THE BLOG

A Noun, A Verb and POW

09/21/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain has jumped the POW shark. As Rudy Giuliani is to 9/11, John McCain is to POW. To paraphrase Joe Biden, "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, and a verb and POW."

As Sam Stein has already pointed on Huffington Post, McCain has gone to the POW well over and over. His healthcare plan is challenged -- POW! Cheated at Saddleback Forum -- POW! Woodstock Museum -- POW! Can't remember how many houses he has -- POW!

But this isn't the first campaign that McCain has played the POW card. He used it masterfully when he was accused of carpetbagging in his first run for Congress in Arizona (he's not originally from Arizona, he moved there to run for Congress in his new wife's hometown). When his opponent asked him what was the longest he ever stayed in one place, he said, "The place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi." If he had left it there, it would have been perfect.

But the man who claims to be humble about his service in Vietnam has gone on to exploit his war record for the rest of his career. A Washington Post reporter once wrote that John McCain is so gracious in that he never mentions his service in the war, as he was quoting John McCain's book which revolves around his service in the war. Even the press didn't get the irony of all this -- until now.

Now, he's jumped the shark and played the POW card one too many times. People are beginning to see through the false modesty and see how he uses this as an excuse whenever he gets into trouble. If you don't have an answer for something, just pull it out. If you're caught doing something wrong, pull it out. Well, this could only go on for so long. The media can't let McCain keep using this as a crutch anymore to avoid any topic he doesn't like.

Being a POW is a tough thing and it requires heroic perseverance. But it is not a substitute for having the right answers on all other issues. Just because you were a POW doesn't make you an expert on healthcare or beyond reproach on energy policy. Not every POW has a spotless record on ethics (as McCain's involvement in the Keating Five clearly demonstrates). And, as General Clark pointed out, not every POW is even an expert on war and national security. Some POWs are just average guys who happened to be captured by the enemy. They might be decent folks but they weren't all qualified to be president just because they were taken prisoner.

These things are logically easy to understand. But it's hard to get beyond the emotional pull of the POW status. You know logically that McCain being a POW has nothing to do with his nine houses (or whatever the number is today). But every time he pulls out that card, you can't help but back away a little bit. It's time to get beyond that. And McCain has helped to get past this issue with the way he has overused this play to our emotions. Now, instead of seeming poignant, it feels cheap and exploitive.