Tuesday, January 08, 2008

McCain wins New Hampshire

The Republicans of New Hampshire have spoken - and they've backed McCain as the man to lead their party to the White House.

Nearly ten points clear of rival Mitt Romney, McCain won the state through the support of independent voters - who were attracted by his moderate policies and strength of character.

For America, this is fantastic news. McCain stands a real chance of getting the Republican nomination and if it's a battle between him and Barack Obama, America is in the blissful situation of being able to 'cherry pick' their 44th President from two excellent candidates.

Why I Back McCain

A few weeks ago, I really came to admire Arizona Senator John McCain.

It was at one of the Republican debates and McCain was in discussion with the 'usual suspects.' Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani and, of course, good old Fred Thompson.

Since Republican debates normally sink into discussion of homosexuality, abortion or 'national security,' it was no surprise that the candidates started ranting about how they were going to 'keep America safe' and what they were willing to do in order to achieve that.

And interrogation came up.

Specifically, what President Bush and the CIA euphemistically call 'enhanced interrogation techniques.' In other words, water boarding and other questioning techniques that are tantamount to torture.

Man for man, each of the Republican candidates stood firmly behind these 'enhanced interrogation techniques' and declared how important they were in keeping America safe.

“If I didn't use intensive questioning," Rudy Giuliani boasted, "there would be a lot of Mafia guys running around New York right now, and crime would be a lot higher in New York than it is.”

There was a lot of posturing, a lot of machismo and the scent of testosterone was heavy in the air. Until, that is, the question was handed to the white-haired senator from Arizona.

He flat out refused to consider 'enhanced interrogation techniques.' There was no beating around the bush. No political fluffery. Just a straight up, honest no.

"The United States is not like the terrorists," McCain explained. "What we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are."

For the right-wing conservatives sitting at home, the senator might have seemed to have wimped out - but as I saw it, he'd made every single Republican candidate in that debate look like a loud, bawling baby.

John McCain won my (Republican) support during that debate.

McCain in the Know

What did Senator McCain bring to that debate that none of the other candidates had? And what gave his condemnation of torture such impressive weight?

The fact that John McCain was the only one of those politicians who'd ever had first-hand experience of what they were boasting about. In August 1968, as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain had been brutally tortured over the course of four long days.

Torture Garden

In July of 1968, McCain had already been a prisoner of the Viet Cong for almost a year. He was a skinny, sickly shadow of the dashing pilot who'd been behind the joystick of an A-4 Skyhawk when it was shot down during an attack on Hanoi's thermal power plant.

But he was strong willed and determined, despite long months in solitary confinement.

In fact, McCain was only selected for 'special treatment' by his captors when his father, Admiral Jack McCain Jnr, was made Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Command.

As a good-will gesture, the Viet Cong offered to return the commander's son to American soil - but the young John McCain refused to go until every single one of the Viet Cong's prisoners captured before him were released as well.

"First in," McCain explained, repeating the Code of Conduct of the US Fighting Forces, "last out."

Angry at the defiant young airman, the Viet Cong began what would John McCain's introduction into the effects of torture.

He was tightly bound with rope - squeezing his limbs and joints into unnatural positions for days at a time. Twice hourly, guards would come into his cell and beat him with their fists and lengths of bamboo. His bones were deliberately broken. His teeth were beaten and cracked from his jaw.

John McCain always recounts that the Vietnamese were successful in breaking his spirit - but even when McCain was brutally coerced to give the names of his squadron members, he cynically gave the Viet Cong the names of the Green Bay Packer's offensive line instead.

In all, John McCain spent nearly six years as a Prisoner of War and during those years, he probably learned more about the 'art' of torture than any man should in several lifetimes.

So forty years later, it was probably with a great deal of disgust that he witnessed American politicians - possibly amongst them the man who would become the 44th President of the United States, discussing and advocating the disgusting techniques he'd so brutally experienced at the hands of the Viet Cong.

There are many other reasons why John McCain stands head and shoulders above any of the other Republican nominees - but it was his determination and strength-of-character in that debate than won him over for me.

No comments: