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Questions to Ponder

January 9, 2008

There are many things one must consider when one tries to decide who they believe is the best person to lead the United State. First of all, one must consider their stated policies. What a politician says they will do matters. But we must also be concerned about how effective a leader they would be. Can they actually do what they claim they would do? It is easy to promise the world, but it is more difficult to deliver it. Promises are constantly set out during a campaign, but how quickly are they forgotten once someone is elected into office! If promises are being made which cannot ever be kept, how honest and forthright is that politician? And thus we come into the question of the moral integrity of the candidate. Character does matter because it tells us how much we can trust a candidate when they are put into difficult situations and whether or not we think they will deliver what they promise.  

But there are other questions which must be addressed. Each candidate has different ones which need to be asked. For John McCain, who has now had a big campaign victory, some of them, because of how personal they might seem to be, have not raised. And yet I believe they should be. 

I am concerned with what happened to him while he was a POW. What long term, even unforseen, effects have they had on him? Can his experiences have any negative influences on him and his actions? Certainly we should honor him for what he did for the United States. But, to do this properly, we should not disregard the level of insane cruelty American POWs suffered in Vietnam. It was awful enough to have long term psychological efffects. Most people would probably be harmed for life. And that is the point. If we do not look at the possible long term effects such experiences might have on a pscyhe, we might put ourselves into a dangerous position if he is made president. We must really ask ourselves, how mentally stable is he actually? Do his experiences from Vietnam haunt him to this day? How exactly has he dealt with them? Is he still dealing with them? If so, how? If not, should he be? 

Would you feel safe with someone who had experienced such great, mind-numbing trauma in the past to own a gun? What about a nuclear bomb?  And yet that is exactly what would happen if McCain were made president. His hand would be on top of the nuclear trigger. Is this a risk we want to take? And while we are pondering these questions, do we know for a fact that he has not had some subliminal programming put into him while he was a POW? 

Of course, this is not to say that John McCain should not run for president, nor even that he should not be elected. The only questions are — why have these concerns not been raised, and how legitimate a concern do you think his experiences as a POW might actually be? If you find they would be a concern, why? If not, why not?

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40 Comments
  1. Blackadder permalink
    January 9, 2008 4:29 pm

    Presumably any negative effects from McCain’s captivity would be apparent from his actions in the 35 years since he was released as a POW or in the more than 25 years he has served in public office.

  2. January 9, 2008 4:31 pm

    Blackadder

    The problem is — that is not true; negative effects from such trauma can come out much, much later. Common sense does not prove psychological reality here.

    I would also like to add — is it not dangerous to make assumptions without any other qualification then “I think problems would have shown up by now?” I would be more comfortable if someone can show why these are not problems beyond presumption (since presumption is often wrong).

  3. jonathanjones02 permalink
    January 9, 2008 4:33 pm

    McCain is a great and a greatly accomplished man, no matter how one feels about his policies (and I disagree with him on campaign finance and how to address illegal immigration).

    Still, given his strong pro-life record, and that I agree with him more than disagree, it is near enough for me to support him (should I ever be able to vote in a primary that mattered).

  4. Blackadder permalink
    January 9, 2008 4:37 pm

    Also, speculating about whether McCain was subjected to “subliminal programming” is about on the level of speculating whether Obama is secretly still a Muslim, or whether Bill Clinton was a KGB agent.

  5. January 9, 2008 4:40 pm

    Well, the thing is, we know subliminal programming was done to POWs. Therefore, it is a credible question, and, again, I think all such issues should be raised and put out in the open. If one wants to say Clinton was a KGB agent, go right ahead, too, if one explains why they think it is possible.

  6. jonathanjones02 permalink
    January 9, 2008 4:48 pm

    It would be a credible question if there were a shred of evidence over the course of McCain’s long public career. There is none.

  7. Blackadder permalink
    January 9, 2008 5:10 pm

    Henry,

    What evidence is there that McCain was subjected to subliminal programming?

  8. Policraticus permalink*
    January 9, 2008 5:18 pm

    It would be a credible question if there were a shred of evidence over the course of McCain’s long public career. There is none.

    Wow, you’ve followed the entire course of McCain’s long career?

  9. January 9, 2008 5:31 pm

    given his strong pro-life record, ?????

