Monday, June 30, 2008

Swift-boating McCain

A good war record has not been the most reliable of indicators for American electoral success. Whatever the merits of John Kerry's candidacy (and in truth it was a little odd claiming as a war hero someone who rose to prominence by accusing the American military of rape and murder), it can hardly be denied that his service record in Vietnam was better than George W Bush's. But then, Bob Dole was a WW2 war hero - a nice unambiguous war and he did no better against Bill Clinton. For all that, John McCain's war record in Vietnam looked unchallengeable.
If anyone doesn't know, his bomber was shot down over North Vietnam. On landing he broke both arms and a leg, and was bayoneted in the ankle and had his shoulder broken by the crowd of angry Vietnamese that picked him up. Taken to the Hanoi Hilton, he had none of these injuries treated, and had the ligaments in his knees cut. He turned down the chance for preferential release, and spent two years in solitary confinement. Eventually, after five and a half years of captivity, he was released. He can't raise his arms above shoulder height, and walks with a limp.
It's not a story that you'd think opponents would want to run on - there can't be many marginal voters who would be less likely to vote for McCain as a result of hearing it. However, just as Kerry got swiftboated, it seems that some on the left are starting to question McCain's war record. They break down their accusations into two distinct parts: firstly, just how badly was McCain treated, why did he sign a confession? Secondly, were McCain's actions in Vietnam prior to being shot down really a war crime?
As a matter of political strategy, I don't think that there'll be much traction in either of these lines of attack, at least among people who are capable of being persuaded. The problem that the Democrats have is that there are perennially perceived as being soft on defence. Attacking the war record of the Republian candidate - especially if they are foolish enough to do so on the grounds of his 'war crimes' would be about as good a way of confirming that weakness as I can think of. What they might succeed in doing is making McCain lose his temper - but then that might not be such a bad thing either.
As far as taste, decency and historical truth are concerned, these attacks look remarkably squalid. Made, as they are, by men who haven't experienced capture and torture, to tortuously unpick the decisions made by a man in solitary confinement subject to severe physical abuse is unpleasant in the extreme. I am beginning to think that Obama is almost bound to win in November. I hope he doesn't do so with help like this.

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