Friday, August 15, 2008

McCain's Reticence

Hilzoy's post at Obsidian Wings on the contested claim that McCain is reluctant to speak about his experience in Vietnam reminds that reporters really mean two different things by this, and it's a distinction worth remembering.

First, it's clear that McCain is not at all adverse to talking at length about his military service; on that record he's based his congressional, Senate and Presidential campaigns, multiple books, positions on issues, etc. Nor does he refrain at all from referring to or joking about the well-known fact that he was a POW in Vietnam. This is all well-documented.

What McCain is generally reluctant to do is to describe in detail what happened to him while he was a POW; in particular, being tortured and attempting suicide to escape that torture. That's the story that journalists who've befriended him and heard many, many stories from him on and off the record want -- the gory, cinematic details.

Actually, McCain's refrain from describing his own torture is a net positive for him in many ways. For one, it helps quash rumors that McCain was driven crazy by his tormentors. It also keeps the public's mind off of the fact that US personnel have been and most likely still are engaged in torture of enemy combatants.

Ironically, McCain's firm opposition to torture and permanent detention at Guantanamo during the primary won him the plurality of decent-minded Republican and Independent voters, since it provided a clear moral contrast between him and Mitt "double Guantanamo" Romney, totalitarian Rudy Giuliani, and the Bush Administration to boot. Now that McCain is holding together the fraying Republican coalition, he has to downplay his opposition to torture and turn the unconstitutionality of indefinite detention into a point of conflict between himself and Obama. He has to rely on the cognitive dissonance of the American voter, who will somehow associate him with the nobility of his positions even as he liquidates the positions that actually lent him some nobility.

As Josh Green's postmortem of the Clinton campaign continues to rightfully attract attention, I can only hope that three months from now someone, anyone, will be looking at the McCain campaign and wondering what might have been. I think that's the only way for the Republican Party to pull itself back from the disgusting, self-destructive edge to which it's slithered. If they just chalk it up to bad luck and not a fundamental failure of ethical standards and political strategy, they will learn precisely nothing.

1 comment:

mother of light said...

this is nyt op-ed caliber writing. no shitting.