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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Despite its obvious appeal to a culture still enamored with war, Sen. John McCain's past as a tortured POW is in fact his greatest shortcoming. It is precisely what makes him ill-suited to lead us into an acceptable future.

As his campaign would have us believe, McCain's experience in the Hanoi Hilton transformed him as a person. They would say it hardened him, steeled him to the harsh realities of the human heart and armored him for battle with the world's evils. The idea is that he will fight for us, that - unlike his liberal counterpart - he will not be weak in the face of our enemies.

This Roman fantasy, however, is exactly the attitude that has made us such a tragic and destructive menace abroad. Hostility as the default stance keeps us primitive and fearful, cowering behind our artillery instead of engaging the world with civility.

His campaign began with the loud proclamation of the horrors he endured, stories of how brave and honorable he had been and the implication that this experience would make him a good president.

But the Republican image of "good" still appears to be a dueler with his chest out and his hands by his guns.

They have mistaken belligerence for strength, when in fact, real strength will come from our ability to behave reasonably in the global sandbox and disarm conflict with grace and foresight.

Regardless of who he might have been 10 or 20 years ago, the McCain of today is a man seemingly fueled entirely by hawkish militarism. Five-and-a-half years is a long time to spend in enemy captivity, and I think it's safe to assume that it was one of the more defining experiences of his life (his campaign certainly trumpets it as such).

He has recently begun to parrot his opponent's platform - a deceptive, desperate effort to appeal to the awesome tide swelling in this country - but it fails to mask the character he first presented: a man shaped profoundly by violence and cruelty, whose only visible passion is the spread of American values with force.

Never once have we heard him speak with enthusiasm about the progressive, constructive goals he would like to accomplish. He isn't fired up about health care, our languishing middle class or our planet's dire condition.

When the discussion turns to war, his eyes light up and he suddenly becomes a great deal more articulate.

He seems to relish the idea of being commander-in-chief much more than the idea of being president, as if directing the great American power were the job's primary assignment.

He tries to revive our blood lust for Osama bin Laden, praises our occupation of Iraq and makes terrifyingly sincere gestures toward war with Iran. His style of diplomacy involves sitting cross-armed in stubborn silence.

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McCain is known for having a dangerously volatile temper and being prone to emotive, knee-jerk reactions.

"I like McCain. I respect McCain. But I am a little worried by his knee-jerk response factor," retired Major General Paul Eaton said. "I think this guy's first reactions are not necessarily the best reactions. I believe that he acts on impulse."

Actions always speak louder than words, especially when their speaker has so much to gain.

He is correctly called a hero for the service he did this country, but the fact is that McCain and the beast in his heart have no business leading what is still a free world.

The next president will have an opportunity like never before to elevate this country and spur a new age in the world at large, but he will fail if he approaches the task with anger and fear.

Jimmy Pianka is a student at Tufts University.

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