discrimination claims does not necessarily make one a superior president. Obama’s legal work may have been for good causes, but it is hardly presidential experience. Obama’s good deeds should be completely irrelevant, but will be used by the Obama campaign to enhance his reputation as a nice guy bringing change.
The only problem with this line of attack is that McCain has Obama beat easily in the irrelevant but heartwarming department. Obama’s story of spending five years in an Indonesian grade school just doesn’t sound as good when one considers that during that same time period, John McCain was spending five years in a North Vietnamese prison. And Obama’s tales of registering folks to vote just doesn’t have the same impact as John McCain’s early life.
Most people realize that John McCain is a war hero, but many don’t realize the full extent of his heroism. Before he even got to Vietnam, his plane was involved in an accident in which his fuel tank caught fire. McCain leapt from the cockpit, rolled through the flames, and reached safety just as his plane exploded. Over one hundred people were killed while trying to extinguish the flames. It makes for much more exciting viewing (security cameras caught the whole thing) than watching Obama head up the 1992 Chicago voter registration drive.
McCain’s years spent in the Hanoi Hilton are truly remarkable for their sheer heroism. He was broke both arms and a leg ejecting from his bomber, was tortured many times, and was kept in solitary confinement for two years. And the Viet Cong never broke his spirit. When he had the opportunity to go home, he refused to go unless the American POWs captured before he was were allowed freedom as well.
It is both uplifting and heart-wrenching to see McCain re-enter the United States after peace was made with the North Vietnamese. He limps off the plane, gripping the railing with his good arm. His youthful, handsome face is in stark contrast to his grey hair. (Stress may not cause one’s hair to grey overnight, but apparently does over time). He looks very beaten down physically—with his white hair, his crippled limbs, and his painful emaciation make him look almost like an old man. Almost, as his optimism and fortitude shine through his physical weakness.
McCain was appointed Navy liaison to the U.S. Senate in 1976, three years after being released from his prison camp. He quickly rose through the political ranks—he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982 and to the Senate in 1986. His tale is truly an inspiring tale of hope and courage.
It is inspiring, but isn’t a qualification for the Presidency. After all, George McGovern was a war hero as well. It does, however, neutralize one of Barack Obama’s strengths. Obama often counters charges of inexperience by reminding people of his life story. But when you compare his life story to John McCain’s, that particular defense just doesn’t work very well.