Monday, October 20, 2008

John McCain's Jungle Fever - The Dark Side

This late in the election season the McCain campaign has the nerve to raise the ominous question, "How much we know about Senator Barack Obama?"

I think you also have to ask, "How much do we really know about John McCain?"

Of course we know that John McCain is a war hero.

This is the sacrosanct claim that has long been one constant in the Arizona senator’s life as a career politician. We all know the routine: acknowledge that McCain is a war hero or else. And we all know the story of his five-year captivity in Vietnam some 35 years ago. He will never let us forget it. And, today more so than ever, every opponent he faces feels automatically compelled to genuflect before his glowing heroic halo.

Conventional wisdom holds that to question McCain’s war hero status is totally out of the question, as to do so would call one’s own patriotism into question. No one can afford that politically. In today’s climate any threat to a candidate’s carefully constructed veneer of patriotism is too much to risk.

Obviously, if you choose to run for office you must always wear your flag pin prominently on your lapel. But Mr. McCain has the war hero card and never fails to play it. This handy invisible status symbol always trumps any American flag broach no matter how many precious stones you have set in it.

Well, I'm not running for anything. 

Still, McCain’s old gold plated heroic aura serves him well in blunting any criticism of his more recent erratic politics. But I ask again, what do we really know about John McCain the war hero?

What I really want to know is how has McCain's POW experience affected his life: his inner life – his psyche?

Does anyone doubt that he may be hiding something behind that war hero label? That he may be using it for reasons deeply personal and troubling that involve more than base political gain?

Combat has long been glamorized in movies and legend, but in real life and in better movies it has never been regarded as something a person easily gets over. In fact, the horrors of Vietnam continue to haunt many veterans of that era who still suffer the lasting effects of PTSD. Those who survived capture and long-term imprisonment by the Viet Cong would seem likely to carry even more serious and long-lasting baggage. It stands to reason that they must have way bigger issues stemming from the trauma of their experience than those who made it out with their platoons.

We can presume that POWs like McCain who were held by the Viet Cong for five years or more were subjected to varying degrees of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” previously known as torture (Since McCain supports the Bush Administration’s revision of what amounts to torture and what doesn’t, the treatment he endured never actually rose to the level of torture. But that doesn’t stop him from using the term to score political points.)

Given that the former party boy survived four combat plane crashes and harsh prison treatment over five years -- two of them spent in solitary confinement -- and was reportedly driven to attempt suicide twice during that time, the man has had plenty of trauma to deal with.

What do we know about how John McCain managed to work through the psychological issues that must plague him as they would anyone who had lived through such extreme life-changing events?

I’m just asking. Could McCain's self-revisionism as the consummate war hero also shroud a deep inner turmoil? How could it not? The American people have a right to know. What kinds of demons have bedeviled John McCain all through these years after he first encountered them in the jungles of Vietnam?

Even after three and a half decades, it has often seemed to me as though McCain’s mind never left the jungle prison that held him during the war. Or maybe it has just wandered back there in his old age. In any event, it is clear that he believes we should have stayed in Vietnam until we scored a "victory" there. Just as he says we need to be "victorious" now in Iraq. In neither case was it ever clear to the rest of the world what a victory would look like.

And in both cases he is one of a minority of Americans who could see any sense in fighting on.

He seems disturbingly delusional to me.

Here is a man who must constantly reassure himself that having been held in a Vietnamese jungle cage somehow made him a true war hero. And he demands that everyone else kiss up to his stale delusion of grandeur or else be damned. Such stern denial of reality and overcompensation does not indicate to me someone who has effectively conquered his inner demons. 

If anything, it seems that McCain has convinced himself that he can perhaps achieve ultimate vindication and personal aggrandizement as President by appeasing those pesky ghosts rather than fighting against them.

Now if he can only get enough like-minded delusional voters to buy into his cockamamie hallucinations…

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