McCain POW Bingo
Even if you didn't see John McCain's interview this week with Jay Leno, you may have read about this exchange:
LENO: For a million dollars, how many houses do you have?
McCAIN: Could I just mention to you, Jay, that, in a moment of seriousness, I spent five-and-a-half years in a prison cell. I didn’t have a house. I didn’t have a kitchen table. I didn’t have a table. I didn’t have a chair. And I spent those five-and-a-half years because, not because I wanted to get a house when I got out.
Oh yes, he went there, and he had that answer prepared. Crooks and Liars has the video of this section, and a great clip of Rachel Maddow critiquing McCain. (NBC has short fluffy snippets, and for now has the full Monday August 25th episode posted, with the interview starting about 19 minutes in.)
McCain generally does extremely well in these formats, presenting an amiable, jocular persona. It helps sell those claims that Obama is the most liberal senator (not so), and that Biden is the third-most. Leno did ask McCain about his negative ads, but in that apologetic-for-asking-a-real-question-and-I'll-won't-press-you-on-your-bullshit-response way of his. McCain answered he thought the ads were funny, but that they also pointed out differences in their positions (on the importance of Paris Hilton, I guess). The reluctantly negative warrior then segued into roughly the same spiel David Broder swallowed, that McCain wouldn't have gone negative – excuse me, that the rough tone of the campaigns might not have happened, McCain is not responsible -- if only Obama would have appeared with him in town hall meetings.
It was quite the performance. The thing is, while I don't like McCain's policies, I've had sympathy for McCain over the fact he was tortured. I have sympathy and respect for any POW, or any innocent imprisoned, especially for years on end. It comes with being a bleeding heart liberal, I suppose. But I know I'm far from alone. And that makes the increasingly frequent, exploitative mentions of his POW experience more galling.
It bears mentioning that McCain's never been that reluctant to talk about his POW experiences, it's just that he typically prefaces his stories with saying he is, and the press has dutifully repeated that (see the Daily Howler archives). That doesn't preclude all sympathy for him, but his positions haven't always matched his persona, either. Back during the Republican primary debates, Fox News tossed up a softball question, a ticking time bomb scenario more ludicrous than many 24 plots, to allow the candidates to engage in competitive machismo about "interrogation" (Stephen Colbert has a good recap of all the "Double Guantanamo" madness). Unlike other candidates, McCain talked about how torture was wrong and a violation of American values. It was a more adult response, which naturally didn't go over well with the base. However, McCain later backed Bush administration efforts to legalize torture. Contradicting an earlier stance, he's also backed many Bush administration positions on Guantanamo prisoners. Given numerous reports that many prisoners are innocent and have been mistreated, and McCain's own experience, his stance is particularly appalling – and to some people who liked him, disappointing. Billmon's sharp piece on McCain draws a portrait of a politician who's always traded mainly on his image. Regardless of one's former or current feelings toward McCain, his POW experience has gone far from being part of his personal charm offensive to an active tool of rebuttal and attack.
And plenty more POW references could be on the way! Via Steve Benen, here's MSNBC's First Read from Sunday (emphasis mine):
[McCain] advisors say if Obama gets "nastier" on that issue that opens the door for them. Advisors say the "Rezko deal stinks to the high heavens." They will be prepared to show McCain's "home" in Hanoi by using images of his cell. They claim they have not overused the POW element and insist they have "underused it." They say Americans think most people in presidential politics are wealthy and will point out that Obama "made himself a multi-millionaire after he entered public life."
Yikes. "A Noun, A Verb and POW" is right – we could be heading to all POW, all the time, 24/7. Perhaps Steve Benen can (spare one of the many clones that help him blog to) track McCain campaign POW references from now on. I'm also not exactly overwhelmed by the argument that making one's fortune by writing two pretty well-written, well-received books is somehow disreputable, while getting wealthy by marrying a rich beer heiress after dumping one's first wife in, um, rather deplorable circumstances, is somehow the height of honor. Does McCain really want to open that door? Does his campaign really want to continue to toss away deniability on the "respectful campaign" front? Plus, the "scandals" conservatives are trying to tag on Obama are little more than guilt by association, whereas the Keating Five scandal is something McCain himself actually did. That's not to say the McCain approach won't be effective, since we've seen it can be. But it is riskier. Despite his pleas for town hall meetings, McCain has not taken a particularly serious policy approach to his campaign. His much-maligned speech on June 4th focused mainly on Obama, and his submission to the NYT on Iraq was rejected because it offered no actual plan, mostly just criticism of Obama. Given Bush's unpopularity and McCain's actual positions, McCain's best chance is to sell his persona and to try to make the election a "referendum on Obama." But to quote John Cole on the POW thing, "At what point does this become a joke in the larger culture, rather than just the blogospheric subculture?"
A fine question. And to help achieve that cultural contribution, I've taken a first stab at McCain Bingo. It ain't as good as the Get Out of Gaffe Free Card, but here's card #95, in honor of McCain's high percentage on voting the Bush line. Feel free to make suggestions for other square entries, or to make your own cards. My friends, you owe it to this great nation.
(Click the picture for a larger image.)