April 29, 2008

In his latest Wall Street Journal op-ed, Karl Rove, who swears he’s not formally advising John McCain on his presidential campaign, suggests the Republican presidential nominee needs to do more to let people know about his personal story.

It came to me while I was having dinner with Doris Day. No, not that Doris Day. The Doris Day who is married to Col. Bud Day, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, fighter pilot, Vietnam POW and roommate of John McCain at the Hanoi Hilton.

As we ate near the Days’ home in Florida recently, I heard things about Sen. McCain that were deeply moving and politically troubling. Moving because they told me things about him the American people need to know. And troubling because it is clear that Mr. McCain is one of the most private individuals to run for president in history.

When it comes to choosing a president, the American people want to know more about a candidate than policy positions. They want to know about character, the values ingrained in his heart. For Mr. McCain, that means they will want to know more about him personally than he has been willing to reveal.

In this case, Rove isn’t talking about McCain’s rocky history in his personal life, but rather, his military experiences, most notably McCain’s time as a prisoner of war.

In all sincerity, my first thought that Rove was being ironic, perhaps even sarcastic. McCain has been reluctant to talk about his past? He’s been too “private” to highlight his military experiences?

I know Rove tries to keep up on current events, but what race has he been watching?

It started in September, with one of the first McCain ads of the fall, featuring a young McCain being interviewed in a Hanoi prison.

Interviewer: How old are you?

John McCain: Thirty one.

Interviewer: What is your rank in the army?

McCain: Lt. Commander in the Navy. … hit by either missile or anti-aircraft fire, I’m not sure which. And the plane continued straight down and I ejected and broke my leg and both arms.

Interviewer: And your official number?

McCain: 624787

The viewer hears the announcer say, “One man sacrificed for his country.”

It led to another ad based on McCain’s favorite scripted debate sound-bite.

“A few days ago, Senator Clinton tried to spend one million dollars on the Woodstock concert museum. Now my friends, I wasn’t there. I’m sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event. I was, I was tied up at the time.”

In mid-December, McCain completely gave up on subtlety:

“One night, after being mistreated as a POW, a guard loosened the ropes binding me, easing my pain.

“On Christmas, that same guard approached me, and without saying a word, he drew a cross in the sand. We stood wordlessly looking at the cross, remembering the true light of Christmas.”

About a month ago, the McCain campaign released its first general-election ad — one-fourth of which was interrogation footage taken while McCain was a prisoner of war.

All of this was followed by a “biographical tour” earlier this month, during which McCain highlighted his family history, with an emphasis on their military service.

And all of this was followed by campaign videos spotlighting McCain’s experiences growing up.

If McCain is one of the “most private individuals to run for president in history,” I really don’t want to see the extroverted candidates.

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