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McCain Must Move Beyond Imagery of Past

PORTLAND, MAINE — This morning, after spending some quality time in the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, with the former president and First Father George H.W. Bush, Sen. John McCain unleashed his most vicious attacks on his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama to date.

Throughout the campaign, McCain has always tempered his comments by disparaging Obama’s youth, calling his ideas about sitting down with countries hostile to the United States as "naive." He has the record, McCain has argued. He is the man with experience, whose reached across aisles and understands the military because he’s been in close contact with field commanders on the ground. He recognized the problems with the initial plans of former Sec. of State Donald Rumsfeld and, by his own estimation, believed with had turned the corner in regards to the United States’ occupation of Iraq.

But he took a slightly different turn on Monday. More and more McCain has pointed to his own brave experience in Vietnam in speeches. His time sleeping on concrete slabs. The torture he and other POWs in North Vietnam endured. The sacrifice of the people he fought with. All of these have become integral parts of his speeches across the country. But now McCain lashed out at Obama, calling him correctly "someone who has no military experience whatsoever."

Of course that’s true. But what does that have to do with being president of the United States? As we’ve written about in the past couple of months, veterans who support Obama bristle at that kind of linear thinking, that having fought and endured one war makes one who can correctly lead the country to military victory.

In many ways, it’s a deeply short-sided view, a route McCain might regret taking. As I’ve said before, we are still very much a nation coming to grips with what it means to serve one’s country. The more McCain uses his experience in Vietnam as the basis for his presidency, the more people are apt to look away to Obama, and how he chose to serve. Yes, he never picked up a machine gun, never was taken hostage. He chose

to serve a community in need of serving. And while Obama always touts McCain’s military record, his counterpart might want to give a nod to Obama’s own contributions.

Moreover, McCain’s comments lack historical hindsight. One only has to look to two men–Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt as testaments that blood on the battlefield doesn’t necessarily translate into how to lead a nation through the god awful act of war. Neither picked up a weapon to serve either home and abroad, and yet these are the men we look to as the great avatars of military strength and leadership.

They were not backward looking men. Both had the great foresight and intelligence, the ability to look not only at the situation on the ground but what kind of nation America would be afterwards. Their service didn’t come from the experience of physical exchange. Instead they using their experience to help form a plan that would best suit the country.

Now McCain has taken the risk of appearing as the disgruntled old man matched up with a person he’s implied simply doesn’t understand. To avoid that label, McCain must move beyond the haunting imagery of the cell, and come with fierce velocity into the future should he hope to defeat the young, brash symbol of the future.

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