It was in the 2000 New Hampshire presidential primary when McCain's campaign taught this occasionally cynical observer what an American political campaign at its best might be. Vastly outspent by the money machine of the prohibitive Republican favorite, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, underdog McCain responded by holding 114 town hall meetings in the Granite State, in which he would stand alone and answer, with rare candor and humor, voters' questions. For example, asked when the Senate might pass a so-called "patient's bill of rights" bill, McCain bluntly explained: "We won't. Not as long as the insurance companies control my party and the trial lawyers control the Democratic Party. Next question." It worked. While advocating campaign finance reform, McCain, in a major upset, defeated Bush in New Hampshire by 18 percent.
But what impressed me most about that New Hampshire campaign was the willingness of the men who, as prisoners of war, had for years endured with McCain unspeakable brutality at the hands of their North Vietnamese captors to work in his behalf.
McCain's Hanoi cellmate — when the Arizonan wasn't in solitary — Medal of Honor recipient and Air Force pilot Bud Day, Marine aviator Orson Swindle, who was held prisoner for six years, and Navy aviator Everett Alvarez, the longest-held U.S. prisoner of the Vietnam War, were willing to come to New Hampshire, knock on doors and testify to voters about the courage and character of their comrade John McCain.
At the same time U.S. Navy pilot McCain was being abused in Hanoi, back in Wyoming young Dick Cheney was petitioning for another of his five deferments to avoid the draft call to serve, which the law then required all able-bodied men to do, in the U.S. military and, possibly, to face combat. Thirty years later, Cheney would publicly explain his conduct: "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service." It's probably a good bet McCain in that same decade had "other priorities" than being starved, being beaten, having his teeth and bones broken, and being offered food contaminated with human feces.
The United States of America John McCain knows, loves and has served so generously does not chain half-naked prisoners to the floor and then let them freeze to death. To rationalize or excuse the torture documented in the report is, McCain rightly charges, "an insult to the many intelligence officers who have acquired good intelligence without hurting or degrading prisoners." The ex-POW and American hero provides true moral clarity: "This question isn't about our enemies. It's about us. It's about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be."
Cheney or McCain? Consider the source. I'll take the fellow who holds us to a higher standard, thank you.