« The Dangerous Warmongering John McCain | Main | Keep the Veep »

August 17, 2008

Comments

Special pleading for McCain? For a man who has consistently shown a willingness to lie, cheat and betray? This is ridiculous! There are very few Christians in Vietnam, and the vast majority of them fled south during the war. It stretches all credibility to imagine that this incident is not a McCain (or more likely Mark Salter) theft. Please, reason is one thing, but the probabilities are wholly against McCain's little fairytale being true.

I would agree but quite frankly, if McCain is upset nasty rumors are circulating about his past, I hope a journalist answers "Gotta keep your sense of humor, sir".

I would be interested in whether he ever mentioned the incident before his 1999 book. If not, it seems extremely likely that it's invented. Regardless, it's unprovable, and it won't have legs because IOKIYAR, even though the media trashed Gore and Kerry for lesser embellishments (real or imaginary).

Another thing that is ... strange is that Mark Salter is a well-known scholar of Solzhenitsyn and that McCain keeps proclaiming himself a fan of the man and keeps talking about him. You would think they would have mentioned at least once that a similar story had happened to both men.

I'd just note again the asymmetry between how Democrats and Republicans pursue these kinds of questions.

If in fact our party is too decent to play the game the same way as the Republicans, that's heartening in a way and ominous in another. In that case, it becomes a strategic imperative to win back the electoral advantage we concede to the Republicans by not pursuing questions about their character when they present themselves. I'm not sure how we win that advantage back, but we better figure it out.

Southpaw, I don't think it's about the fundamental decency of Democrats. It's about the tilted media playing field. There are people on the left in the blogs making plenty of noise about all manner of things, but the media simply ignore them, while picking up insignificant kerfuffles from the right-wing sites ("Drudge rules our world") and spreading them all over. I don't know what the solution is.

Are you insane?

If this is fabricated then there is nothing more important than this! Unless you think it doesn't really matter much who becomes the next president.

And if it really is fabricated and the Democrats chicken out (again!) then I will have to add that to my very long list of things for which I will never forgive the Democratic Party.

Callimaco, since it won't be possible to prove that it's fabricated, I doubt any prominent Democrats are going to jump on it, and rightly so, since the media would flay them for casting aspersions on a Republican former POW's religious anecdote.

I see that the New York Times is covering McCain's violation of the "cone of silence". We'll see how the rest of the media handle it.

"If this is fabricated then there is nothing more important than this!"

Yes, clearly claiming that a story that can't be disproven, and isn't even grossly unlikely, is infinitely more important than McCain's horrific judgement about war and peace, or the economy, or his sense of ethics, or his staff being divided between lobbyists and Rovians, or his willingness to pander, or his inability to keep facts straight, or his questionable temperment, all of which there are hundreds of examples of, as well as more important than every question judgement and policy McCain has ever supported or supports now. Very sound judgment there.

Right up there with declaring that if Hilzoy doesn't agree with you, then she's "insane!"

Excellent sense of proportion.

(I already gave my opinion here.)

Provability has zippy to do with it. If you want to say that the Obama campaign shouldn't touch this with a ten foot pole, then - sure - I agree with that. If you want to say that nobody should around pushing this, then - no - you are wrong. There are good questions to be asked here. Let them be asked.

My reaction, watching the forum, was that this was a potentially compelling story that also seemed entirely unfalsifiable. If it was a lie, it was a "good" one, as regards its execution.

In a more perfect world, we'd expect our politicians to make their points on the basis of falsifiable (fact-checkable) claims. In this one, discretion may be the better part of valor, when they choose another path.

Conceding the claim, however, does not require us to foresear conversations about what lessons Sen. McCain took away from the [conceded] incident. Did he simply take away the lesson that even some of the "gooks" [evildoers] could acknowledge the incorrectness of their position (and the righteousness of his), or did he instead take away a lesson that has guided his response to others when situations were [relatively] reversed? My recollection of his committments to lawful, humane treatment of detainees post-911 find them woefully lacking. Perhaps, however, one of his supporters would like to educate me.

...and of course two fine responses precede mine, because I'm slow.

Gary, I think Callimaco may believe that this story is important because of its potential to derail McCain's campaign, not because it should be more important than those other points you mention (which clearly haven't done much derailing). I don't share that belief, but the problem seems to be more about judging media reactions than about sense of proportion.

Ah, as usual, the high-minded and impractical gather to congratulate themselves on their superior virtue. How nice to watch the sensitive souls of this world tripping over themselves to give a lying, adulterous, corrupt politician the benefit of the doubt.. even in the most implausible circumstances. This ain't epistemology 101 - the standard is "reasonable doubt", and McCain doesn't have any defense that would withstand scrutiny. Still, enjoy the sanctimonious self-awarded feeling of "being right"!

KCinDC has me correct. If this really became an issue, if it really looked like there were serious doubts about the stories he's told about his time as a POW, if all of a sudden he seemed, in fact, quite possibly to be lying about those times and fabricating events for political convenience, then McCain's political viability would very quickly collapse.

So, yes, I perceive the faint smell of blood here. And I say attack without mercy.

Avram, it's not giving McCain the benefit of the doubt -- it's recognizing the reality that the media will give McCain the benefit of the doubt and more, leading them to turn on anyone impugning his story. It does no good to throw bombs that are only going to blow up in your own face.

Callimaco, I think you're being unrealistic about the likelihood of being able to prove anything, and about how much impact even somehow proving that McCain embellished a war story would have. How much damage did Reagan's hallucinatory accounts of his war years do him with the public?

