But here is the difference between McCain and Obama -- and Obama had better pay attention. McCain is a known commodity. It's not just that he's been around a long time and staked out positions antithetical to those of his Republican base. It's also -- and more important -- that we know his bottom line. As his North Vietnamese captors found out, there is only so far he will go, and then his pride or his sense of honor takes over. This -- not just his candor and nonstop verbosity on the Straight Talk Express -- is what commends him to so many journalists.I'll hardly dispute that Barack Obama is an unprincipled opportunist. He's a Senator running for President! What else would he be? But does the above excerpt (or the whole article) by Dick Cohen make a lick of sense to you? The paragraph just prior to the first excerpted is a catalogue of John McCain's changing positions on matters grand and mundane. But the bottom line of his integrity has something to do with being a war prisoner, so, yeah, uh, anyway, well. Meanwhile, Obama's integrity exists purely in the realm of his policy positions. Doesn't that seem a wee bit contradictory? By which I mean incoherent. By which I mean fuck-all stupid.
Obama might have a similar bottom line, core principles for which, in some sense, he is willing to die. If so, we don't know what they are. Nothing so far in his life approaches McCain's decision to refuse repatriation as a POW so as to deny his jailors a propaganda coup. In fact, there is scant evidence the Illinois senator takes positions that challenge his base or otherwise threaten him politically. That's why his reversal on campaign financing and his transparently false justification of it matter more than similar acts by McCain.
A presidential race is only incidentally about issues. It's really about likability and character. Obama is, to paraphrase what he said about Hillary Clinton, more than "likable enough" -- in fact, so much so that he is the most charismatic presidential candidate I've seen since Robert F. Kennedy. But the character question hangs -- not because of any evidence to the contrary and not in any moral sense, either, but because he is still young and lacks the job references McCain picked up in a North Vietnamese prison. McCain has a bottom line. Obama just moved his.
John McCain was engaged in the killing of Vietnamese via ariel bombardment. He got shot down, and they treated him badly. The reason that they treated him badly is because he was engaged in the killing of Vietnamese via ariel bombardment. There seems to be a mindset, if that is the word, that imagines John McCain's imprisonment as an event sui generis, that he somehow came to be imprisoned. I'm no apologist for torture; obviously I abhor it. But John McCain wasn't some Pashtun taxi driver snatched and sold for ransom. He was, to quote the neologism, an enemy combattant.
Regardless of the antecedents of his imprisonment, the notion that it constitutes a "job reference" is curious indeed. The measure of a man's integrity is how closely his words match his deeds. Fortitude, courage, resistance, etc.--the virtues of a long-suffering prisoner are plenty, but not infinite. McCain may be the toughest sonofabitch there ever was, but that says not a thing about his honesty, fitness, candor, and merit.