McCain’s Cone of Impunity

Given that John McCain’s political career was launched by the fact that upon his return to the United States his extraordinary wartime service made him a minor celebrity, it’s no surprise that references to that service have continued to play a large role in his political endeavors. Not only is it unsurprising, it seems appropriate as clearly it was a major turning point in his life and according to his books a major touchstone for his worldview. But beyond that, his campaign has started doing two very odd things. One is its habit, somewhat ludicrously, of insisting that McCain doesn’t like to talk about his POW experience when, in fact, he and his campaign do it all the time. Another, more disturbing habit, is the tendency to use references to his wartime service to deflect any and all questions the campaign doesn’t feel like answering.

One comical example of this was McCain citing his POW experience as the reason he likes Abba, saying “I’ve got to say that a lot of my taste in music stopped about the time I impacted a surface-to-air missile with my own airplane and never caught up again” even though his favorite song, “Dancing Queen” was released years after his return to the United States. A more serious example concerns the “cone of silence” Saddleback controversy. The Rev. Rick Warren asked Senators McCain and Obama substantially the same questions. Warren joked repeatedly that this wouldn’t give McCain an advantage because he was being held in a “cone of silence.” It turns out that that’s not actually true, McCain was in a car in transit to the event and, in principle, could have been listening to Warren’s questions and/or getting briefed on them. So naturally McCain’s campaign got asked about this:

Nicolle Wallace, a spokeswoman for Mr. McCain, said on Sunday night that Mr. McCain had not heard the broadcast of the event while in his motorcade and heard none of the questions.

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


Wallace is being ridiculous here. If it’s not true, it’s not true and the campaign should say it’s not true. But I don’t think what McCain is being asked about here would even constitute “cheating” if he did it. Certainly it’s not out of bounds to ask questions about the circumstances. The only thing outrageous here is the insinuation that McCain out to be exempt from even the most rudimentary scrutiny on the basis of courage he showed decades ago in an unrelated context.