It does even less good to never throw any bombs at all. That's not a strategy, just surrender in advance, hidden behind a certain amount of pompous language and assumed morality.

KCinDC -- You don't seem to understand. You don't need to prove anything. You just need to raise and propagate doubts.

And I wouldn't make comparisons between the media and news environments of 30 years ago and those of today.

This ain't epistemology 101 - the standard is "reasonable doubt", and McCain doesn't have any defense that would withstand scrutiny.

It's not a court case and you're apparently not a lawyer if you're making that argument.

It does even less good to never throw any bombs at all.

It's also not a war, but regardless, if you're going to throw (drop?) bombs, you don't target anything that moves just because you're angry. Hopefully that, at least, is obvious.

Well, gee, Adam, what can I say to your statement of the obvious? Not a court case? How clever of you! As for the random remark,did you fail to notice that this bomb goes straight for McCain's credibility and his uneasy relationship with evangelicals? That's precise enough for me, and if you don't have the stomach to rumble, get out of the way and let the people who do get their hands dirty while you sit around mouthing precious little pieties to yourself.

Note that last bit. There are guards in all sorts of unlikely places who are willing to display some humanity towards tortured prisoners.

It's amazing to me how our foreign policy seems to reward least those acts of compassion and stoicism that give me the most pride in my country. Surely I can't be the only person that feels this way.

I mean -- I recognize that there's other emotions involved here and that different people respond in different ways, but the only thing that really gives me the warm fuzzies about America are acts of grace, and yet there seems to be no political incentive for that. I wonder why that is.

"If you want to say that the Obama campaign shouldn't touch this with a ten foot pole, then - sure - I agree with that. If you want to say that nobody should around pushing this, then - no - you are wrong."

Who is the "you" you are addressing? Me, I said not a single word about what I "want."

It helps to quote whomever it is you are responding to.

It's hardly being nasty to raise a question of personal credibility when McCain, (who seems to have retailed this story only since 1999), suddenly decides to use it to advance his political cause - especially when someone else (in whom McCain and Salter clearly take a lot of interest) told the story previously in a very similar version. You can't really demand absolute proof of anything in this world, for reasons which students learn in Philosophy 101. That's why avram is quite right to set the standard at reasonable doubt, and Adam is wrong to assume that this automatically means court time.

I'm tired, so rather than defending my usually-chronic pragmatism, I'm simply going to point out that Avram is, I believe, violating the posting rules -- and based on a non-falsifiable assertion, no less.

Good night.

"That's precise enough for me, and if you don't have the stomach to rumble, get out of the way and let the people who do get their hands dirty while you sit around mouthing precious little pieties to yourself."

How anyone here is standing in your "way" is unclear. But it doubtless feels good to express your anger by being rude and convincing yourself that you're superior to those you address. What political good that does remains unclear.

No, it's definitely better not to throw a bomb a all than to throw one that will damage you more than the enemy.

In any case, the idea that we can't beat the Republicans unless we're willing to spread lies about them seems strangely similar to the idea that we can't beat the Islamofascists unless we're willing to torture them and hold them without legal process in secret prisons.

Gary Farber, pointing out that others evidently prefer to surrender in advance is scarcely unreasonable or rude. I find this contemptible and I am happy to be honest about it. Perhaps you might ask yourself where playing nice has gotten the Dems and the US for the last 8 years? FISA anyone?

That's why avram is quite right to set the standard at reasonable doubt, and Adam is wrong to assume that this automatically means court time.

The verbiage of the original sentence was pretty clear, but it was either an inaccurate statement about a judicial standard or a baseless assertion of a political standard. I was trying to give the benefit of the doubt, but I suppose you can take your pick between the two. Now seriously, good night.

Avram, if you have a media empire ready and willing to amplify whatever negative material you come up with and spin it in a way that benefits Democrats, then knock yourself out. The rest of us have to make do with the media we have, who are definitely not our friends. That's a huge problem, and not one that can be solved by simply throwing a tantrum.

KCinDC - exactly what is the "lie" you suggest that some people want to spread? From where I sit, it looks like a pretty good bet that McCain stole this story. You must admit, his track record on truthfulness leaves quite a bit to be desired. Also, "throwing the bomb" language is a bit melodramatic - but if the word on the street is "McCain lied about his faith", I'd say that damages him pretty intensely. The Obama camp would be crazy not to at least discuss these "worrying revelations" in sad and concerned voices, while making clear that they hope McCain was being honest.

Adam, I think you are trying to construct a pair of straw-men out of pique. From the vehemence of your reaction, I'd suggest that avram, perhaps tactlessly, struck quite a chord there. I don't see why "reasonable doubt" is a baseless standard for politics, and I don't see you giving any benefit of the doubt whatsoever. Less rhetoric, sir, more argument, please.

KCinDc - you seem to be saying that the media makes it impossible for us to say anything. If that's true, what's the point of even discussing what Democrats should do? Aren't you taking despair to an extreme?

On a somewhat related note, the McCain camp seems to be coming unglued over suggestions that McCain cheated somehow. They've sent a strikingly injudicious letter to NBC which basically rants about the impertinence of anyone who dares to question the Maverick's integrity. Can you imagine the bellow of rage when they hear suggestions that McCain plagiarized his own story of Christian witness?

