Running for president requires great strength and stamina. The race is long and treacherous. John McCain has been forcefully pushing his argument that he is better qualified for the job than his opponent, Barack Obama. In fact, McCain contends that Obama is not qualified at all. The latest McCain ad says that Obama is “dangerously unprepared” to be president. So what makes McCain so ready to be Commander-in-Chief?
Purely from paying attention to McCain’s press releases and stump speeches, the primary qualification he possesses is his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He repeats the tale of his captivity with every opportunity that presents itself. Even when there is no opportunity, he labors to wedge the story in anyway. It’s the foundation of his policy positions and his excuse for any mistake he’s ever made. So I thought I’d help him out and produce a poster that features his best case for inhabiting the White House:
McCain is the only candidate who can claim to possess leadership forged by prison. While his comrades were fighting in the jungle, engaging the enemy, developing battle plans, and accumulating command skills, McCain was sitting in a musty cell, enduring interrogations (where he eventually divulged tactical information and confessed to war crimes), and generally following the orders of his captors. What better preparation is there for high office in Washington, DC?
McCain shares a legacy of Republican lawmakers who have run afoul of the law. His own brush with the American criminal justice system came via his association with convicted banker, Charles Keating. And his Navy pilot colleague, Duke Cunningham, is presently serving an eight year sentence for conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud, and tax evasion. McCain’s more recent band of brothers range from criminal figures like Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy, to convicted obstructer of justice Oliver North, to pardoned perjurer Scooter Libby, to indicted bribery defendant and Senate pal Ted Stevens.
McCain’s own incarceration was not due to any stateside criminality. He was honorably serving his country at war and was shot out of the sky by the enemy. But since he has raised his captivity as evidence of his fitness to be president, then it’s only fair to place it in the context of others whose imprisonment may have enhanced their character and leadership ability as well.
McCain and his campaign staff have sought to grant immunity to McCain for any misdeeds he might perform. They assert that no one who has served his country the way McCain did could possibly ever do anything wrong. (Tell that to Duke Cunningham). But if that’s true, they better open up America’s prison gates and release the thousands of veterans who sadly went astray and committed acts of violence, greed, and drug abuse. Many of their lives were thrown off course as a direct result of their military service. They returned home to poverty and despair, and many were abandoned by their country when they were in need. But with the criteria that McCain has now introduced with which to measure leadership potential, perhaps we need to reexamine the cons and ex-cons whose incarceration has presumably transformed them into the same sort of leader that McCain is.
It’s not particularly surprising that McCain would chose to highlight this part of his resume, because the remainder of his public career was as a senator who was undistinguished other than as a rubber stamp for the Bush administration. That’s why he has to dig back 40 years to find something to recommend him to a new generation of American voters, many of whom weren’t even born when the Vietnam war was being fought. If residence in a prisoner of war camp 40 years ago qualifies one for the presidency, then how much better is it to have a more recent prison record?
To be clear, I am not comparing imprisonment by enemy captors to that of law breakers. One should evoke expressions of sympathy and gratitude, and the other punishment and, perhaps, mercy. But the actual activity engaged in by prisoners is not exactly a prerequisite for executive management. The solitary and monotonous experience of life in a cell may produce some profound lessons, but none of them relate to governing a country. If McCain wants to persuade people that he is more qualified to be president than Obama, he had better find a more persuasive argument.