Immigration Patriotism, Not War Record, Could Win Presidency For John McCain
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One positive note in the financial crisis: both John McCain and Barack Obama are increasingly exposed as incapable of true leadership.

With the country in a full-blown crisis, their platitudes no longer convince even their small pockets of devout supporters.

The less appealing they look and act, the more cautiously they will have to begin their presidency, governing from the middle instead of from either extreme.

And maybe—just maybe—McCain will shut up about his favorite subject: his Vietnam War record.

Here's an example of how few people care about it.

Several years ago, I taught a large English as a Second Language class to Southeast Asian refugees.

Because of the class size, and also because most students spoke little English, I hired Asian high school bilingual teaching aides to help me.

As I got to know my aides better, I would from time to time suggest to them that they learn about the very different circumstances that brought them to the United States compared to their Hispanic friends at the diversity-embracing schools they attended.

Almost all my aides were born in refugee camps and lived at home where, one assumes, a good deal of talk about life in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos—and the war that tore those countries apart—would be the norm.

But as it turned out, they knew nothing about Southeast Asian history. And in all the years that I've known them, none has ever indicated the slightest interest.

With McCain running for president and campaigning in large part on his credentials as a Vietnam War hero, I wondered what my former aides think of him now that they are voting age university graduates, in professions that include teachers, nurses and computer programmers.

Would they view McCain as a champion whose years as a prisoner of war helped pave the way for them to come to the U.S. and prosper?

Or would they instead see McCain as an American imperialist who carried out his government's failed policies that ultimately led to the destruction of their country and forced their families to flee for their lives?

I called them up to find out.

And, to my very great surprise, it turns out that they don't really have any opinion about McCain one way or the other. Certainly, no one said: "Yes, McCain is my hero. I owe everything to him."

My friends are in fact more impressed by Obama, predictably given their ages—now approaching 30—and the years of public school indoctrination they received about the perceived benefits of multiculturalism.

Assume that:

  • Southeast Asians aren't impressed by McCain's war record. If they aren't, why should anyone else be?
  • To many Americans Vietnam is an event known to them only through history text books
  • The Vietnam fiasco reminds many Americans of our failure in Iraq. Few of us feel warm and fuzzy about the Southeast Asian War. Instead, we recall it as one of America's greatest and most tragic errors
  • Vietnam War veterans' sentiments' toward McCain are mixed—at best.
  • McCain's Democratic opponents will come after him about the gaping holes in his personal recounting of his POW experiences.

If all of the above are true, as I believe they are, then the questions become:

  • Would McCain be better off making Vietnam less of an issue?
  • Does McCain play the Vietnam card because it is one of the few he has in his deck?

What intrigues me about McCain's war persona is that true heroes rarely bring attention to their courageous acts. When they performed bravely in America's defense, the last thing they do is breast-beat about how wonderful they are.

In the introduction to his book Flags of Our Fathers: Heroes of Iwo Jima, author James Bradley writes about his father John, one of the six who raised the American flag. According to Bradley, during the entire 47 years his parents were married, his mother could only remember once when her husband spoke of World War II or Iwo Jima.

Other notable examples of non-self congratulatory heroes from the political arena include.

  • George H. W. Bush who in 1988 campaigned successfully with barely a mention of his World War II experiences as the youngest navy pilot in history (he was then 19). Bush flew 58 combat missions and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in action.
  • In 1952, Dwight David Eisenhower was swept into office because of his enormous popularity for ending the European war. His Republican allies promoted Eisenhower as a military hero. But the candidate himself campaigned on the issues of family unity and a balanced budget.

Of course, other factors contributed to Eisenhower and Bush's successful election bids

Adlai Stevenson, Eisenhower's opponent, never connected with the electorate.

And Bush cashed in on Ronald Reagan's popularity and got an extra bump from Michael Dukakis's ineptitude.

Looking at all of the negatives that could derail McCain when he over-emphasizes the obvious, we're left to wonder if continuing references to "his scars" will pay off.[McCain Accepts Nomination, Touts POW Experience, By John Bentley, CBS News, September 4, 2008]

The Democrats are already gleefully firing salvos.

Jimmy Carter accused the nominee of "milking every possible drop of advantage from his Vietnam service." Further, Carter says that no matter the question posed to him, McCain can weave Vietnam into the answer under the blanket excuse that he formed "his character" while in captivity.[John McCain Rejects Jimmy Carter Jibe That He's 'Milking' His Vietnam Service, by Alex Spillious, Telegraph, (UK) September 1, 2008]

Regardless of what you may think of Carter or his motives, the evidence supports him.

Here's what McCain said about himself to Jay Leno and an audience of millions on the Tonight Show in response to a question about 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..." (See it here.)

But what version do McCain's POW colleagues tell?

Phillip Butler, another Vietnam War captive and a McCain U.S. Naval Academy classmate as well as a highly decorated combat veteran awarded two Silver Stars, two Legion of Merits, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Heart medals, said:

"A POW is no special qualification for being President of the United States. The two jobs are not the same, and POW experience is not, in my opinion, something I would look for in a presidential candidate." 

In his essay Why I Will Not Vote For John McCain  (Watch him on YouTube here) Butler offers a damning-with-faint-praise view of McCain's presidential qualifications, including a harsh interpretation of the candidate's war record.

Whatever time McCain wastes reminding voters of his prisoner of war status—we get it already! —is time lost when he could and should be addressing tangible issues like the economy and immigration. On the former, he's demonstrated no aptitude. And on the latter, duplicity.

McCain's challenge is the same as Obama's: to convince the unconvinced.

Although devious, deceptive and thoroughly untrustworthy regarding the border and amnesty, McCain has the tiniest bid of wiggle room on immigration—which Obama does not have—that he could use to his significant advantage if he chooses to take it.

All McCain has to do is, in light of the financial crisis, reject his support of amnesty and revert to his pre-convention position of securing the border first.

McCain doesn't need to offer an elaborate explanation for his change of heart.

He can simply state that, given the hard times ahead for so many, the common good for native-born Americans can only be served by deporting illegal aliens and prosecuting employers who hire them; and by cutting legal immigration.

After all, since it affects jobs and wages, immigration is an economic issue.

Sadly for him, McCain is too obtuse to see that he can get a twofer with immigration—border security, internal enforcement and deportation appeals to the GOP base.

And making the connection between immigration and the economy could lure enough disaffected Democrats into the McCain camp to elect him president.

Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.
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