A few months ago, Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) downplayed the military service and sacrifices made by his Democratic challenger, Tammy Duckworth, who lost two legs and part of an arm while serving in Iraq. “What else has she done?” Walsh asked. “Female, wounded veteran … ehhh.”
Walsh later walked that back a little, but the angrily unhinged congressman shared some additional thoughts on the subject over the weekend.
For those who can’t watch clips online, here’s what Walsh told his constituents:
“Understand something about John McCain. His political advisers, day after day, had to take him and almost throw him against a wall and hit him against the head and say, “Senator, you have to let people know you served! You have to talk about what you did!” He didn’t want to do it, wouldn’t do it. Day after day they had to convince him. Finally, he talked a little bit about it, but it was very uncomfortable for him. That’s what’s so noble about our heroes.
“Now I’m running against a woman who, I mean my God, that’s all she talks about. Our true heroes, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about. That’s why we’re so indebted and in awe of what they have done.”
First, I would hope that sane politicians would know better than to argue, during a time of war, about a double-amputee, that veterans should just shut up about their decorated service to their country. If Republicans were held to sensible rhetorical standards, this little incident would go in the “career ender” category.
Second, it’s not up to Joe Walsh, who’s never worn a military uniform, to decide who qualifies or doesn’t qualify as a “true hero.” [Update: In a press statement, Walsh conceded that Duckworth “is a hero,” but again complained that she talks too much about it.]
And third, Walsh’s memory about John McCain’s rhetoric is very, very wrong.
Long time readers may recall a piece I wrote ages ago, but this myth that McCain was reluctant to talk about his military service has no basis in reality. On the contrary, McCain routinely exploited his service record as some kind of political “trump card.”
Whether he’s deflecting criticism over his health-care plan or mocking a tribute to the Woodstock music festival, Senator John McCain has a trump card: the Hanoi Hilton.
That’s the nickname for the site where he spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, a past that McCain regularly recalls on the campaign trail to fend off policy attacks, score political points and give voters a glimpse of his sentimental side. He campaigns with squadrons of POWs and made a video to mark the 35th anniversary of his release from prison.
When Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former Senator John Edwards, rebuked McCain’s medical-care proposal and noted that he’d always enjoyed government health benefits, McCain responded that he knows what it’s like to get inadequate care — “from another government.” During an October debate, while knocking a Hillary Clinton plan to help fund a museum celebrating Woodstock, McCain said he missed the 1969 festival because he was “tied up at the time.” Even his rivals applauded.
One of the first McCain TV ads of 2007 featured a young McCain being interviewed in a Hanoi prison.
Interviewer: How old are you?
John McCain: Thirty one.
Interviewer: What is your rank in the army?
McCain: Lt. Commander in the Navy. … hit by either missile or anti-aircraft fire, I’m not sure which. And the plane continued straight down and I ejected and broke my leg and both arms.
Interviewer: And your official number?
The viewer hears the announcer say, “One man sacrificed for his country.”
It led to another ad based on McCain’s favorite scripted debate sound-bite: “I was, I was tied up at the time.”
In mid-December 2007, McCain completely gave up on subtlety: “One night, after being mistreated as a POW, a guard loosened the ropes binding me, easing my pain. On Christmas, that same guard approached me, and without saying a word, he drew a cross in the sand. We stood wordlessly looking at the cross, remembering the true light of Christmas.”
In March 2008, the McCain campaign released its first national ad – one-fourth of which was interrogation footage taken while McCain was a prisoner of war.
And then in June 2008, in his first general-election ad, McCain told voters, “I was shot down over Vietnam and spent five years as a POW. Some of the friends I served with never came home.”
McCain didn’t want to talk about his service during his presidential campaign? Of course he did. Remarkably, by Joe Walsh’s standards, I guess that means McCain’s not a “true hero”?