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I’m not going to criticize John McCain because he was a prisoner of war. The man served his country honorably, and many people, including our president and vice president, found ways to avoid going to Vietnam.

Former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland went to Vietnam, lost three limbs, and was sneered at by Ann Coulter and pictured next to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein by his senatorial opponent, Saxby Chambliss, who never served.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry went to Vietnam, was awarded three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, and the Silver Star, and was dismissed by Republicans wearing Purple Heart bandages in New York four years ago. A guy named Jerome Corsi found a bunch of guys who didn’t serve in Kerry’s unit and had them make up stories about Kerry in order to put out a book that Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News could talk about until it infected the mainstream media. But that’s no reason to criticize McCain, even if Corsi filled another book with untruths about Barack Obama in order to sell in the same manner and McCain had nothing to say about it.

There’s no reason to take McCain, who spent five years in a makeshift cell, to task over the way Ohio Rep. “Mean” Jean Schmidt implied former U.S. Marine John Murtha preferred to “cut and run” in Iraq, saying that’s what “cowards” do. Pennsylvania Rep. Murtha received two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal for his service in Vietnam.

To blame McCain, a fellow Republican, for those actions would be wrong and unfair.

The GOP has hosted plenty of events during the last eight years featuring Coulter, who once wrote that George W. Bush’s choice to fly a training aircraft in the Alabama National Guard was more dangerous than Al Gore’s wartime service as a military journalist in Vietnam. That Gore can certify without question every day of his military service—especially since he volunteered to go—while Bush had to dance around the missing parts of his service record shouldn’t matter to McCain, because Republicans say they believe that military service is an honorable thing and veterans should be treated with respect.

And they’re right. So McCain should not be held accountable for the actions of the rest of his party. He was, after all, a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

McCain, however, once told The Boston Globe, regarding warrantless surveillance of Americans, that “I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is.” Six months later, one of McCain’s top advisers said “neither the administration nor the telecoms need apologize” for the administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping conducted after Sept. 11.

McCain once believed that it was wrong to indefinitely hold suspects at Guantánamo Bay, telling The New York Times in December 2003, “They may not have any rights under the Geneva Conventions as far as I’m concerned, but they have rights under various human rights declarations. And one of them is the right not to be detained indefinitely.” When the Supreme Court in 2008 ruled that the detainees have the right to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts, McCain suddenly decided that it was “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.”

The National Rifle Association once called McCain “one of the premier flag-carriers for enemies of the Second Amendment,” regarding McCain’s support for closing the gun-show sales loophole that allows private gun sellers to avoid background checks. Now McCain boasts Randy Scheunemann, who served as a registered lobbyist for a gun manufacturers trade association, as an adviser. And suddenly McCain’s campaign won’t say where it stands on a bill that would close a loophole in the law that allows people on terrorist watch lists to buy guns. Even the Bush administration, whose former assistant attorney general for legal policy, Viet Dinh (a close aide to former attorney general and NRA board member John Ashcroft), helped craft the loophole, now wants it closed. Whose side is McCain on?

In 1999, when he first ran for president, he told the San Francisco Chronicle that he’d “love to see a point where [Roe v. Wade] is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. . . . But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.” But now, at the very top of his web site, under the heading “Human Dignity and the Sanctity of Life,” it now says, “John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned, and as president he will nominate judges who understand that courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench.” Which way does he want to have it?

Being a former POW means something. Unfortunately for John McCain, that “something” doesn’t answer a single question about him becoming president, no matter how often he brings it up.

—Brian Morton

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