The "P" in "POW" Does Not Stand for "President"

10/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • ZP Heller Director of Digital Communications, PAFA

If the Republican National Convention revealed anything it’s that John McCain is hellbent on overplaying his POW card to the bitter end.  In the last few months alone we’ve seen the McCain campaign overuse McCain’s POW story to justify everything from his healthcare policy to forgetting how many houses he owns, from cheating at the Saddleback forum to his love of ABBA.  Each time McCain and the GOP invoke his past in vain they diminish the story’s potency and cheapen its respectability.  Such a political ploy compelled fellow former POWs like Dr. Phillip Butler to come forward and declare that this experience does not qualify McCain to lead, which Brave New PAC featured in its recent video that received over 190,000 views in the last few days.

Even the corporate media have grown weary of McCain trotting out his POW story. Andrew Sullivan channeled Joe Biden to dub McCain, “A noun, a verb, and POW.”  And Newsweek’s Howard Fineman said, “I think they are going to it way too many times.”  These pronouncements ought to have served as a cautionary sign for the McCain campaign, considering how deeply enamored the media has been with McCain throughout this election.  But judging from the RNC this week, McCain and the GOP just can’t help themselves.

While the Democrats made economic populism the central theme of their convention, the Republicans used their convention primarily to pay tribute to McCain’s military record.  On Tuesday night, the single charged moment in President Bush’s otherwise uninspired, unconvincing televised speech came when he referred to McCain’s POW past.  “Fellow citizens,” Bush said. “If the Hanoi Hilton could not break John McCain’s resolve to do what is best for his country, you can be sure the angry left never will.”  

When the crowd applauded, two things became clear: 1) Republicans are willing to stoop so low as to depict the left as merciless Vietcong captors (ironic, considering it was Republicans like Bush and McCain who approved of torturing suspected terrorists); and 2) The Republicans can’t make this race about issues because they would lose.

A raging class war?  Rising unemployment?  Soaring gas prices?  Unaffordable healthcare?  A recession brought on by an unpopular war?  These are all crises courtesy of Bush and backed by McCain, who has virtually voted lockstep with the president.  Why bring up these subjects when you could be playing on your audience’s sympathies by touting your nominee’s time in a Vietnamese prison over thirty years ago?

For all the talk of candidates needing “experience” in this election, the only real experience the GOP is concerned with is McCain’s POW past.   That’s why Sarah Palin made the ludicrous claim that “there’s only one man who’s ever really fought for you,” and that it’s a long way from “a six-by-four cell in Hanoi to the Oval Office.”  That’s why John McCain devoted most of his speech last night to recounting his tale of woe, which we already heard during the video tribute that played only ten minutes earlier.  And that’s why McCain drew the rather obvious comparison that Obama doesn’t have “the scars” that he has.  

The reality is that as terrible as McCain’s experience may have been, that alone does not qualify him to be president.  As Dr. Butler says, “The prisoner of war experience is not a good prerequisite for a president of the United States.”  And by telling and retelling his POW story, by exploiting it for political gain, McCain dishonors those who have served our country and renders his own experience meaningless.