Why John McCain’s experience as a war veteran matters

Since the story of Obama surrogate Wesley Clark’s second dis of John McCain’s military service first broke, there’s been an eruption in commentary within the punditocracy and the blogosphere.  The right correctly points out that Clark went beyond just saying being a war veteran doesn’t automatically qualify you to be president and went for the jugular by downplaying what McCain went through (for example, Clark said McCain was “riding” in the aircraft, not piloting it, and also mocked McCain’s getting shot down), while the left is trying to claim that Clark didn’t do any of the latter.

Let’s pretend for a second that the left is correct, and Clark was talking about being a war veteran in and of itself.  McCain has never claimed that his being a war veteran is the only qualification one needs to be elected president.  The clear implication is that in these uncertain times, it certainly doesn’t hurt.  And he’s right.  Being a veteran – especially a war veteran -  is certainly not a must, but it can help.  But let’s get beyond even that.  John Kerry, too, was a war veteran, and he shouldn’t have been allowed inside the Oval Office unless by invitation of a president, for lots of reasons, many of them unrelated to the time he served in Vietnam.   But in terms of war service, the biggest issue with Kerry, who has definitely taken the low road this year regarding McCain’s fitness to be president, was what he did when he came home by smearing his fellow soldiers without a shred of evidence in front of him.   A lot of Vietnam veterans have not forgiven Kerry for that and let him know it in 2004.

On the other hand, McCain’s time served in the military was pretty much a non-issue with the left until this year, where we’ve seen Obama surrogate after Obama surrogate attack various aspects of his military service in shameless attempts to pump up Obama’s flimsy record by denigrating McCain’s, while Obama pulls his standard “above the fray” routine by condemning attacks of a general nature against McCain’s service but refusing to name those who are doing the attacking – namely, people doing his bidding.

Kevin Ferris is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and I believe he says it best as to why McCain’s war service, in particular, matters when making the judgment as to who is best qualified to be president and commander in chief:

McCain’s own character and judgment were certainly influenced by his naval career and his years as a POW. Those experiences don’t automatically qualify him to be president, but they do spotlight the kind of integrity, courage and sense of duty that are needed in the Oval Office.

Start with courage. That was the first answer I got at last week’s town-hall meeting when I asked a supporter why he backed McCain. One word. No hesitation.


There have been no modern-day presidential candidates who were tested under such extreme circumstances as McCain during his years of imprisonment. The only other former POW who was president was Andrew Jackson, held as a teenager by the British during the Revolution.

In Hanoi, McCain’s integrity and honor passed the tests. He fought back against his captors, despite repeated torture and solitary confinement. He refused an early release – and suffered for it.

,Here’s a man who saw evil face to face and stood up to it. He endured the worst that one human can do to another and survived. He understands and appreciates freedom as few can.


Perhaps this was an example of the new kind of politics we’ve heard so much about. Define McCain by highlighting his strengths: a fierce commitment to serving his country, heroism in wartime, and political courage that leads to bipartisan accomplishments. All vs. an incredibly thin resume, an inability to reach out and get much done, and a habit of hiding behind – and then dumping on – surrogates.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip: ST reader GWR, who has helped give me hope that all is not lost at the Philly Inquirer after all ;)

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