Greg Cochran points out a profound change in American culture: from celebrating and promoting heroes of accomplishment to doing the same for heroes of suffering. Consider two war heroes-turned politicians. Dwight Eisenhower got the 1952 GOP nomination because of his accomplishments even though he didn't suffer much for them — he was never in combat in his life. But organizing D-Day and managing the Anglo-American coalition suggested he had what it takes to perform well the day-to-day work of the Presidency during a particularly scary part of the Cold War. In contrast, John McCain is likely to get the 2008 GOP nomination in large measure because of his tremendous suffering during the Vietnam War, although he never accomplished all that much in the military.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are granted Honorary Heroes of Suffering status because of their being non-white males. Mitt Romney, who, among other things, saved the 2002 Winter Olympics (which by the way, were much better run than the embarrassing 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta), proved so unpopular that he dropped out today.Perhaps the turning point was John F. Kennedy, whose main wartime feat of command was the almost unique one of getting his PT boat sliced in half by a Japanese warship.
Similarly, the high school students' top ten most famous Americans (who weren't President) is heavy with people presumed to have suffered, although the suffering of some, such as #2 Rosa Parks, was primarily symbolic.