John McCain was released from the Hanoi Hilton 35 years ago, on March 15, 1973.
By William Bradley
The week ahead in presidential politics will be dominated by the continuing crisis in the credit markets, John McCain’s tour of the Middle East and Europe, and ongoing reverberations around race in the Democratic contest, notably the outrageous remarks of frontrunner Barack Obama’s former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
The crisis in the markets and the ongoing economic slowdown which some economists say is a recession will only further economic disquiet looks to be the number one issue in the presidential race in coming days.
John McCain is touring the Middle East and Europe this week. And who celebrated the 35th anniversary of his release from the Hanoi Hilton over the weekend, as seen in the video above.
Hillary Clinton’s fateful decision to place her purported national security crisis management credentials in contrast to Obama’s inexperience front and center in the Democratic race, is a big opportunity for McCain.
Polls show that he is quite competitive with both Democrats in general election match-ups. National security and foreign relations are unique strengths for the man who is probably America’s most famous Vietnam War hero. As someone who’s served more than 20 years on the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain has the sort of experience Hillary can only dream of, and has traveled the globe meeting with existing and up-and-coming leaders.
This is McCain’s eighth trip to Iraq, and comes in advance of General David Petraeus’s return to the US next month to report on the situation there. McCain, of course, championed the change in strategy in Iraq which has led to a number of successes there of late. Sectarian violence and U.S. and civilian casualties have all gone down. But a lasting solution in Iraq is still not at hand. Next week, McCain will give his own report in the form of a major address on national security affairs in Los Angeles, before the LA World Affairs Council.
McCain has visited every region of the world, including Antarctica and the Arctic Circle, and has been on the ground in the wild terrain of Waziristan, one of the regions of Pakistan in which Al Qaeda and Taliban forces have safe havens. On this trip, he’s meeting with the leaders of Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Britain, and France.
The meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with whom McCain has already met three times, will be particularly interesting. For McCain is doing what Sarkozy did; run to succeed an unpopular president of his own party. A major difference being, of course, that Sarkozy was actually a minister in the ruling government, whereas McCain has the advantage of being a rather independent senator of the president’s party. Still, there are major similarities which I’ll return to in a future column.
While it made sense for Clinton, in her attempt to mount a comeback against Obama, to run the famous “3 AM” TV ad, it plays right into McCain’s hands. And Clinton has gotten no closer to winning out over Obama. Actually, since her ballyhooed comeback on March 4th, Hillary has lost further ground to Obama in the race for earned delegates — most of John Edwards’ Iowa delegates broke for Obama over the weekend, and a trickle of superdelegates to Obama continues with none going to Hillary — and Obama has regained his lead in national polls.
Obama also got the best of last week’s controversy over key Hillary backer and 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, who claimed that the Democratic presidential frontrunner is where he is because he’s a black man, the media is sexist, and she was being criticized for her views only because she is white.
But he’s not getting the best of the controversy over his former pastor’s outrageous statements. The only saving grace for Obama is that, at least on the current facts, it’s a survivable situation for him.
I’ve spoken with sources in both the Hillary Clinton and John McCain campaigns, and neither is under the impression that Obama is anywhere near being finished by this controversy. Though he is getting easier for McCain to run against in the general election.
Wright has made a variety of inflammatory statements, including the allegations that the US government caused AIDS, the 9/11 attacks may have been karmic retribution for US military moves abroad including the nuking of Japan, that blacks continue to be oppressed by whites, that a black Jesus was killed by whites (in the form of Roman Italians), and so forth. Some of this stuff is clearly vicious nonsense.
The only good thing for Obama here is that he didn’t say this stuff himself. And the canard that he’s really a Muslim has probably been put to rest.
My personal observation: I’ve heard this kind of thing before in black churches, having visited them with Democratic and Republican politicians, as well as on my own. A common thread with a number of religions is an ideology of oppression justifying a self-righteous anger. Which may have, well, more than a little to do with one of history’s great and terrible constants: Religious-based warfare.
Much of the black church is steeped in a seething anger. Some on the right blame it on the ’60s left. Actually, it goes back to slavery. Some of my Virginia ancestors owned black slaves, which of course makes the descendants of those slaves a unique population in America. At some point, you stop apologizing for the past. That doesn’t mean the anger doesn’t continue.
Obama finally got around to addressing the issue of his longtime pastor’s comments on Friday afternoon in this column on the Huffington Post.
Does Obama address this stuff adequately? You be the judge. I wouldn’t sit through any of those comments by Wright that have been played over and over. (And Obama says that he did not.)
Should he have stayed with the church, Trinity United Church of Christ, which is quite popular and also gives him street cred in the black community? A lot of people are forgetting that as recently as last October, Hillary actually had a big lead over Obama among black voters. And that many older black leaders criticized Obama for not being “black enough.”
All this will play out over time. Obama also went on the three main cable news channels, including Fox News with its Hannity & Colmes show. As is not uncommon, the shoutfest side of Fox News overplayed its hand. Sean Hannity, who crusaded against John McCain to no avail and learned nothing from the experience, disqualified himself in real time from interviewing Barack Obama — Hannity announced that Obama is “finished” as a presidential candidate and is not fit to serve in the Senate — so the interview was conducted by correspondent Major Garrett.
Between Hillary making national security crisis management a top issue and Obama having associates who say dumb and offensive things, there is ample reason for pollster Scott Rasmussen to call McCain “the luckiest man on the planet since Ringo Starr.”
But McCain, like other Republicans, has some problems in the religion area. For example, there’s Rev. Rod Parsley, who, as the conservative Times of London notes, McCain called his “spiritual guide.”
Says Parsley: “I do not believe our country can truly fulfill its divine purpose until we understand our historical conflict with Islam. I know that this statement sounds extreme, but I do not shrink from its implications. The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed.”
There are other supporters – Rev. John Hagee, who denounces Catholics in terms so vehement I don’t want to repeat them. There’s Jerry Falwell, who said after 9/11 that New York deserved to be attacked for its wickedness.
The good thing for McCain is he’s not actually a member of their churches. The better thing for McCain is that the Democrats are talking about this stuff while he gets to talk about his favorite issue areas of national security and geopolitics.
And the ongoing Democratic contest, which is still likeliest to end in an Obama nomination victory, allows McCain the time to develop his themes and hone a message on the economy.