I think I'm going to call Saddleback Church and ask them how they feel that McCain was "creative" to them about [a] the "Cone of Silence", [b] the breakup of his marriage, [c] his policy on Russia and Georgia being based on lobbiests, [d] the definition of "rich". Then I might mention this cross incident, just as a fillip.

How do they feel about McCain using them to spread his "piety"?

KCinDC has the right of this. Why argue any of the host of points where McCain is falsifiably wrong, when you can go all-in to challenge a point that cannot ever be falsified... Clearly a winning strategery.

How many questionable positions did McCain stake out at this forum? Why do we need to go all-in challenging the one where factual evidence can't profitably be brought to bear? Especially when we can concede his story, ask for examples of the lesson he took away from it and his implementation of that enlightenment in future challenges, and still find his behavior obviously lacking?

There's a segment of the population that wants exactly what they got from McCain at this forum; namely confirmation that things are exactly as simple and straightforward as they thought.

We can only hope that a majority wants a candidate who doesn't treat us like we're fncking stupid; and court that majority by addressing issues where we can bring them factual information to evaluate, instead of forcing them to pick candidates based only on two "trust me"s.

I'm saying that arguing the veracity of McCain's story is "trust me" territory.

Hmmm.. a cynic might argue that pouncing on the non-verifiable element is actually the best attack available. Can't be proven wrong, can't be proven right. Where better to put the nefarious McCain into a tight spot? He can't prove it, which leaves him looking distinctly the worse for wear.

I first heard McCain tell the cross-in-the-dirt story during one of the early GOP debates. It struck me at the time as a transparently phony little parable, but also as something nobody would ever question. It's refreshing to see that at least some people do question it.

Is McCain's story true? Maybe. But what does it say about candidate McCain even if it is true? At the very least, the telling of the story by McCain the candidate (whether or not it actually happened to McCain the POW) shows a certain confidence on candidate McCain's part: a faith (if you will) that nobody will ever ask for proof of an inherently unprovable story. He's John McCain, after all.

Poor Rudi Giuliani tried his own similar ploy with the story about telling Bernie Kerick on 9/11, "Thank god George Bush is our president." Didn't work out quite as well.

-- TP

I am saying that trying to win by copying the Republicans' smear techniques won't work, at least not in this environment. I think that the media will not go for it, and I think that making the campaign be about smears puts people in a frame of mind that's favorable for Republicans. It's not just that the Republicans are better at the game -- it's that the game fits better with the mindset they're trying to inculcate.

If Avram is not arguing in favor of lying, then I withdraw that part of my earlier comment, but I've certainly had plenty of similar arguments with people saying things like "Still, enjoy the sanctimonious self-awarded feeling of 'being right'!" who were not so scrupulous.

For myself, I am waiting for the day when we discover that the Blessed John received the stigmata, but "doesn't like to talk about it".

At the same forum, McCain took, among others, the positions that human rights begin at conception and that we should "defeat it" [re. evil (as we see it)] ... no caveats.

Why are we better off arguing the non-falsifiable cross-in-the-dirt story than the obvious implications of McCain's stated positions?

Why are we better off arguing the non-falsifiable cross-in-the-dirt story than the obvious implications of McCain's stated positions?

Posted by: CMatt | August 18, 2008 at 02:04 AM

Because the abortion issue is more or less "settled", and McCain has an easy out - God led him to the "right" position. Falsehood about one's faith, before a pastor in a public forum, however, is rather harder to defend.

The abortion issue may be "settled", but plenty of voters are unaware of just how extreme McCain's position on it is, because he's supposedly a moderate maverick. I think educating more people about that will do more good than nitpicking McCain's POW story.

KCinDC - you are making this into a "nit-picking" issue when it isn't one. If McCain gave false testimony about his faith before a pastor in public, that will resonate very strongly with evangelicals - who are already somewhat suspicious of him. That really has the potential to be a game-changer. McCain may now be extreme on abortion, as you put it, but he won't lose many votes by that. Losing the evangelicals to any significant degree would be a massive blow to him.

If McCain gave false testimony about his faith before a pastor in public, that will resonate very strongly with evangelicals - who are already somewhat suspicious of him.

Let me see if I understand you. You're suggesting that evangelical voters who are perfectly fine with McCain cheating on his first wife when she was ill so that he could marry a wealthy beer heiress who would bankroll his political career will suddenly go nuts because he told a suspicious but plausible story about how his POW days over three decades ago?

Turbulence, evangelicals forgive McCain because, among other things, they think that he has repented and seen the error of his ways. If he is now exposed as having played them for fools, that would really not go down well. Remember, they like repentance, forgiveness etc. What they do NOT like is having to face how phony this storyline often is.

The larger issue here is McCain's image of incorruptibility, which is a huge--and entirely unearned--advantage he has going into this campaign. See, for example, the WaPo's Ruth Marcus on PBS's NewsHour last Friday, arguing that Randy Scheunemann's lobbying for the government of Georgia should be a non-issue because "anybody who knows Senator McCain" understands that he simply couldn't be swung by a lobbyist.

Now it's possible that Obama will be able to defeat McCain even if the press and public remain convinced of St. John's incorruptibility.

But it seems like a better proposition all around for Obama and his supporters to push back against this image, both because it's fundamentally false and because it's rather difficult to defeat the putatively incorruptible.

There's every reason in the world to think that the Obama campaign ought to be reframing McCain as fundamentally dishonest. It would seem foolish to leave any stone unturned in this effort.

