ThinkProgress releases video of Rep. Joe Walsh bellyaching about how his Democratic opponent, Tammy Duckworth, talks about her military service. Duckworth lost her legs to a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq; Walsh thinks she should ease up talking about that, already. Democrats pounce, because… well, among other things, because the Illinois gerrymander makes Walsh one of the more beatable Tea Party villains out there, and because Duckworth has spent six years working on veterans’ issues in Illinois and D.C. since she last ran for Congress.
I’m less interested in the old-new controversy than in Walsh’s example of a veteran who never talks about his heroism – John McCain. “His political advisers, day after day, had to take him and almost throw him against the wall and hit him on the head,” says Walsh, “and say: Senator! You have to let people know that you served! You have to talk about what you did! … Finally, he talked a little bit about it, but it was very uncomfortable for him.”
There is one fact here buried in a pile of nonsense. Yes, McCain’s campaign let it be known, in 2008, that he didn’t want to run on his war heroism. “You don’t have an option of not talking about who you are and what made you who you are,” argued Steve Schmidt, according to John Heilemann and Mark Halperin in Game Change. But after that, McCain wasn’t uncomfortable running on his character.
And the New Hampshire audience was ready for that. McCain had mentioned the same stories in his 2000 run.
And… well, hell, we could do this for a while, but we can end with McCain’s 1982 campaign for the House, when an opponent accused him of carpetbagging and McCain nuked him with this line: “The place I lived the longest was Hanoi!”
The moral of the story: Veterans can say whatever the hell they want about their service during campaigns, as long as it’s truthful, and if you try to criticize them, you will suffer in ten thousand ways.