Moments from now, three prisoners of war who endured as much and sometimes worse than Sen. John McCain while in Vietnamese captivity will appear on a conference call to announce they are part of an emerging “Truth Squad” to deal with any future attacks questioning McCain’s fitness as commander-in-chief.
The nominal reason is to respond to former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark’s dismissal on Face the Nation of McCain’s national security experience: “it’s a matter of understanding risk. It’s a matter of gauging your opponents and it’s a matter of being held accountable. John McCain’s never done any of that in his official positions.” And also, this: “That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn’t a wartime squadron. He hasn’t been there and ordered the bombs to fall.” And who can forget this: “I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.”
Those on the conference call include Air Force Col. Bud Day (a Medal of Honor recipient), Marine Corps Lt. Col. Orson Swindle, and retired Navy Pilot Carl Smith, who the McCain campaign says served with McCain during Vietnam.
This response from McCain, though, is really not about defending McCain’s war record or national security credentials. What it is about is seeking to undermine Barack Obama’s image as a politician unique in his aversion to partisan attacks or brass-knuckle political dialogue. That’s the brand identity McCain is obsessed with and will make every effort to challenge and undercut.
This process will commence moments before Obama, in Independence, Mo., defines “patriotism” in his terms, trying to rise above and recalibrate how patriotism has been defined in the past couple of decades and how actions rather than words and symbols could and should mean more in the on-going evaluation of who is patriotic and why.