Regardless of whether it happened or not, it clearly wasn't important enough to him to think of mentioning it for more than two decades. So at the very least, he's taking the Evangelicals for a ride when he claims that it was some wonderful Christian bonding moment for him.

I might point out that the guard did not have to be a Christian, he could simply have been familiar with the cross iconography from the French period. Does he mention the age of the guard at any point? If he was young it would be odd, you've got to keep in mind the political training North Vietnamese society had been treated to for two decades by this time.

Of course, the guy might actually have been drawing a tic-tac-toe board, but since John I'll-Follow-Osama-to-the-Gates-of-Hell-but-not-to-Pakistan McCain defeats evil, he probably refused to play the devil's game.

If he is now exposed as having played them for fools

How do you imagine that happening? Obama will say "That sounds fishy", and rather than angrily denouncing him for daring to question his POW experience and his Christian faith, McCain will break down and tearfully confess the lie? There's no way of disproving the story.

The people who are eating up this glurge aren't going to let go of it simply because it's implausible.

As noted on another forum, if it's pointed out that this story bears a striking resemblance to a story recounted by Solzhenitsyn in 1973, right-wingers could merely claim that there was no reason the same thing couldn't have happened twice.

However, I do think it's worth noting:

John Kerry recounted an anecdote about spending Christmas Day "five miles across the Cambodian border".

This got leapt on and nitpicked to death - it was alleged that Kerry couldn't have been in Cambodia on Christmas Day that year, that official records showed him somewhere else, etc, etc. Even though the substance of the account was certainly true - Kerry was on patrol right up next to the Cambodian border that December, whether or not on Christmas Day he was actually over the border and in Cambodia, it was argued that if he was in Vietnam on 25th December 1968 that showed he was lying about his war experiences.

The same nitpickery is not being applied to McCain's war experiences, any more than it was applied to the lies Bush told about what he did in the war.

(Of course the same double standard was in evidence during 2000, when the big lies Bush told were ignored in favor of nitpicking small discrepancies in things Al Gore had said and claiming each discrepancy is a lie.)

But here have two veterans, one of whom got Swiftboated, one of whom is getting kidglove treatment - even when his anecdotes don't pass the smell test.

I think McCain's staff probably did borrow that story from Solzhenitsyn, perhaps via Internet glurge e-mails (that's the problem with not being Internet-savvy: you don't know enough to know when your staff are being lazy and cribbing from their inbox legends or Wikipedia). But as with the best glurge, there's no way to disprove it.

Oh yes, this was the Obsidian Wings post/comment thread I was first thinking about: Sebastian Holsclaw, nitpicking on Kerry's opposition to the Vietnam war (and without any reference to Kerry's opposition to American atrocities in Vietnam, though in theory at least that ought to have been one reason for Sebastian to support Kerry over Bush).

The whole draw a figure in the dirt is a trope, with the ichthys figure of two arcs supposedly being drawn by two different people as a signal of mutual recognition. As such, it takes on a symbolic meaning rather than a literal one and pointing out the inaccuracy rather is missing the literal truth for the symbolic truth. The whole thing seems to be a dogwhistle moment, and getting hung up in the truth/falsity of the anecdote puts us a day late and a dollar short.

The whole thing seems to be a dogwhistle moment, and getting hung up in the truth/falsity of the anecdote puts us a day late and a dollar short.

Not really.

Glurge about Bush's status as an evangelical Christian has been passed around the Internet for years: examples on Snopes include The Evangelical Prez and Jesus Day.

These stories, true or false, are presented as having been told of Bush by others - not anecdotes that Bush tells of himself. Whether or not these stories originate with Bush staffers, they're certainly dogwhistles for the evangelical Christians who want to think that the President who doesn't read the Bible or go to church on Sunday is "one of them".

The right way for McCain's staffers to present this anecdote would have been via e-mail circulation as a piece of "true story" glurge. That way it reaches the evangelical Christians who have been reliable voters for Bush, and since it's not falsifiable, the worst that Snopes could say of it would be "Undetermined".

For McCain himself to repeat this piece of glurge as a true story puts it on to a level where it should have a literal meaning as well as a symbolic one. If McCain lived in a country where journalists routinely challenge politicians, he would be leaving himself open to the question, "Senator, did that actually happen? And why haven't you mentioned it before?"

"Gary Farber, pointing out that others evidently prefer to surrender in advance is scarcely unreasonable or rude. I find this contemptible"

Oh, well, you needn't be so hard on yourself.

"As noted on another forum, if it's pointed out that this story bears a striking resemblance to a story recounted by Solzhenitsyn in 1973, right-wingers could merely claim that there was no reason the same thing couldn't have happened twice."

One doesn't have to be a right-winger to point it out. Once can be an atheistic Jew with relatively little knowledge of Christianity to be familiar with the fact that a very reason the cross is a Christian symbol is because it is so easy to draw, and was thus a symbol used cryptically as a successor to the fish.

But, me, I'm going to start telling people about my prisoner-of-war days, since it's evident that being a POW means one becomes morally pure, incapable of telling a lie, and totally Jesus-y.

Off-topic, but btw, Musharraf announced his resignation as of today on live tv.

If you are a Jew, that should of course be KZ stories (Gulag may do but is less effective). Doesn't matter should you be not old enough for that. Any birth certificate can be challenged as a shameful forgery ;-)
I agree that the truth value of the story is irrelevant. Even if every single Hanoi Hilton prison guard would deny it under oath or show evidence that it was actually a swastika and The Son of Cain Sieg-Heil-ed it, it would not gain traction where it should. Maybe we should look for gay-porn videos involving the Son of Cain, the desecration of bibles and cries of "Yes, abort me, abort me!". That could maybe turn some people off ;-)

[evangelicals] like repentance, forgiveness etc. What they do NOT like is having to face how phony this storyline often is.

