Watch CBSN Live

Column: McCains Military Experience Is His Greatest Shortcoming

This story was written by Jimmy Pianka, Tufts Daily

Despite its obvious appeal to a culture still very much enamored with war, John McCains past as a tortured POW is in fact his greatest shortcoming; it is precisely what makes him ill-suited to lead us into an acceptable future.

As his campaign would have us believe, John McCains experience in the Hanoi Hilton transformed him as a person. It hardened him, they would say steeled him to the harsh realities of the human heart and armored him for battle with the worlds evils. The idea is that he will fight for us, that unlike his liberal counterpart he will not be weak in the face of our enemies.

This Roman fantasy, however, is exactly the attitude that has made us such a tragic and destructive menace abroad. Hostility as the default stance keeps us primitive and fearful, xenophobic and bigoted, cowering behind our artillery instead of engaging the world with civility. The scary part of this election is that John McCain, apparently far moreso than George W. Bush, is bristling with it.

Recall the opening note of his candidacy. His campaign began with the loud proclamation of the horrors he endured, stories of how brave and honorable he had been and the implication that this experience would make him a good president. The Republican image of good, however, appears to still be a dueler with his chest out and his hands by his guns. They have mistaken belligerence for strength, when in fact, real strength will come from our ability to behave reasonably in the global sandbox and disarm conflict with grace and foresight.

Regardless of who he might have been 10 or 20 years ago, the John McCain of today is a man seemingly fueled entirely by hawkish militarism. Five-and-a-half years is a long time to spend in enemy captivity, and I think its safe to assume that it was one of the more defining experiences of his life (his campaign certainly trumpets it as such). He has recently begun to parrot his opponents platform a deceptive, desperate effort to appeal to the awesome current swelling in this country but it fails to mask the character he first presented, a man shaped profoundly by violence and cruelty, whose only visible passion is the spread of American values with force.

Never once have we heard him speak with enthusiasm about the progressive, constructive things he would like to accomplish. He isnt fired up about health care, our languishing middle class or our planets dire condition. He seems bored, disinterested and a little irritated when asked questions about the economy or medical insurance, even going so far as to dismiss one reporter with an admission of ignorance when asked about insurance policies that cover Viagra but not birth control.

When the discussion turns to war, however, his eyes light up and he suddenly becomes a great deal more articulate. He seems to relish the idea of being commander-in-chief much more than the idea of being president, as if directing the great American power were the jobs primary assignment. He tries to revive our blood lust for bin Laden, praises our occupation of Iraq and makes terrifyingly sincere gestures towards war with Iran. His style of diplomacy involves sitting cross-armed in stubborn silence.

Occasionally hell let something slip and show his inner bulldog, like the time in 2000 when he told reporters on his campaign bus: I hated the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live. Or the bomb Iran joke he sang last year at a town-hall meeting. These glimpses beyond his public visage are horrifying; violent, deeply ingrained prejudices and a humorous nonchalance about war are qualities we should avoid in a president.

Also, if we are to trust military leaders and some of McCains fellow politicians, he is known for having a dangerously volatile temper and beingprone to emotive, knee-jerk reactions.

I think it is a little scary, retired Major General Paul Eaton said. I think this guys first reactions are not necessarily the best reactions. I believe that he acts on impulse.

His campaign has been fond of the old wisdom through age adage, but his behavior has demonstrated the opposite. Voters should ignore the posters and look at the man himself: Actions have always spoken louder than words, especially when their speaker has so much to gain.

He is correctly called a hero for the service he did this country, but the fact is that John McCain and the beast in his heart have no business leading what is still a free world. The next president will have an opportunity like never before to elevate this country and spur a new age in the world at large, but he will fail if he approaches the task with anger and fear. It will take temperance, compassion and the basic identification with all humans as kin. Sadly, these are qualities John McCain will probably never show.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue