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Michael Hammerschlag: A Question Of Judgment

A Question Of Judgment

by Michael Hammerschlag

John McCain challenged Obama’s judgment in the debates, but McCain’s judgment has always been atrocious. His strongest suit is his heroic captivity in North Vietnam, as his campaign repeatedly reminds us.. but that actually illustrates his lack of judgment. Under horrible torture he understandably signed a confession claiming America was wrong in the war, but when they wanted to send him home he refused… supposedly because he wasn’t the first captured, and to deny the NVA the propaganda value of his release (his father had been made commander of Pacific forces).. which has always struck me as the craziest decision anyone’s ever made. Wouldn’t going home inspire captives that their nightmare could also end?

I asked him (realplayer) about it at a VFW rally- “Wasn’t it the job of a soldier to make the other guy suffer for his country and not do that yourself”. “It’s not often that I talk or am asked about my service in Vietnam.” No, of course, your hero-dom is well known. He admits that The Military Code of Conduct specifies sick and injured first, and he was grievously injured. And isn’t it the duty of a soldier to return to his unit? The real reason he then endured another year of torture and 4½ years of hellish captivity was he was ashamed of facing his 4-star admiral father after cooperating with his captors. A hard drinking flyboy partier* scion with huge father issues who graduated in the bottom 1% of his class - where have we seen that before?

His unmitigated support of the catastrophic strategic blunder of invading Iraq- without ever a single qualm, is the most appallingly bad of his decisions. Like Bush, facts don’t matter to true believers, and McCain never has acknowledged the damage that invading a broken country in the heart of Arabia based on lies has done to American honor and credibility, let alone the creation of terrorists and the madness of turning the country over to Shiites affiliated with Iran. He thought it was going to be a cakewalk, that we would be welcomed as liberators, and has never commented on the central WMD deceptions. His harping on the apparent success of surge is disingenuous- you don’t keep congratulating yourself for one good play in a game you should never have started.

A champion of deregulation, McCain has helped strip away every bit of government oversight of the financial industry. In fact, his former primary economic advisor whom McCain thinks is a “genius”, former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, wrote the 1999+2000 bills that destroyed the protections erected since the Depression against merging banking. insurance, and investment houses, and specifically prohibited any regulation of credit default swaps- the insanely complicated fragmented mortgage derivative instruments that gambled that housing prices would always rise. This is the exact cause of this financial nightmare, and John McCain bears direct responsibility; he even wanted to make Gramm Treasury Secretary. The NYT says there are $62 trillion of these things, which means there’s no way to stave off complete worldwide economic collapse. While Obama warned of the threat of manic deregulation in March (as I did), McCain really thought things were fine till the world's economy became road kill and his campaign is packed with industry lobbyists whom he’s long done the bidding of. Mystifyingly, Obama hasn't even mentioned Phil Gramm, though it's the silver bullet against McCain and should be in every speech.

Then there is the incredible cynical choice of the woefully unqualified Sarah Palin as Veep to the oldest candidate ever, picked only because of her sex and extremism- a woman who never held a passport till last year and whose family offers graphic evidence of the bankruptedness of her fundamentalist beliefs. Fellow Hanoi prisoner Phillip Butler says, “We experienced injuries and malnutrition that are coming home to roost. So I believe John's age (73) and survival expectation are not good for being elected to serve as our President for 4 or more years.” Yet he chose Palin in a desperate attempt to sway Hillarite voters and motivate the hard-core Christian right whose intolerance he once bridled against.

Every moral position John McCain has taken in the last decade, he’s reversed in his cynical slide to the right: opposition to Bush’s tax cuts, support of his own campaign finance reform, protection of the most basic right of Guantanamo prisoners to ever have a hearing, rejection of the harshness of the Christian right, conducting a high-minded campaign, and horrifyingly, after all he suffered, opposition to US torture of prisoners. His Rovian attacks on Obama have been almost laughably dishonest (Obama caused the financial debacle). The Maverick is now a standard issue panderer and slanderer.

His decisions have been reckless, erratic, and unprincipled – witness his extremely belligerent anti-Russian comments in support of advisor/lobbyist Randy Scheunemann’s client Georgia. Americans have lost their fear of terrorism and needed a new bugaboo villain to force them towards McCain’s supposed national security expertise. Says Butler, “He has a quick and explosive temper that many have experienced first hand. Folks, quite honestly that is not the finger I want next to that red button.” 3 Republican Senators have said the same thing. And how about Palin’s finger, who believes Armageddon will happen in her lifetime.

In his repeated failures of judgment, temperament, and character, John McCain has sadly proven himself unfit for command of the Presidency.

* Phillip Butler, who also lived across from McCain at Annapolis:
“John was a wild man. He was intent on breaking every USNA regulation in our 4 inch thick USNA Regulations book…. I furthermore believe that having been a POW is no special qualification for being President of the United States. The two jobs are not the same, and POW experience is not, in my opinion, something I would look for in a presidential candidate.”


Michael Hammerschlag ( has covered 2 Presidential campaigns, spent 3 years in Russia, and is now based in Kiev. His articles have appeared in the International Herald Tribune, Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Honolulu Advertiser, Capital Times, Media Channel, Scoop; and Moscow News, Tribune, Guardian, and Times.

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