    What about his hesitancy on abortion in cases of rape? And embryonic stem cell research? What are we exactly deeming as strong here? I’m honestly lost.

  10. jonathanjones02 permalink
    January 9, 2008 5:31 pm

    Policraticus:

    No, I haven’t. But if a blogger has discovered what everyone else has missed about a man who has been in the media glare for quite a long time, then bring forward the evidence.

  11. jonathanjones02 permalink
    January 9, 2008 5:36 pm

    Katerina,

    McCain opposes public financing, is personally opposed to abortion, strongly supports the ban on military abortions, strongly supports the Hyde amendment, has spoken forcefully and acted consistently on partial-birth, would appoint judges who would likely overturn Roe v Wade (by far the most important thing), and has said more than once he wants Roe overturned.

    This is the top of my head; I’m sure there are other positions good and bad, but without question mostly good. He has been voting a long time.

    And that is a strong pro-life record.

  12. January 9, 2008 5:40 pm

    So, does this mean Henry will soon be doing a post titled “Vox Nova at the Movies: The Manchurian Candidate”?

    ;-)

    I do not personally like John McCain. And there is no chance of my supporting him unless he changes his position on ESCR. But I agree that such questions about the effects of his captivity are only valid to the extent we actually see some sign that McCain actually suffers some ill effects of his time as a POW. I don’t believe his long career in the public eye has exposed any such deficiencies.

    In fact, it could be argued that McCain’s experiences have positively impacted how he views torture and his willingness to speak out against its use when the other GOP frontrunners were doing their best Jack Bauer impersonations.

  13. Blackadder permalink
    January 9, 2008 5:48 pm

    I do worry about McCain on the life issues. His position on ESCR is troubling, and while his voting record on the issue is fairly conservative, there is so much bad blood between him and the major pro-life groups that I think it would be hard to advance a pro-life agenda while he was in the White House.

    Still, he has the best shot of winning in the general election against any of the Democrats, and would be much better on the issues than any of them would be.

  14. January 9, 2008 5:54 pm

    Subliminal programming? Doesn’t that happen only in the movies?

    Did the alleged reprogramming actually work on the POWs, or is that an urban legend? I doubt anybody actually understands humanity enough to reprogram captives by force and with effectiveness.

  15. January 9, 2008 5:55 pm

    For the record I have no problem as to the issue you raise. I do not think McCain is unstable. The reason they are not being raised is because if one did it woulod be political suidide. I acan’t imagine how one could do that and not have such a backlash

  16. January 9, 2008 6:36 pm

    There certainly is ample evidence that brainwashing went on, and that has not been disputed. Some places, like this article from newsmax http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2001/12/28/181632.shtml suggest some really terrible kinds of programming. But here, http://www.loc.gov/vets/stories/pow-korea.html , we find the library of congress telling us that brainwashing occured, with the suggestion that some of it was to try to convince our POWs they commited war crimes. We can find more discussion of brainwashing here: http://www.pownetwork.org/docs/part1.htm but http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-107759688.html tries to suggest that the brainwashing, while attempted, did not work.

    I think it is clear it was done, and I think it did have some effect; and thus, the question does remain and cannot be simply dismissed with the idea that “I’ve seen nothing to indicate it has happened to him.” What would you expect him to be doing if he were? Again, this is for a position of high authority, and one’s sanity (whether or not brainwashed) I think is a legitimate question. Not knowing the private, internal life of McCain, the question of how he handled being a POW and kept himself stable in the midst of the suffering, even if asked before, is something legitimate now and could also be used in his favor if handled properly.

  17. January 9, 2008 6:54 pm

    JH

    I do agree that there is a fear that comes in today’s world of being portrayed as too “hostile,” or too “critical” or even “personal” when engaging political debates. It is not just the candidates that have to worry about this, but also those who work within the media — imagine the outcry that would happen if CNN or Fox asked this question. Yet, this to me, again, is dangerous, because when dealing with leadership roles, who a person is — is very important. Not everyone is called to such a role in life, and even if one would like such a position of power, sometimes the circumstances one goes through in life can and will prevent it.

  18. January 9, 2008 7:03 pm

    Henry – Just for the record, I speak as:

    1. A registered Democrat,
    2. Someone who has suffered from PTSD,
    3. A Veteran

    …and I just want to say that your post is pretty strange. McCain will go nuts once he’s in office, because he’s a Vietnam Vet? Is that in any sense a legitimate worry?

