Arriving a bit late to the Jean Sara Rohe/Mark Salter/John McCain/New School mini-drama, which was picked apart by libloggers earlier this week. The consensus, overall, is that McCain's longtime aide Salter acted like an asshole in drubbing Rohe, who had the gall to question McCain's presence at her New School graduation ceremony. Rohe responded to Salter's attack by asserting her right as an American to question authority in a respectful manner, and that, so far, seems that.
Salter had his defenders, of course, though one rightwing scribe, Tom Bevan, offered some tactical advice. While he more or less agreed with what Salter wrote, Bevan thought it a bit much for a Beltway insider to whack a dopey liberal kid, and that Salter's anger, while understandable, gave Rohe more publicity than she deserved. Still, Bevan couldn't resist taking a few shots himself after quoting one of Rohe's commencement remarks:
"Finally, Senator McCain will tell us that we, those of us who are Americans, 'have nothing to fear from each other.' I agree strongly with this, but I take it one step further. We have nothing to fear from anyone on this living planet. Fear is the greatest impediment to the achievement of peace."
Knowing a softball when he sees it, Bevan responded: "This is the sort of mushy, 'kumbaya' leftist pablum that is deserving of derision, especially when it comes from a Greenwich-Village-ensconced student whose idea of hardship is having to forego an extra shot in her Starbucks latte, lecturing a war hero and statesman who can't lift his torture-riddled arms over his head about how the real problem in the world is that we can't join hands in a big circle with bin Laden and al-Qaeda and work out our differences."
Kumbaya. Pablum. Greenwich Village. Latte. Bevan crammed every cliché he could in that brief riposte, which is what rightwingers (and wised-up liberals like Marc Cooper) do on a regular basis. No surprise there. But what caught my eye is how Bevan, while extolling McCain, uses Osama and al-Qaeda to not only prove how dangerously clueless Rohe supposedly is, but show how a rugged McCain better understands the threat to our very existence. I've no doubt that McCain opposes Osama and all that he stands for -- today. But go back to the 1980s, when Osama and his comrades were terrorizing Afghan civilians, doctors and teachers in an effort to destroy what secular culture existed in that country, and you'll find that John McCain was cheering them on. As late as the 1988 Republican National Convention, McCain praised these "freedom fighters" for their assaults on women and children, then in the next breath, called for more American-backed terrorism against Nicaragua, which by that point had claimed tens of thousands of lives.
No mushy kumbaya peddler, he.
But that's simple American political hypocrisy and willful historical amnesia. Part of the daily fabric. The larger point, flogged by both Salter and Bevan, is that McCain's POW past makes him a better and wiser person than anyone who would dare question his political agenda, especially a liberal girl in Greenwich Village. This is the Medusa Head waved around by McCain supporters when they want to silence and shame his critics. It has worked consistently on the Liberal Media: when McCain ran for the GOP's 2000 presidential nomination, he openly and without apology tossed around terms like "gook" to describe the Vietnamese. Few, if any, in the media called him on it, preferring to lay petals at his feet and swoon before his Straight Talk. Part of this stemmed from the fact that the media, far from being the commie defeatniks of popular rightwing lore, largely supported the murderous assaults on Vietnam, stopping only to question whether or not these assaults were "working." The raw meat reality that the US slaughtered millions there never really registered with them, and hasn't still, so verbally degrading the Vietnamese was and remains no big deal, which is why McCain could get away with it. Also, compared to a draft dodger like Bill Clinton, McCain had more machismo -- he'd been in The Shit and was tortured for it, and this thrilled and continues to thrill a lot of liberals, both in the media and out. McCain is a War Hero, so he has a free pass to say pretty much anything he likes.
Making heroes out of those who cash in their Vietnam War chips for political gain is a pretty slippery business, especially so in McCain's case. Recall that McCain took an active part in Operation Rolling Thunder, where tons upon tons of explosives were dropped on Vietnamese cities and villages from 1965 to '68, killing God knows how many people, and maiming countless more. To call Rolling Thunder a war crime is a gross understatement, but McCain had no problem adding to the Vietnamese body count, flying 23 missions before being shot down over Hanoi in October, 1967. He survived the crash with some broken bones, was captured and sent to Hoa Lo prison where he spent five and a half years as a POW.
From the moment of his capture, when he was apparently beaten by a mob, to the years of torture during his incarceration, much has been made about McCain's resilience and bravery, and naturally this later beefed up his character profile when he entered US politics. Unlike a lot of Republicans and two-fisted libs like Alan Dershowitz and Jonathan Alter, I'm against torture across the board. I don't care who does it or for what reason. I've no doubt that McCain suffered horribly, but is anyone at all surprised? How do you suppose Americans would treat an enemy pilot who was part of an ongoing bombing campaign of US cities and towns? We've seen what soldiers will do to Iraqis not charged with any crime in their own country, so it doesn't take much of an imagination to conceive how guards in, say, Leavenworth, would handle foreign belligerents engaged in slaughtering millions of Americans, assuming that those prisoners made it alive to prison in the first place. This doesn't excuse mental and physical abuse of American POWs like McCain, but bombing the holy living fuck out of a smaller country that committed no aggression against yours is not exactly cost-free. And those, like Salter, Bevan, and McCain himself, who play the POW card in order to limit or cancel political criticism, do a severe disservice to what domestic debate exists, play down if not deny our criminal imperial past, and help to ensure that misery, death, and, yes, torture, continue for some time to come.
Jean Sara Rohe should have been much harder on McCain and Salter. Perhaps her experience will serve as a lasting post-graduate lesson, or better, the first lesson in the school of How The Powerful Really Operate. Welcome to The Show, kid.