Late yesterday, former President Jimmy Carter, said in an interview with USA Today that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been “‘milking every possible drop of advantage‘ from his time served as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.” Throughout his campaign for president, McCain has been “able to weave in his experience in a Vietnam prison camp, no matter what the question was,” Carter added.
Today, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) responded to Carter’s comments, calling them “absurd.” McCain’s POW experience is “something he doesn’t talk about,” Sanford claimed:
SANFORD: I’ve spent a lot of time with John McCain over the years and it’s something he doesn’t bring up in personal conversation. It’s something that you have to pull out of him just because it’s something that he doesn’t talk about. And so, does he have admirers that talk about that searing life experience and the character that it would develop? Absolutely. [...]
With all do respect, I think it’s a crazy claim.
Sandford’s view that McCain doesn’t like talking about his experience as a POW is laughable. McCain has a long history of not just discussing his POW experience, but bringing it up in conversations entirely unrelated to the subject. In addition, on the campaign trail, McCain often volunteers anecdotes from his POW experience in campaign ads, speeches, and question-and-answer sessions. A few of Mccain’s more strained attempts to “weave” his POW experience into his public image include:
– Raising his POW experience to justify not remembering how many houses he owns. “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,” McCain said to Jay Leno in response to a question about his housing gaffe.
– Raising his POW experience to justify his love of the song ‘Take a Chance on Me’ by Abba. “A lot of my taste in music stopped about the time I impacted a surface to air missile with my own airplane,” McCain said to Walter Issacson at the Aspen Institute. (In fact, Abba began recording years after he was shot down.)
– Raising his POW experience to justify his opposition to universal healthcare. “I did have a period of time where I didn’t have very good healthcare, I had it from another government. Look, I know what it’s like not to have healthcare,” McCain said on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.
– Raising his POW experience to attack political opponents. “Senator Clinton tried to spend $1 million on the Woodstock concert museum. Now, my friends, I wasn’t there…I was tied up at the time,’” McCain said during a primary debate.
Indeed, Carter’s suggestion that McCain views his POW experience as politically advantageous is nothing if not the opinion of McCain himself. As McCain wrote in his 2002 book Worth Fighting For, “Thanks to my prisoner of war experience, I had, as they say in politics, a good first story to sell.”