    When you say, “negative effects from such trauma can come out much, much later…” that’s not really quite the case. Someone with latent PTSD will have obvious behavior that would be evident to any observer, even if they are not having flashbacks or “”flooding”.

    When I think back, even before I was diagnosed I did things which were clear warning signs, and which would have been clear to any knowledgable observer: flashes of temper out of proportion to the stimulus; being a pill to live with in certain kinds of weather; being afraid to leave the house in circumstances that reminded me of traumatizing events (isolating myself, etc.).

    If McCain were some sort of risky character, we’d know it.

  19. jonathanjones02 permalink
    January 9, 2008 7:12 pm

    Henry, this is not a legitimate question unless there is evidence tied to McCain.

  20. January 9, 2008 7:14 pm

    Like Jay said, the one thing we know where McCain’s POW experience affected him is in his position on torture. I’m not a fan of McCain as far as his political career goes, but I’d be more leery about the judgment of those who were subjected to (err, part of) the counter-cultural revolution of the late 60′s and early 70′s than those who were isolated in SE Asia.

  21. January 9, 2008 7:24 pm

    Matt

    If the only representation someone has of someone else is on television or large gatherings, the warning signs might not be so easily noticed as you might think. And those who are close to him might be trying to protect him and blind themselves from those signs — it is not unusual.

    Moreover, one could say that since 1) one of the things the POWs were called to do is declare US war crimes to make the US look ridiculous and that 2) McCain has made war crimes, and US violations of Geneva Conventions, an important part of his political career, it is legitimate to ask if #1 has had an influence in #2. Of course, one could say his experiences would make him highly sensitive to the issue. I agree. But that doesn’t dismiss the fact that #1 was indeed something that POWs were programmed to do, and #2 fits with #1. And this should make one pause. Even if one thinks he is in the right in his criticisms, it does not discount the possibility of outside influence for why he is so concerned.

    However, the questions here are more than whether or not he has been brainwashed. The issue is that someone who has been a POW and given excessive torture WILL have psychological harm. The questions are how much, how did McCain deal with it, and what is he still doing now to deal with it. It is not a question of “if” when one experiences such great cruelty. This is also why certain people are turned down for specific jobs in various security and intelligence branches in the US — not because they are unqualified in one a technical sense, but because of the fact that certain experiences, no matter what, affects people, and are security risks. This is a fact of life. And with such an important position as the President of the US, it is vital that the President is not himself a security risk.

    Not everyone is called to be President of the US. Those who run should have a clean bill of mental health. And if someone has been in a high stress situation which DOES break people, even if they do not “appear” to the average observer that they have been broken, a sound psychological examination if nothing else is, imo, mandatory before taking such an important position. The stress of the job itself is far greater than being a mere senator. Even if he has not broken down yet, does not mean the added burden will not be enough to push him over the edge. This is not as a put down to the man, but to recognize fully — more than most — the actual harm he has gone through and to RESPECT what that does to him. He needs to be honored for it; to ignore the serious question is to dishonor the experience and treat it as nothing.

  22. January 9, 2008 7:28 pm

    Jonathan

    The evidence: he was a POW. He was tortured. That causes psychological harm. That is evidence enough to indicate that we should pause and consider if this harm has hurt him and causes him to be a risk to the nation and the world in such a high stress position. Even if he has not cracked yet, and has not been brainwashed, does not mean that the added stress is something he could take. Again, he is not in a normal position and that requires proof of his not being a security risk when in such an important position. The same would be for other positions, like CIA chief. I don’t think a-long term POW who made a voluntary move to remain in captivity longer than their captors required them would ever be allowed such a position.

  23. jonathanjones02 permalink
    January 9, 2008 7:46 pm

    “The evidence: he was a POW. He was tortured.”

    Irrelevent absent any shred of evidence he is a “risky character” as Matt aptly put it. If you have evidence beyond a hot temper, what is it? He’s been out of prison for decades.

  24. January 9, 2008 7:58 pm

    Henry – I don’t think anyone is disputing that being tortured can have an effect on a person’s mental health: it’s worth mentioning, on the other hand, that how one deals with trauma may say inspiring things about that persons inner resilience and fortitude.

