Veterans Day, post-script:
We’ve had presidents who served their country during World War II — Eisenhower, of course, and then Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, and daddy Bush. But never a Vietnam veteran. John McCain was the latest Vietnam vet not to win the presidency. The same fate met John Kerry in 2004. It says something about our country that the last two commanders-in-chief — Clinton and Bush — essentially dodged the draft in the 1960s.
Once upon a time in America, it used to be a badge of honor to have served in the military if you were going to enter the field of politics. Looked good on the resume. But history has changed its tune. Johnny got his gun gave way to Johnny got his guitar. Courage under fire surrendered to celebrity unplugged. McCain tried to win the election on character because he sacrificed for his country — but it was trumped by Barack Obama’s superstar status — the reality that the politician as rock star can capture the moment because he had the face of the future. There were no heroes with the depth of an Eisenhower during the Vietnam War. The heroes were the musicians and the poets who protested our envolvement over there. The greatest generation fought and won World War II because the fate of civilization was hanging in the balance. The call to duty then was necessary. It was necessary to avoid trying to save Vietnam. History tells us Vietnam was an unpopular war — as if there’s such a thing as a popular war. My father was a WWII veteran, but I never heard him say anything about going to war because he was gung ho.
McCain the patriot did everything by the book to finally get his shot at running for president. But his past was not meant to be prologue. It was not meant to play any role in a country that has since learned to live in the moment.
In the movie “Patton,” a biopic about the “maverick” WWII general, his German nemesis Rommel calls him “a magnificent anachronism.” Patton was a genius in battle, but he was fighting the time as much as he was the war. That’s John McCain. His time was 2000. Consider how he would have acted after 9-11. The Navy veteran wouldn’t have gone into Iraq — he didn’t have a daddy who was an ex-president whose mess he believed he had to clean up, regardless of the reckless, and fatal, consequences. One could’ve envisioned McCain following bin Laden to the gates of hell and finishing the job. But in the 2000 GOP primaries, the Bush League succeeded at making McCain’s Vietnam experience — his many years as a POW — look like it turned him into a sullen man who was emotionally-challenged. In 2004, the Bush snipers won again against another Vietnam vet. This time it was Democrat John Kerry — who lost the battle in large part because he didn’t put up much of a fight. It didn’t help that after he served in Vietnam, Kerry became an activist against it. It was a turkey shoot for the GOP — who actually turned Kerry’s service to his country into an act of cowardice, with more than a hint of treason.
In 2008, it appeared that many people were patronizing McCain for his heroism. His appearance last night with Jay Leno served as further proof: the audience was intentionally made up of servicemen and women currently serving in the Armed Forces. Granted, it was Veterans Day, but it seemed a bit overboard — a crowd that was his base. On the show, McCain kept repeating how proud he was of his being the GOP standard bearer, how proud he was of our troops, how proud he was of Sarah Palin. As the saying goes, pride comes before a fall.
The man who was always proud to say he puts “Country First” finished a distant second. John McCain was the last best hope for a Vietnam veteran to get elected president. And with that comes the closing of the chapter on the Vietnam experience. To quote the late President Gerald Ford: “Our long national nightmare is over.”
The time is right.