I see. And McCain's joining a Baptist church just before his presidential run, after seven decades of being a not particularly zealous Episcopalian, doesn't strike any of them as phony? Even though he hasn't been baptised?

For McCain himself to repeat this piece of glurge as a true story puts it on to a level where it should have a literal meaning as well as a symbolic one.

In an ideal world, yes, but I tend to agree with Hartmut, the truth value of the story is irrelevant. Suggesting that the cadre members who were prison guards, especially in the North, were not likely to be Christian or any of the other improbabilities that dot a story like this just confirms the miraculous nature of the story.

liberal japonicus: In an ideal world, yes

Wow. I hadn't realized that the UK looks like an "ideal world" from the outside.

Yet in the UK, a politician who suddenly came up with a piece of glurge like this, told as a true story...

The borrowing from Solzhenitsyn here is obvious and contemptible. As others have mentioned, proving it is impossible, but I would love to see a reporter ask him a series of questions about it. At this point he probably truly believes that it happened, so he may not squirm as much as one might wish.

Remember that he also lied about reciting the names of the Steelers defensive line when he was in Pittsburgh, and he was caught on that one. That was easily provable because he changed the story from more recent versions involving the Green Bay Packers.

I agree that the more important issue from the so-called Civil Forum is McCain's absolutism. His position that human rights begin at conception puts him in a box on a range of issues - contraception, IVF, stem cell research, woman's rights, rape/incest - that cannot be reconciled with his record.

His pledge to kill OBL ("I know how to do it") is delusional. If he knows how, and he hasn't shared this knowledge with the current administration, isn't that the height of irresponsibility?

The list goes on and on.

This is from the NYT story on the cone of silence linked above--

"The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous,” Ms. Wallace said."

Which is the line that will be used if McCain is attacked on this story.
And I don't doubt it'll be effective.

BTW, I'm not 100 percent convinced he is lying, though I lean that way. If he is telling the truth, there's also a very slight chance the guard who drew the cross might be found. Much more likely, some POW will remember being told the story or think he remembers telling the story, or claim he remembers being told the story. Get Jerome Corsi on the case--I'm sure he could find some corroboration.

maybe the guard really did draw the cross, but he got the idea from reading a Vietnamese translation of a publisher's pre-release proof copy of the Gulag Archipelago.

I agree with HIlzoy's take.
On veracity: It's quite likely that McCain, a Solzhenitsyn fan, read this, identified, and gradually merged it with his own memories of his experiences. I don't think this was deliberate stealing, a la Biden's son-of-a-coalminer gaffe, and I don't think it's a senior moment--rather, it's how memory works. Get some people together talking about "do you remember the time...." My father-in-law's 50th reunion was spent discovering that none of them remembered the stories of their college days--stories all had told and polished repeatedly--with the same details. Memory. Searching for a personal anecdote about the importance of Christian faith in McCain's life, it came to the top.
But it could be true. Unlike Biden's patently untrue claim, you can't prove it didn't happen, and that he didn't mention it because the role it played in his personal faith wasn't then evident to him. Get the "huh, interesting coincidence" stuff out there, but a full-bore attack won't work--it could happen twice.
On Donald Johnson's point above mine, though, people should rag long and hard on "that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous." Really? What happened with his first marriage? What was the Keating Five? This flagrant attempt to play the "Former POW" as a get-out-of-jail-free card is laughable and ripe for mockery. "The accusation that John McCain, a former POW, flip-flopped on tax cuts is outrageous" and so on.

Jes,
If you believe that demanding an accounting of how true that anecdote was wouldn't line up quite conveniently with the sense of Christian put upon-ness that has been the fulcrum for political power for the right, you don't really understand the Christian right in the US.

I don't see anyone above commenting about one aspect of the story that makes it very risky to attack: the story is tremendously flattering to McCain's audience. Compare it to the story Hilzoy cites: both have a man imprisoned for years overseas by strange and foreign armed forces, and amidst a sea of torture and hostility one captor comes forward with an isolated gesture of comfort, aid, and sympathy. But now consider the key difference: in the story Hilzoy relates' no motive is presented for the kindness beyond a shared humanity, while McCain/Solzhenitsyn's guard is motivated by Christianity. What McCain is saying to his Christian audience is something like "in a cruel, unjust, and (especially) godless world, in which a good man (and a brave American soldier) is tormented by this evil power, a Christian like you like you defied this evil world and do the brave and kind thing despite worldly consequencesl" The Christians want this to be true. It's a parable, and its message is that Christians like them will remain true to each other no matter what. Because the story is really about them, attacking it brings tremendous potential for resentment.

liberal japonicus,

Any Obama strategy that is predicated on making the Christian right feel less put-upon is guaranteed to fail. This would be a bit like the 2004 Democratic hope that "maybe if we nominate a war hero, they won't attack us on national security."

Yes, attacking the veracity of this story will play right into the Christian right's persecution complex. But this should hardly be an important factor in Obama's determining whether or not to push this story. One way or another, McCain will win the Christian right. Their reaction to this isn't the issue.

