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The Military Record Attack

With recent attacks on a presidential candidate’s military service, it’s beginning to seem a lot like 2004 — except this time the candidate is a Republican and the attacks are coming from the left. Americablog’s John Aravosis wrote this over the weekend.

Yes, we all know that John McCain was captured and tortured in Vietnam (McCain won’t let you forget). A lot of people don’t know, however, that McCain made a propaganda video for the enemy while he was in captivity. Putting that bit of disloyalty aside, what exactly is McCain’s military experience that prepares him for being commander in chief?

…Getting shot down, tortured and then doing propaganda for the enemy is not command experience.

In the post, Aravosis asks, "what exactly is McCain’s military experience that prepares him for being commander in chief? It’s not like McCain rose to the level of general or something." Fair enough, but it seems like a cheap shot to preface that question with accusations of "disloyalty" for participating in a propaganda video that McCain asserts resulted from several days of torture. I’d favor giving McCain the benefit of the doubt on that one.

According to Politico’s Ben Smith, Aravosis says the attacks are justified because of the infamous "[swift boating](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngjUkPbGwAg)" of John Kerry.

And Aravosis was unapologetic about his charge of "disloyalty," citing the similar charges levied at Kerry from the right in 2004.

"McCain is running for president of the United States, not the student council. He should stop feigning shock and outrage and start answering some very legitimate questions about his character and his experience," he said in a message to Politico. "Well, the Republicans sported Band-Aids to mock John Kerry’s medals from Vietnam. They mocked his injuries in war."

"McCain isn’t being mocked, he’s being questioned," he said.

Considering McCain defended Kerry against the Swift Boaters, it would seem appropriate not to launch a similar offensive against him. Unfortunately, those Swift Boat ads were tremendously successful in raising questions about Kerry’s war record — thus increasing the likelihood of this tactic being repeated. The problem is, by stooping to the level of the Swift Boaters, those on the left are only guaranteeing the future of such slimy attacks. It would probably be be best to let this strategy go the way of the dodo.

Over the weekend, Gen. Wesley Clark questioned McCain’s leadership credentials in an interview with Bob Schieffer. From The Associated Press:

"In the matters of national-security policy making, it’s a matter of understanding risk," he said on CBS’ "Face the Nation." "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. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces, as a prisoner of war."

Predictably, the McCain campaign issued a prompt and sharp rebuke. Unfortunately for McCain, though he sheepishly says he doesn’t like to talk about his military service when asked directly, he and his campaign staff have made his military record a central element of the campaign, and regularly fall back on it to deflect criticism or hard questions. It is perfectly legitimate to question how exactly that record qualifies him for president, especially, as Huffington Post’s Jeffrey Klein points out, since much of that record remains secret.

Some of the unreleased pages in McCain’s Navy file may not reflect well upon his qualifications for the presidency. From day one in the Navy, McCain screwed-up again and again, only to be forgiven because his father and grandfather were four-star admirals. McCain’s sense of entitlement to privileged treatment bears an eerie resemblance to George W. Bush’s.

McCain can’t have it both ways. He can’t simultaneously hide — and hide behind — his military record. If it can give insight into how he would act as a leader, he should let us see all of it. If he’s not willing to do that, he should instruct his staff to stop referencing his military service every time a reporter raises a difficult question.

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