Posted by: Randy Allgaier | February 15, 2008

John McCain: From a Hero of Integrity to Panderer in Chief- He’s embarrassed his own legacy

I think the wheels have come off the “Straight Talk Express”. Senator John McCain has conveniently, and for political purposes begun pandering to the right wing of the Republican party with a vengeance- flip flopping on a number of issues- just to appease the radical right wing nut bags. It’s a sad way for a career marked by integrity and conviction to end. By giving up his ethical and moral standards- guiding principles for him during his military and much of his public service career- in order to get a Presidential nomination- is antithetical to what could have been a remarkable legacy. Instead this hero is turning into a panderer and a colossal joke. He has traded his soul for power. It is truly a Faustian story that would make Mephistopheles proud.

Senator John McCain is a bona finde war hero. On October 26, 1967, McCain was flying as part of a 20-plane attack against a thermal power plant in central Hanoi, a heavily defended target area that had previously been off-limits to U.S. raids. McCain’s A-4 Skyhawk was shot down by a Soviet-made SA-2 anti-aircraft missile while pulling up after dropping its bombs. McCain fractured both arms and a leg in being hit and ejecting from his plane. He nearly drowned after he parachuted into Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi. After he regained consciousness, a mob gathered around, spat on him, kicked him, and stripped him of his clothes. Others crushed his shoulder with the butt of a rifle and bayoneted him in his left foot and abdominal area; he was then transported to Hanoi’s main Hoa Loa Prison, nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by American POWs. Although McCain was badly wounded, his captors refused to give him medical care unless he gave them military information; they beat and interrogated him, but McCain only offered his name, rank, serial number, and date of birth. Soon thinking he was near death, McCain said he would give them information if taken to the hospital, hoping he could then put them off once he was treated. A prison doctor came and said it was too late, as McCain was about to die anyway. Only when the North Vietnamese discovered that his father was a top admiral did they give him medical care and announce his capture. At this point, two days after McCain’s plane went down, that event and his status as a POW made the front pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post.

McCain spent six weeks in the Hoa Loa hospital, receiving marginal care.  He was interviewed by a French television reporter whose report was carried on CBS, and was observed by a variety of North Vietnamese, including the famous General Vo Nguyen Giap. Many of the North Vietnamese observers assumed that he must be part of America’s political-military-economic elite.  Now having lost 50 pounds, in a chest cast, and with his hair turned white, McCain was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp on the outskirts of Hanoi nicknamed “the Plantation” in December 1967, into a cell with two other Americans who did not expect him to live a week (one was Bud Day, a future Medal of Honor recipient); they nursed McCain and kept him alive. In March 1968, McCain was put into solitary confinement, where he would remain for two years. In July 1968, McCain’s father was named Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC), stationed in Honolulu and commander of all U.S. forces in the Vietnam theater.  McCain was immediately offered a chance to return home early:  the North Vietnamese wanted a worldwide propaganda coup by appearing merciful, and also wanted to show other POWs that elites like McCain were willing to be treated preferentially.  McCain turned down the offer of repatriation, due to the Code of Conduct principle of “first in, first out”: he would only accept the offer if every man taken in before him was released as well.  McCain’s refusal to be released was even remarked upon by North Vietnamese senior negotiator Le Duc Tho to U.S. envoy Averell Harriman during the ongoing Paris Peace Talks.

In August of 1968, a program of vigorous torture methods began on McCain, using rope bindings into painful positions, and beatings every two hours, at the same time as he was suffering from dysentery. Teeth and bones were broken again, as was McCain’s spirit; the beginning of a suicide attempt was stopped by guards. After four days of this, McCain signed an anti-American propaganda “confession” that said he was a “black criminal” and an “air pirate”, although he used stilted Communist jargon and ungrammatical language to signal that the statement was forced.He felt then and always that he had dishonored his country, his family, his comrades and himself by his statement, but as he would later write, “I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.” His injuries to this day have left him incapable of raising his arms above his head. Two weeks later his captors tried to force him to sign a second statement, and this time, his will to resist restored, he refused. He received two to three beatings per week because of his continued refusal. Other American POWs were similarly tortured and maltreated in order to extract “confessions”. On one occasion when McCain was physically coerced to give the names of members of his squadron, he supplied them the names of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line.

Mr. McCain’s Viet Nam story is one of commitment to one’s ideals; it is an inspirational story of amazing selflessness and integrtity.

In the past he has exhibited that integrity and courage as a Senator too- speaking out on a number of issues which insensed the right wing of the Republican party.

When Congress was debating a Constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage, Mr. McCain said “The constitutional amendment we’re debating today strikes me as antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans,” McCain said. “It usurps from the states a fundamental authority they have always possessed and imposes a federal remedy for a problem that most states do not believe confronts them.”

In 1999, John McCain said that overturning Roe v. Wade would be dangerous for women and he would not support it, even in “the long term.” Here’s McCain in the San Francisco Chronicle: “I’d love to see a point where it is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations”

McCain had been unequivocal in his condemnation of torture, and eloquent in expressing why. “We’ve sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists,” he said at an Oval Office appearance in December 2005, after he had forced the president to endorse an earlier torture ban McCain had authored and pushed through (a ban the president quickly subverted with a signing statement). “What we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are. And I think this will help us enormously in winning the war for the hearts and minds of people throughout the world in the war on terror.”
He made a similar case on the campaign trail in Iowa in October 2007: “When I was imprisoned, I took heart from the fact that I knew my North Vietnamese captors would never be treated like I was treated by them. There are much better and more effective ways to get information. You torture someone long enough, he’ll tell you whatever he thinks you want to know.”

Senator McCain voted twice against the Bush tax cuts saying that it is irresponsible to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans during a time when we are conducting a war.

But Mr. McCain has reversed all of these positions recently in a mad dash to the right in the most blatant pandering in recent memory just so he can be the Republican nominee for President

On the issue of gay marriage- he’s now on the side of the folks who would like to see our “laws” be subservient to “God’s laws”- whose God and what laws- remains a mystery

Now John McCain says he would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned and would appoint

Now he seems to be just fine with torture. Taking to the Senate floor to justify his vote against the torture ban on February 14th, McCain twisted himself in knots trying to explain how he could sponsor a bill — the 2006 Detainee Treatment Act — that prohibits the use of any cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment by the military while voting against a bill that would extend that ban to the CIA and other intelligence agencies: “It is important to the war on terror that the CIA have the ability to [detain and interrogate terrorists]. At the same time the CIA’s interrogation program has to abide by the rules, including the standards of the Detainee Treatment Act.” In other words, the CIA has to abide by rules prohibiting torture but we can’t tie the CIA’s hands by making it abide by rules prohibiting torture.

And of course he has made it a campaign promise to make the “Bush tax cuts” permanent regardless of the burden it causes as he vows to continue operations in Iraq.

I feel badly for Senator McCain. He has irreparably tarnished his integrity and his character for power. That is profoundly sad and I see it as a modern version of a Greek tragic myth. How sad to see someone give up honor for power.


  1. Randy,

    Very nice and more thorough write up then my quick blog. The only thing that I think you are missing is the “agents of intolerance” about Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and his embrace of them of the now.

    It is nice to find like minded and still principled folks out there.

    My blog:

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