The whole draw a figure in the dirt is a trope, with the ichthys figure of two arcs supposedly being drawn by two different people as a signal of mutual recognition. As such, it takes on a symbolic meaning rather than a literal one and pointing out the inaccuracy rather is missing the literal truth for the symbolic truth.

it's one thing to recite a parable; it's quite another to tell it as if it was a true event while casting yourself as the main character.

my friends, i was walking along the beach on night, thinking about my time as a POW, when i stopped to look back. i saw my foot prints, as you would expect. but sometimes there were two sets of footprints side by side. so, my friends, i asked God - no, not that, no one my opponent - what was going on...

blah.

    i asked God - no, not that, no one my opponent - what was going on...

=

    i asked God - no, not that one, not my opponent - what was going on...

Deborah, RE Biden, I've got little brief for the guy (though the Giuliani quip was great), but I'm pretty sure I read that the coal miner story was part of a speech he gave dozens of times, complete with attribution to Kinnock, and that he once neglected to cite Kinnock and was endlessly pilloried for it. Still dumb, but note that the key ingredient was the press response, a great example of IOKIYAR.

LJ: If you believe that demanding an accounting of how true that anecdote was wouldn't line up quite conveniently with the sense of Christian put upon-ness that has been the fulcrum for political power for the right, you don't really understand the Christian right in the US.

Well, that's a much more telling argument than "in an ideal world", yes: in a country where religious lunatics hold public office, and the religious right sounds off about being martyred because sales assistants wish them "Happy Holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!" then I can quite see that pointing out McCain is repeating glurge cribbed from Solzhenitsyn is practically the same as burning him at the stake.

If "in an ideal world" translates to "anywhere but in the US" you had a point.

Ben,
I'd just echo what WT says immediately above, especially on the parable like quality of the story. I think that Obama has to pick his spots, and I'm thinking that violating the 'cone of silence' is a much better option than challenging the POW story, largely because the former violates that peculiar sense of American fair play (cf. Reagan's 'I'm paying for this microphone' line) Pressing McCain's buttons on the cross story and having him blow up would 'verify' the the story and the notion that Christianity plays a big role in McCain's thoughts, but complaining about McCain being a cheater and having McCain blow his top, while it might not shake the Christian right, would be a little harder to say that he is defending something that is vital to his being.

I'd also point out that it is not a case of getting the Christian right out to vote for Obama, it is to get them to stay home. Ginning up a sense of resentment because you know they would vote for McCain anyway would be a mistake.

Lest anyone think that I am suggesting some sort of vote suppression, I am not, but if it is felt that the choice between McCain and Obama is not one of Christians versus verificationists who demand proof of McCain's religious convictions (and Jes is right, the double standard between Kerry and McCain becomes glaring), the turnout may make a difference. It is unfortunate that this is the way it is, but I think that is the way it is.

OT - seen on the way to work this morning, a bumper stick reading: Cheney/Satan '08.

As they say: Heh.

I wasn't in that POW camp. And maybe this is another case of me being too naive, but I believe the senator's story.

If he made the story up, he is going to have to live with that.

Otherwise, I chose to see it as an example that humanity exists in the most unlikely places.

Maybe the incident with the guard happened, but McCain is wrong in his interpretation. I suspect the guard was bored and was trying to start a game of Hangman, which would explain the idle scratching in the dirt with the stick.

What is not explained is why McCain would put down his baseball glove and baseball (he'd bounce the ball off the bamboo wall of his cell practicing his infield skills) to play an inferior game. Maybe McCain was trying to distract the guard from hearing the noises of the tunnels being dug beneath his cell and the fact that he had to let tunnel dirt fall out of his pantleg.

Another issue that is fodder for Democrats:

Solzhenitsyn hated contemporary American consumer culture and moved back to the Soviet Union, despite his crush on Brittany Spears. He hated America. Further, he had a thing about the Jews and it wasn't a crush exactly although it could have led to crushing. Worse, he was on pretty good terms with Putin, whose soul he once looked within and caught doing a nationalistic dance with Mother Russia while George W. Bush played the balalaika.

Otherwise, I chose to see it as an example that humanity exists in the most unlikely places.

And perhaps one could use this story to build the idea that the world is not such a simple place, and that starting wars so easily is apt to harm countless people of good will.

As one son of a fundamentalist preacher said to his mother during a particularly vivid sermon by his father, "Mom, is that the truth, or is Dad just preaching? " i.e.: when the (Holy)(S)pirit moves you, objective truth is no obstacle. The only object is to create the necessary suspension of disbelief to your purpose.

OT -- Kudos for Obama saying Clarence Thomas was unqualified at the time of his Supreme Court nomination.

McCain was hypocritical when he called out Breyer, Stevens, Souder and Ginsberg for being "activist" judges when Scalia seems to be the head of Right Wing Central. I would have liked to have heard Obama say something about Scalia, who wants to take us all back to the dark ages.

The Rick Warren forum served as good debate prep. I would advise Obama not to use the prhase "that's above my pay grade" when running for President of the United States.

The right is going to attack a pro-life stance no matter what, so I would have preferred he had given an answer to the question of when he thinks life begins.

When you don't give an answer, I believe it gives the other side to much room to fill in the blanks.

John Kerry recounted an anecdote about spending Christmas Day "five miles across the Cambodian border".

This got leapt on and nitpicked to death - it was alleged that Kerry couldn't have been in Cambodia on Christmas Day that year, that official records showed him somewhere else, etc, etc. Even though the substance of the account was certainly true - Kerry was on patrol right up next to the Cambodian border that December, whether or not on Christmas Day he was actually over the border and in Cambodia, it was argued that if he was in Vietnam on 25th December 1968 that showed he was lying about his war experiences.

