Washington pundits can't get over the fact that John McCain, the honorable John McCain, would even think of taking the low road and engage in a nasty, dishonest and wildly unheroic campaign. Blame it on those mean Roveniks!
The Brawler suspects that John McCain could have done this all on his own. Why does the Brawler think that? Because McCain's first prime-time speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention was a low-road attack that portrayed Dems as "dishonorable" and capped it off with a joke about Michael Dukakis' height. The cherry on top: shameless wallowing in, and politicizing of, his imprisonment in Vietnam -- that ordeal the press likes to say he's so humble about.
From an 8/15/88 Associated Press story:
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Arizona Sen. John McCain, recalling his captivity in North Vietnam, depicted Michael Dukakis as weak on defense issues Monday and compared the Democratic nominee to former President Jimmy Carter.
"In this presidential race, George Bush alone has the experience and knowledge to continue the policy of a strong defense, coupled with a willingness to negotiate," McCain told the Republican National Convention.
"Michael Dukakis, like Jimmy Carter before him, clearly doesn't understand that," McCain said.
"Michael Dukakis seems to believe that the Trident (submarine-based nuclear missile) is a chewing gum, that the B-1 (bomber) is a vitamin pill, and that the Midgetman (land-based nuclear missile) is anyone shorter than he is," McCain said.
McCain spoke to the convention on its opening night as delegates eagerly awaited the address of President Reagan, who was delivering something of a farewell to his party as well as a strong endorsement of Bush's candidacy.
Reagan watched McCain's speech from his seat in the Superdome convention hall, and with the delegates watched a brief film about McCain's ordeal during the Vietnam War.
The delegates gave McCain a standing ovation _ the first of the convention _ after his account of five and a half years as prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
McCain recalled those days of captivity as he denounced Dukakis for his veto as governor of Massachusetts of legislation requiring the pledge of allegiance to be spoken in the state's public schools. Dukakis contended the legislation was unconstitutional.
"It is outrageous," McCain said of that action.
McCain described the beating administered to a fellow prisoner at the hands of North Vietnamese captors after they discovered a hand-sewn American flag they had used to secretly pledge their allegiance to.
"We must never forget those thousands of Americans who, with their courage, with their sacrifice, and with their lives, made those words live for all of us," McCain said. "Ronald Reagan and George Bush remember. They have made America strong, free, prosperous, and have brought peace to our time."
McCain also blasted Dukakis for opposing the bombing strike on Libya, for his reluctance to support the rescue invasion of Grenada, and for opposing U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf.
From David Broder's 8/16/88 report in the Washington Post:
But the most effective shots against the Democratic nominee may have been fired by Sen. John S. McCain III of Arizona, a Navy survivor of years in Vietnam prison camps. Using the West Point motto, "Duty, Honor, Country," the white-haired McCain argued that Dukakis, "like Jimmy Carter before him, clearly doesn't understand" the essentials of national security.
"Michael Dukakis," he said, "seems to believe that the Trident is a chewing gum, that the B1 is a vitamin pill, and that the Midgetman is anyone shorter than he is." They are, in fact, three major weapons systems.
McCain also turned what Republicans regard as one of Dukakis' major social issue vulnerabilities-his veto of a bill requiring the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited in every Massachusetts classroom-against the Democratic nominee with a moving and lengthy anecdote about the brutal beating one of McCain's fellow prisoners had received when he stitched together an American flag out of scraps and led the group in reciting the pledge.
"It is outrageous," McCain said, "that Gov. Dukakis vetoed legislation giving Massachusetts school children the right to pledge allegiance to that flag at the beginning of the school day."
In fact, the legislation would have required teachers to lead their classes in the pledge and Dukakis has said repeatedly that he vetoed it on the basis of an advisory opinion from the Massachusetts Supreme Court that the requirement was an infringement on the teachers' freedom of speech.
From an 8/16/88 San Francisco Chronicle report:
A former POW accused the Democrats of dishonoring flag and country last night, as the Republicans pulled out all the stops on patriotism.
Frustrated that Democrats have attempted to reclaim traditional values, the Republican convention featured a prime-time evening speech by Arizona Senator John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than five years.
In unusually harsh terms even for a political convention, McCain accused "the liberal left" of undercutting the national defense and abandoning the Contras in Nicaragua.
"It is dishonorable for this nation to sell Central America down the river to communism," he said. "Just as shameful is the conduct of the speaker of the House, that best-selling author, Jim Wright, who thinks he is secretary of state for Latin American affairs."
McCain was particularly harsh in attacking Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis for having once vetoed a Massachusetts state law requiring students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day. Dukakis has said he felt compelled to veto the bill because of constitutional grounds cited by a court.
McCain recounted the story of a fellow prisoner of war in Vietnam who was brutally beaten for sewing an American flag in his shirt.
"Sitting there beneath that naked light bulb, with a piece of white cloth, a piece of red cloth, another shirt and his bamboo needle, was my friend, Mike Christian," he said. "Sitting there, with his eyes almost shut from his beating, making another American flag."
"Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Republicans," McCain said, drawing the parallel explicitly. "Duty, honor country."