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McCain's Use of POW Card Makes Medical Records Fair Game

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John McCain's surrogates have been out in force this week, garishly waving the POW card in America's face again. This time they're using it to defend against the Obama campaign's assertion that John McCain is an out of touch, computer illiterate. A number of Republican political operatives -- like Karl Rove, Ron Christie, and Cheri Jacobus -- have all taken to the cable news shows to assail what they perceive to be attacks on McCain's status as a war hero.

Their argument is that McCain can't send emails because of injuries sustained as a result of his captivity in Vietnam. Accordingly, the implication that he's "out of touch" because he can't use a computer, is viewed as an assault on McCain's war service.

Ron Christie laid out the conservative viewpoint today on The Hill's blog:

While I'm reluctant to launch personal attacks, the behavior of Obama spokesman Bill Burton was reprehensible. With an arrogant, sneering demeanor, Burton refused to admit to Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer that the reason McCain is unable to use a computer is the result of lasting damage of the torture inflicted on McCain by his captors in North Vietnam. The Campaign for Change, the New Hope for America that is being bandied about by Sen. Obama has now reached a new low in its attempt to say anything for its "enlightened" candidate to become the next president of the United States.

Let's rewind the clock to the 1970s, when Sen. McCain was being beaten day after day -- his body hung from the ceiling with his arms tied behind him. Let's rewind to when Sen. McCain refused early release from his captors due to his special status as the son of a famous admiral.

McCain's rationale? First POW in, First POW out -- no special treatment. Following his release from prison and to this day, Sen. McCain is unable to raise his arms or perform simple tasks like combing his hair or typing on a computer keyboard without pain.

The immediate problem here is that operatives like Rove and Christie are using this line of attack without backing it up with facts. Personally, I have no interest in poring over John McCain's medical records. If a medical doctor says he's as good to go as any other 72-year-old, then I'm fine with that. And I certainly have no interest in forcing McCain to publicly disclose the exact nature of the injuries he sustained in Vietnam at the hands of his captors.

But when John McCain's surrogates deploy the POW defense as a countermeasure against a political charge -- specifically, the seemingly unrelated charge that John McCain is "out of touch" and technologically inept -- then all of a sudden I'm interested in the precise nature of John McCain's injuries and medical history.

Because, see, by bringing this up, they've opened the door, not the Obama campaign. If John McCain is going to play the "I-don't-know-how-to-email-because-I-was-a-POW-in-Vietnam-card," then he or his campaign needs to describe to America the nature of those injuries. They shouldn't be kept secret. That way we can all work on the same level playing field. The Obama campaign would know clearly what lines they could or could not cross.

The necessity for elevated scrutiny in this case is not because I don't trust a war hero. It's because the McCain campaign has an extensive track record of lying. And not only have they lied incessantly, but two other facts come into play: First, John McCain himself has never claimed an inability to type. To the contrary, he suggested otherwise earlier this year. (At the same time, he seems to have no problem barbecuing or squeezing lemons.)

Second, this assertion seems to stem from only two vaguely sourced sentences in pieces from the Boston Globe and Forbes in 2000.

Still, I'm not saying John McCain can type. I'm not saying it doesn't pain him to work at a computer. But what I am saying is that if it's true, then we have a right to know the extent of it. To that end, if McCain is going to continue shielding his political shortcomings with physical injuries, then he has an obligation to provide answers to the following questions:

1. What is the exact nature of his injuries?

2. What are his physical limitations?

3. Has he ever attempted to have those injuries surgically repaired? When? What was the result? If not, why not?

If the extent of these injuries prevents McCain from learning "how to get online," that's fine -- though people with the severest of injuries are now capable of working on the internet. However, if they're going to be used as a political shield -- to accuse political opponents of "attacking a war hero" -- then McCain should have the decency to at least divulge to America what his actual limitations are. It would only be fair.

If John McCain wants to use the POW card as an excuse in this case, then he needs to release his medical records.