The same nitpickery is not being applied to McCain's war experiences, any more than it was applied to the lies Bush told about what he did in the war.

(Of course the same double standard was in evidence during 2000, when the big lies Bush told were ignored in favor of nitpicking small discrepancies in things Al Gore had said and claiming each discrepancy is a lie.)

But here have two veterans, one of whom got Swiftboated, one of whom is getting kidglove treatment - even when his anecdotes don't pass the smell test.

The problem with this analysis is that there is no convenient nit to pick. All of the factually checkable parts of the McCain story are already known to be true. The uncheckable ones are uncheckable. You can't easily compare the two cases because in the Kerry case there were demonstrably wrong facts for whatever reason (and the reason is what was argued about) while with the McCain story you can't 'nit-pick' because all the nits you could pick are true.

"And perhaps one could use this story to build the idea that the world is not such a simple place, and that starting wars so easily is apt to harm countless people of good will."

Yes, yes, yes.

I dare say we have more in common with the "enemy" than most of us realize.

It would be helpful for the Bush Administration -- and the McCain camp -- to remember this before they ignite another Cold War. Gorbachev and Reagan accomplished as much as they did by focusing on common ground between the two nations.

Well, I'd point out the double standard of Clinton v. McCain, except there of course the male/female double standard as well as the Republican/Democratic double standard was in action - plus the very special "We hate the Clintons" double standard that combined to create a primary where even serious Democratic/leftwing bloggers were routinely picking up right-wing attacks on Clinton and running them as if they should be taken seriously.

lj,

I think that Obama has to pick his spots, and I'm thinking that violating the 'cone of silence' is a much better option than challenging the POW story, largely because the former violates that peculiar sense of American fair play (cf. Reagan's 'I'm paying for this microphone' line)

I don't think it's an either-or proposition.

My feeling basically is that if Obama is serious about reframing McCain as a liar, the concept needs to be--to borrow from Mary McCarthy's famous line about Lillian Hellman--that every word McCain says is a lie, including "and" and "the."

Though I would certainly draw the line at attacking McCain for saying things that are incontrovertibly true, attacking him for possibly false statements that lie at the heart of his appeal seems like a pretty good idea to me. It's a bit like the GOP choosing to attack Kerry's war record in 2004.

Right now many "serious" people think that McCain's integrity is essentially beyond criticism. And the McCain campaign is actively trying to reinforce this idea.

The politically effective response is not to laugh at the notion of a perfect John McCain or even to suggest that McCain is sometimes corrupt.

The effective response is to turn this around 180 degrees, so that the public, when it hears John McCain say anything, assumes he's lying. Dithering over which statements to go after is defeatist. Go after them all.

As I first read about this controversy, "Christmas in Cambodia" sprang to mind for me, as well, but more in the sense that I remembered how disgusted I was at the relentless nit-picking of 30-year-old memories and the constant assertion of speculation and google-flavored imitation expertise as fact. If you are going to impugn the recollections of a man who went through what Senators Kerry or McCain went through, you'd damn well better have more evidence than I see on display in either case, and there had better be a whole lot more riding on the truth of the matter.

The failure to see the relationship between the application of "the ends justify the means" to campaigning and that same principle's application to governance is a far greater peril to the Democratic party than are a few wavering evangelical voters.

"The same nitpickery is not being applied to McCain's war experiences, any more than it was applied to the lies Bush told about what he did in the war."

To this day, Bush really hasn't had to face the fact that he lied when sending a nation to war -- other than Colin Powell's silence speaks volumes.

Candidates repeat so many stories that I can see where they might embellish them as time goes on.

However, that's far different to me than a president making policy and going to war based on outright falsehoods. Yet where's the accountability?


The problem with this analysis is that there is no convenient nit to pick. All of the factually checkable parts of the McCain story are already known to be true.

Ah, the hallmark of a good lie.

-- TP

I don't think it's an either-or proposition.

The problem with going after both attacks is that the weakness of the cross attack can be used to neuter the cone of silence attack. McCain's surrogates can go on TV and act offended about the cross story while claiming that the cone of silence story is just another insulting deception by the insultingly deceptive Obama campaign which has no honor since it would impugn the integrity of a POW.

It would be nice if different lines of attack were completely decoupled so that we could pursue them all independently, but that's not how the current media environment works. Pretending otherwise is unlikely to help matters.

if this can't be proved false, then it can't be proved true, either. all we have is McCain's word for it. and we already know there's reason to doubt his word on things. so... ?

Dithering over which statements to go after is defeatist. Go after them all.

exactly.

this whole thread is a depressing example of why the Dems continually get their asses kicked right and left. this is an opportunity to start chipping away at McCain's saintly image. yet the general consensus here is that it shouldn't be done because it can't be definitively proven - as if air-tight logical proof is somehow relevant to political campaigns.

QED! Vote For Me!

well, news flash, none of the recent attacks McCain is successfully using against Obama can be logically proven either. yet, he keeps making them. and the press doesn't care. and voters respond to them favorably.

if the situation was reversed, this story would be all over the news, for the next five days.

It would be nice if different lines of attack were completely decoupled so that we could pursue them all independently, but that's not how the current media environment works. Pretending otherwise is unlikely to help matters.

The goal shouldn't be to carefully point out where McCain has been loose with the truth. The goal should be to paint McCain as essentially dishonest and corrupt. And all of his statements should be called into question.