    I think what some of us are questioning is how, absent clear evidence of trauma-linked worrisome behavior, undergoing traumatic events might disqualify a candidate from the presidency?

  25. Henry Karlson permalink
    January 9, 2008 8:01 pm

    Jonathan

    You deny the fact that such horrible trauma has psychological effects, sometimes unconscious ones, which might not be easily manifest? Why is it only a “hot temper” is the only sign? So at least you have provided one sign to look for, but is the only the way to determine one’s psychological harm? I think not. No one comes out of such abuse unscathed. Even if we cannot see it in the media spotlights we have been shown to make him look as good as possible does not mean it is not there.

    The fact is we are dealing with an important position which significant security issues. And since this is not a court of law where one is innocent until proven guilty, but the political arena, the proof of one’s stability must be in the hand of the one who is seeking office, not the ones who doubt in this case.

  26. Henry Karlson permalink
    January 9, 2008 8:13 pm

    Matt

    The issue is that such psychological damage without any certifiable testing to prove that they remain perfectly sound will not allow people in other positions where there are security risks; here, as the President of the US, he will be in a position of authority, with more stress than he has ever been under since his time as a POW. Why should such an important job have less psychological requirements than other, less powerful, less important jobs? The issue needs to be addressed and he needs to demonstrate that he will be able to handle the stress. This is not looking for someone to fill in a position as bus boy; this is for someone who will have effective control over the US military and all its weapons of mass destruction. He needs to prove with suitable examinations his stability. To say I have to prove — without access to psychological records — that he is not stable is quite unsatisfactory: I am not in the position which can determine these things, and never will be; but those who are can do something and McCain should be the first to make sure he is of sound mind and can handle it and show and demonstrate this to the public with open records which shows all the commentary on his mental health so people will know what concerns are really there. Anything else — he is a security threat. Sorry, but sometimes what one has undergone in the past, however sad it is, however honorable it makes you, still can leave you unqualified to hold positions of great power and authority; and the one who wants that power and authority, in a system of democratic elections, is the one who needs to convince the public he is a good candidate. And since the torture he went through is enoguh to break people, it is clearly a justified question. The public doesn’t have access to the records to show he is of sound mind, but he can open them up and make a press conference. That he doesn’t is another reason for me to give pause.

  27. January 9, 2008 8:27 pm

    I see your point, Henry – and I’m sorry if I came off as dismissive of your concerns. (I’m a little sensitive about these things, as you can see…)

    I wonder how McCain can establish his mental fitness for the Presidency, without opening up his phsychiatric records to public scrutiny (which would be an opposition researcher’s dream: imagine what someone like Karl Rove would do with them, no matter what they do or do not contain…).

    A side point, but important: I worry that making a big deal of this might in some sense legitimize discrimination against vets generally, especially in employment.

  28. jonathanjones02 permalink
    January 9, 2008 8:30 pm

    “You deny the fact that such horrible trauma has psychological effects, sometimes unconscious ones, which might not be easily manifest?”

    No, I don’t. What I deny is your unsupportable leap that McCain exhibits any of these characteristics.

  29. Tim F. permalink
    January 9, 2008 8:38 pm

    “imagine what someone like Karl Rove would do with them, no matter what they do or do not contain..)” Sort of like what Henry Karlson has done here with this post I imagine.

  30. January 9, 2008 8:44 pm

    …imagine what someone like Karl Rove would do with them…

    Or James Carville, etc. Or better yet, what Dan Rather could fabricate! ;)

    Anyway Mr. Talbot, I share your concerns and while it seems (IIRC) that we have different ideals politically speaking, I offer my thanks for your service and suffering. While being fortunate enough to not truly understand what combat vets suffer during and after their experiences I am well aware that it is real, profound, and lasting. So regardless of how a vet views their service and those who put them in harm’s way, I offer my thanks, empathy and prayers. I’ll remember you and your suffering in my prayers especially this day.

  31. January 9, 2008 8:45 pm

    Wow.

    Just wow.

    Sometimes the phrase “new low” doesn’t even say enough.

