McCain Takes His Party Prisoner

Election '08

Candidate psychology will out. Last week I wrote about how John McCain seemed to be re-enacting his torture-and-survival experience in Vietnam by repeatedly flip-flopping from Hound of Baskervilles to Scooby Doo on the campaign trail. And Wednesday afternoon, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, he actually called the crowd at a McCain-Palin rally "my fellow prisoners."

Hanging from this Freudian slip--that neither he, nor Sarah Palin, nor his daughter Meghan seemed to notice--is a long foxtail of meanings. McCain has written that his experience in Vietnam taught him to dedicate his life to a higher cause than himself alone, giving him a sense of purpose that carried him into politics (and ultimately spawned his campaign slogan, "Country First"). Having been a POW is not just a check mark on his resume or a ticket to a reliable national constituency of veterans. It's his chief qualification for the presidency, not to mention his best retort whenever he's cornered.

But the sad truth is that the Vietnam war has not given its generation a straight bounce in 40 years, and McCain calling supporters his "fellow prisoners" really brings that weirdness home. It suggests that the Arizona senator sees the next three weeks of the campaign as more time in the Hanoi Hilton for him and the Republican party: They will be buffeted and beaten, but if they hold their heads high and refuse an early release, they will be able to come home and marry a beer heiress.

If only.

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