Thursday, July 03, 2008

An Open Letter to Captain McCain

Dear Senator McCain,

Just so we're on the same page here, let's review.

On Sunday, June 29, General Wesley Clark went on ABC's Face the Nation, and made the statement "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president," a statement which your campaign has now spent four days screaming about.

First of all, he made that statement in response to Bob Schieffer's statement "I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences, either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean..." But let's ignore that for now.

Clark also said that you were a hero; his caveat was that your war record doesn't really apply when you're submitting your résumé for president.

And then, on Monday, Senator Jim Webb waded into the fray by defending Gen. Clark. What he said was, "And John McCain's my long-time friend, if that is one area that I would ask him to calm down on, it`s that, don't be standing up and uttering your political views and implying that all the people in the military support them because they don't, any more than when the Democrats have political issues during the Vietnam War. Let's get the politics out of the military, take care of our military people, or have our political arguments in other areas."

And again, you and your staff seem to think that the best way to handle this is to scream that they're demeaning your war record, and that it's all a plot, a coordinated attack against you.

So you know, I am also a military veteran. In fact, I did two tours in the Middle East before I got out. And I think it’s obvious that I’m not connected to the Obama campaign: to be honest, I don’t know anybody who works in politics. So it would be difficult for me to be part of any kind of coordinated campaign.

Regarding the comments from Gen. Clark and Sen. Webb, I have a couple of questions for you. First, are you trying to imply that time spent in a POW camp somehow makes you a suitable choice for President of the United States? Which part is going to help you the most? The time spent locked away from everybody else? (You know that there’s going to be other people aboard Air Force One, right?) Or is it the continued humiliation by people from other countries? Actually, considering what George Bush has done to the international image of America, that one might be a useful skill.

Or are you trying to claim that, unlike Gen. Clark’s statement, being shot down in a fighter plane is, in fact, a useful job-skill for a president? If that were true, then the only suitable candidate for president in the history of the United States would be… well, you. And maybe that Chris Burnett guy who got shot down over Bosnia. But I don’t think he went into politics.

Of course, that would also mean that the only suitable president in the history of the United States would be have been Kennedy, and even then, only if you extend the definition to include sunken patrol boats.

You know, in general, I’m really not sure that being present at, or a participant in, any kind of major disaster should be considered a usable guidepost into the fitness of a person to hold office. Because, frankly, there are some questions that need to be answered. For example, I realize that you’ve based most of your campaign strategies around the fact that you were held prisoner by the Vietnamese. Have you ever heard of a condition called “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome”? I think that in your day, they were still calling it “battle fatigue,” but it existed even then. Are you aware of the remarkably high rates of PTSD among former prisoners of war? Is it possible that this is one factor leading to your notoriously volatile temper?

Secondly, is it possible that you are so touchy about your war record because it really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny? I mean, according to the records, you graduated from the Naval Academy at the bottom of your class, with a ranking of 894 out of 899. Normally, you don’t get a fighter pilot slot with a record like that: is it possible that you traded on the fact that your father was an admiral? Maybe pulled in a few favors?

And you didn’t have a particularly distinguished career as a pilot, did you? I mean, you crashed two planes and ran into power lines once, right? Did that have anything to do with your well-earned reputation as a party animal?

I mean, I’ve heard that you reformed after you got back, but is that really the type of thing you want people to bring up when you’re trying to establish yourself as presidential material?

And while we're on the subject, speaking as one veteran to another, I think you really ought to stop pushing your military career while you're on the compaign trail. For one thing, I've known a lot of officers in my time, and there were a lot of them who I wouldn't trust to walk my dog if I was away for a weekend.

But (and this is the important part) if you are going to bring it up, you have to allow people to respond to it without getting all cranky. For example, do you remember what you said about Hillary Clinton's Woodstock museum? "I wasn’t there... I was tied up at the time." See, you threw it right out there in the middle of the public arena. So if you're allowed to bring it up, isn't it a little hypocritical to get all pouty and stampy-feet when somebody else mentions that maybe it wasn't as important as you tried to make it sound?

Not all of the people in the military agree with you. Not all former military members agree with you, either. In the eyes of many of us, a short temper and a willingness to go to war does not make not a good foreign policy. On the other hand, a short temper and an inability to keep simple facts straight (like the difference between Sunni and Shi'a, for example) can be signs of PTSD. Have you been getting any counseling since you came back from the POW camp in Vietnam?

Oh, and incidentally, when you set up a commission to counter these terrible things people are saying about your military career, maybe you shouldn't hire one of the former members of "Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth." Or at least, don't wave the fact in people's faces by calling your little group "the Truth Squad." It just looks bad all around.

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