    Well, if you have an honest desire to find out a bit more about McCain’s experiences as a POW, he wrote a book called Faith of My Fathers, which I gather talks about his time as a POW and what he considers to be the part his Christian faith played in dealing with the physical and psychological difficulties thereof. I haven’t read it, but if someone had an _honest_ set of questions along these lines I would think they’d start out by reading that as a primary source — with, of course, the necessary skepticism one brings to a primary source.

    If, on the other hand, one is simply looking for the nuttiest way to rule him out as a candidate, go right on talking.

    I’m not a McCain fan, and I’m not sure I’d support him in the primaries, but if he becomes the nominee I think I’d definately find my conscience able to support him opposite Hillary or Obama. It seems to me that his wartime experiences ought to give him a clearer view of issues surrounding war and torture than any recent candidates, and although I don’t necessarily fully agree with him on the issue, I think he brings some much needed moderation to the Republican debate in regards to immigration.

  32. January 9, 2008 9:26 pm

    Haha, Matt. Though I don’t consider myself a right-winger, I just view the left-wing model to generally be further off the mark. ;) Nevertheless you’re very welcome, ’tis my little honor to remember those who deserve genuine honor.

  33. Donald R. McClarey permalink
    January 9, 2008 10:12 pm

    I have concerns about McCain as a candidate, but the torture he suffered as a POW is not one of them. That he emerged sane and alive speaks well for his mental stability and his determination to survive. Because he was the son of a top Admiral the NVA offered early release to him. McCain refused until every American POW was released. To me, McCain’s courage as a POW speaks highly of his character.

  34. January 9, 2008 11:28 pm

    As for outbursts of anger, well, Andy Card Jr claims to have seen them and they are famous: http://www.gunowners.org/mccard.htm

    “In a July 5 NewsMax.com article, former Senator Bob Smith, a New Hampshire Republican who served with McCain on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, “I have witnessed incidents where he has used profanity at colleagues and exploded at colleagues…. He would disagree about something and then explode.

    “It was incidents of irrational behavior. We’ve all had incidents where we have gotten angry, but I’ve never seen anyone act like that.”

    Another article on his outbursts: http://www.democrats.org/a/2007/05/temper_temper_i.php

    And here: http://blog.washingtonpost.com/capitol-briefing/2007/05/mccain_cornyn_cursing_showdown.html

    This, apparently, is a long term issue: http://www.csbsju.edu/uspp/Election/mccain112899.htm — or http://www.slate.com/id/61726

  35. January 10, 2008 2:40 am

    McCain does certainly have a famous temper, no question there.

    Of course, so does Hillary, who is reputed to have routinely sworn and hurled things are white house staff. (Of course, perhaps some might label being married to Bill Clinton as a form of torture. Maybe she has some post traumatic stress disorder herself.)

    Personally, I highly doubt that McCain suffers psychological effects that would prevent him from serving as president. However, I would like to strongly encourage Henry to make a very big deal about this and write about it constantly, as it greatly increases (or perhaps more accurately, typifies) the general stature and tone of Vox Nova political commentary.

    May I suggest, “Those who suffer for our country are unworthy to serve it,” as a slogan.

    Obviously, this would be a major point in favor of Obama, since he’s barely done anything of note in his life, and thus is obviously very well adjusted and ready to serve as president.

  36. January 10, 2008 9:46 am

    Darwin

    You are right, Hillary also has her anger problems, and she has gone through quite a bit through her experiences with Bill. I have no problem with an investigation into her sanity either.

    Indeed, perhaps we should make it mandatory that anyone running for President has to have a psychological examination by an independent team, with all records of the examination in the open so people can know this important information. In positions of leadership, we must not neglect that the person’s capabilities are important and they are not just bearers of ideas — we must be very concrete here.

  37. SMB permalink
    January 10, 2008 2:40 pm

    I think it’s Henry who has lost his marbles.

  38. January 10, 2008 3:01 pm

    I hope it is not overly Chestertonian of me, but I can think of few people less qualified to determine someone’s stability and sanity than the members of the psychological profession…

    If such a strange and modern thing must be done as “evaulating” the mental state of leadership candidates, it should be done by a janitor, a maiden aunt, a hairdresser, a waiter and a bag lady.

  39. January 10, 2008 3:26 pm

    I don’t think it’s possible to be overly Chestertonian, Darwin, but other than that I totally agree with your comment. Thanks for posting it.

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