No one wants to say it. It’s negative campaigning. It’s a personal attack. It’s dirty politics. On the other hand, it’s our future, our children, our nation, our heritage that’s a stake. We can’t keep ignoring it.
Start with the picture below. You can argue that it’s not a fair representation of the man. I think it’s the kind of image we have seen several times in recent months, and have neglected — or refused — to acknowledge.
Here is John McCain (middle) with bosom pals Joe Lieberman (left) and Lindsey Graham (right). The three senators are on a fact-finding mission to the Middle East. Or to call it by another name, a headline-grabbing junket. It doesn’t matter to my argument which you choose to call it.
You tell me: What is going on here? What does that look on McCain’s face say to you? What does Lieberman’s gesture say? What can you make of Graham’s apparent dissociation?
I don’t know what is being said by any of the three men at this point. The picture was taken Tuesday in Amman, Jordan. During this trip — mission or junket — McCain has repeatedly has misspoken in comments about Iran and Iraq, about Sunni and Shia. At least twice, in front of reporters, Lieberman stepped in to correct him.
That may not be what is happening here. But the dynamic of the picture is arresting. The Republican candidate for President appears uncertain, hesitant, perhaps angry. The one-time Democratic candidate for vice-President appears to be calming him down, or explaining something to him. The loyal GOP spear-carrier looks as if he didn’t want to get involved.
Add to that his numerous reversals, most of which have been tucked into the 23rd paragraph, or dismissed as the necessary adjustments of an ambitious politician. But the man has been changing his tune, changing his tone, changing his mind, changing his associates, all at an alarming rate.
So the question is this. Is McCain full-time sharp mentally? Full-scale balanced emotionally? Do his reversals, his gaffes, his sudden explosions of anger, do they reveal underlying problems of a more severe and long-term nature?
Here’s a high-light mini-bio of the man I’m talking about. A life-long reputation as a hot-head. Five years of torture in a Viet Cong prison. Grotesque smearing to edge him out of the 2000 campaign. Eight years of kowtowing to the man who smeared him.
Aren’t we entitled to ask — no, change that — we are entitled to know what kind of man John McCain is as a consequence of everything that has gone into getting him this far.
He’s had a lot of trouble, much of it not his own fault. He’s served his nation honorably in wartime. He’s been a hard-working senator. Therefore… Therefore what? Therefore let’s make him President?
Medals he has earned. Thanks he has earned. The White House, that he has not earned. In fact, all those things which have gone into his make-up, including those for which we credit him, are actually reasons to worry about his stability, his rationality, his ability to function under stress.
Is if fair to challenge a hero? Let me ask a different and prior question. Is it wise to put, at the controls of nuclear weapon, the hand of a man whose balance is unsure?
There is an old truism, for which there is an often-overlooked corollary.
The truism. The hardest steel has come through the hottest fire.
The corollary: So has the piece that’s been burnt to a crisp.