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

John McCain Needs to Lay Off the POW Talk

When John McCain revealed that he didn"t know how many houses he and his wife currently own (they have at least eight properties), the Obama campaign pounced. They accused him of being elitist and disconnected and launched an ad within hours. The McCain campaign--realizing this was trouble--retorted the only way they knew how: With a truly stupefying response from McCain spokesman Brian Rogers:

"This is a guy who lived in one house for five and a half years -- in prison," referring to the prisoner of war camp that McCain was in during the Vietnam War.

Yes, you read that right. McCain justified not knowing how many houses he has by saying he was a POW in Vietnam, four decades ago. I have some things to say about this:

1. Being a POW is not an excuse for everything.

The bottom line is that we're sick of hearing about this as a justification for everything John McCain does or doesn't do. This instance is only the latest example, as others have noted.

The fact is, John McCain's service during Vietnam was honorable and he sacrificed a great deal. But his service to the country carries no more weight than that of any other POW. Likewise, while McCain has given so much to his country, thousands of veterans--past and present--have given as much or more. In this war alone, thousands of troops have lost limbs, been paralyzed, and been burned beyond recognition. So to see McCain resort to playing the POW card when answering legitimate questions, in my mind, cheapens that experience. And by cheapening his own experience in war, he degrades all of our experiences in war. He turns the horrific incidents we've all seen, touched, smelled, and felt into a lame excuse to earn political points. And it dishonors us all.

And while Spencer Ackerman is not a veteran himself, I think he sums up what many combat vets are feeling today after hearing the campaign's statement:

What McCain went through in the North Vietnamese POW camps is an unimaginable, unfathomable horror. The word "heroism" doesn't really capture it sufficiently. It is a singular experience, and it defies human nature to expect that it wouldn't have been the crucible through which McCain's essence was formed. But it's becoming a verbal tic, the equivalent of Rudy Giuliani's noun-verb-9/11. Does it honor or cheapen that experience to use it to bat away unrelated questions about, say, how many homes you own, or whether you truthfully entered a cone of debate-silence or what influences your musical taste? By bringing up the POW experience at opportunities like these, McCain is clearly trying to bait Obama into seeming to attack that experience. That's a really unfortunate move that's entirely beneath the character of a man who endured what McCain endured.

I agree. But there's also another issue here:

2. Thousands of veterans are homeless--that is, they have ZERO homes.

John McCain seems to forget that while he and his wife own at least eight houses, there are currently over 150,000 homeless vets on America's streets. The only "houses" they own are cardboard boxes under a bridge. Many of these vets served alongside John McCain in Vietnam. Some might have even been POWs. Either way, thousands of them have suffered immeasurably overseas, in the service of their country.

Therefore, to justify owning eight homes by saying he was a POW for five and a half years is disingenuous at best, outright repulsive at worst. If McCain thinks so highly of the wartime experience, perhaps he has some floor space to spare for a few homeless vets in a handful of his many homes.

John McCain owes troops and veterans more respect than he seems to be giving them. Whether it's cheapening the POW experience, opposing the Webb GI Bill, or blustering for more wars, he's doing a disservice to all veterans.

John McCain knows things about war that civilians can never know. He has sacrificed more and suffered more than most Americans ever will. John McCain is a war veteran. Just like the rest of us who've served in combat. He should get no special treatment and no free pass that any other veteran couldn't get. And he needs to lay off the POW talk.

Also available at VetVoice