The inability to decouple McCain's various lies isn't a bug. It's a feature.

"It's a bit like the GOP choosing to attack Kerry's war record in 2004."

What the Republicans did to Kerry made me go from disliking their views to developing a real disdain for their party.

I hope the Democrats don't go down that road.

Yet at the same time, I've advocated the need for Dems to be tougher and not be reluctant to get down in the weeds.

Kerry's biggest problem was he didn't fight back when people questioned his integrity -- the Obama campaign seems to be real quick to answer false charges or fales campaign ads, so that's a step in the right direction.

not to use the prhase "that's above my pay grade" when running for President

The people he was talking to would certainly agree that God outranks the president.

I'm not sure if any question is above the president's pay grade.

And even if there is such a question, it just looked like Obama was ducking the question, which made him look weak.

The goal should be to paint McCain as essentially dishonest and corrupt.

But talking up the cross story doesn't do that effectively. People are already disposed to think the best of POW war heroes. Most people are never going to hear or understand how similar the stories are or that McCain's close adviser is a Solzhenitsyn admirer or that McCain never mentioned any of this until relatively recently or any of the other tiny inconsistencies. The media is certainly not going to be able to process such things because of their stupidity and their mancrush. So most people who hear the attack will hear a vague accusation that doesn't make much sense regarding stuff that happened 4 decades ago against an American hero. This is weak sauce indeed.

Mind you, I'm fine with various surrogates hammering McCain on his unethical behavior (i.e., by talking up his abandonment of his wife and his infidelity), but this attack seems really dumb and unlikely to work.

bedtimebonzo: To this day, Bush really hasn't had to face the fact that he lied when sending a nation to war -- other than Colin Powell's silence speaks volumes.

Well, it's not as if Bush ran any risk of being impeached for lying the US into war. If he had, the situation might be different. It's usual to blame "spineless Congressional Democrats", but the fact is, in a democracy you can rightly blame: anyone who voted for Bush in 2004; the media who carried water for the Bush/Cheney campaign and disinformed the voters; the Republican party workers who ran the Bush/Cheney campaign and wore the Purple Heart bandaids at the RNC; the Republicans in Congress who made clear they'd never vote to impeach Bush no matter that he lied the US into war; and of course the Bush administration itself, given how many high-placed individuals (including Colin Powell) could testify against Bush and Cheney and have not. But IOKIYAR, so blame the "spineless Democrats".

Gromit: If you are going to impugn the recollections of a man who went through what Senators Kerry or McCain went through, you'd damn well better have more evidence than I see on display in either case, and there had better be a whole lot more riding on the truth of the matter.

If you are going to impugn the recollections of a man who went through what Senator Kerry went though, as the Republicans did without shame in 2004, you had better not then cry "OMG, you're attacking a veteran" as the Republicans are doing in 2008. Unless, of course, you can rely on Republican voters to join you without shame in either case, and a Republican-biased media to fail entirely to note the double standard.

What did McCain have to say about the Swift Boat Liars or the Purple Hearts bandaids in 2004? Anything at all? He was at the RNC in 2004, wasn't he?

What the Republicans did to Kerry made me go from disliking their views to developing a real disdain for their party.

Let me be clear what I'm advocating here...and why I used the Kerry analogy.

I'm suggesting that the Dems ought to go after McCain's greatest strength--his reputation for honesty and independence--just as the Republicans went after Kerry's greatest strength--his war record.

I'm not at all arguing that the Democrats should lie about McCain as the Republicans did about Kerry. As it turns out, an assault on McCain's honesty and independence does not require them to do so (though in fact Republicans themselves have done just this to McCain in the past, e.g. the Manchurian Candidate and interracial-love-child whispering campaigns of 2000).

If the cross-in-the-sand story were unquestionably true, I would not be arguing for attacking it. But it isn't. And the prudential arguments against going after McCain on this one seem fundamentally wrongheaded to me.

Democrats have a dilemna: we just cant get away with the kind of unfair attacks that Republicans are allowed to do. If promenent Dems start questioning McCain's faux POW stores there will be a backlash in the press against the Democrats. All the things that the press should say about McCain's sleazy ads but aren't will be said about the Democrats. That's just the way it is.

So Obama and other Deomcrats need to be much more aggressive about the failings-the lies, the corruption, the bad economy--of the Republicans and pin those things on McCain., Get at the myth of the maverick that way. Get at the mygh of the straightalker that way.

Let the cros on the floor plagerism perk thru the internets via email. or drop it altogether.

Thank you Youtube... Yes, he was.

Democrats have a dilemna: we just cant get away with the kind of unfair attacks that Republicans are allowed to do.

how could anyone possibly know that... since the Dems don't actually try.

Democrats have a dilemna: we just cant get away with the kind of unfair attacks that Republicans are allowed to do.

Also...when y'all make your own attacks, you might want to consider not characterizing them as "unfair."

Cleek: how could anyone possibly know that..

Well, you know that the media are heavily biased towards the Republicans - as well as what Krugman calls an "inside the beltway" thinking. And while what the media is saying is not necessarily reflective of public opinion, in a country where elections are neither free nor fair, the media narrative counts for a lot - it's the key tool in covering up past Republican election-rigging as well as their other crimes, and in setting in place a narrative that makes Bush's "victory" in 2004 and McCain's "victory" in 2008 publicly plausible.

The Scott Trust is a damned useful institution...

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad