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Thursday, January 17, 2008
When Ross Perot Calls....

Of course, the punchline is to say, "I'm all ears." But Jonathan Alter misses his opportunity. Perot attempts a little sandbagging of John McCain, but misses the mark:

The Texas billionaire, now 77, still has some scores to settle from the Vietnam era, and his timing is exquisite. Just days before the South Carolina GOP primary, he wants me to know that McCain "is the classic opportunist--he's always reaching for attention and glory. Other POWs won't even sit at the same table with him."

Tell it to Colonel Bud Day, the most decorated man to serve in Vietnam, and one of McCain's fellow POWs:

It’s clear where our own legendary Col Bud Day stands. He spent more than five years in a POW camp with fellow-pilot John McCain and proudly says, “Without reservation, I know Johnny is the best candidate and most prepared to be our next president and commander in chief.”

Tell it to Paul Galanti:

During the 2000 presidential primaries, Galanti was the Virginia Chair of Senator John McCain's presidential bid. "John is the only guy I know who is more positive than I am," says Galanti. "He did quite well in Virginia especially considering that the campaign was composed of an all-volunteer Army of political non-professionals!"

Galanti was featured prominently in the movie Stolen Honor. In one of the film's most moving sequences, he related how he made the mistake of telling his North Vietnamese captors that his back had been broken, noting (with a little wry humor) that they used that against him during the torture sessions.

How about Perot's old running mate, and another one of my personal heroes, Admiral Stockdale?

In fact, a few weeks ago I received a call from an old friend who is also close to the George W. Bush campaign soliciting comments on Mr. McCain's "weaknesses." As I told that caller, I think John McCain is solid as a rock.

And I consider it blasphemy to smudge the straight-arrow prisoner-of-war record of a man who was near death when he arrived at Hoa Loa prison 1967: both arms broken, left leg broken, left shoulder broken by a civilian with a rifle butt.

He was eventually taken to the same rat-infested hospital room I had occupied two years earlier, and, like me, he had surgery on his leg. By then the Vietnamese had discovered that his father was the ranking admiral in the Pacific Fleet, and he received an offer that, as far as I know, was made to no other American prisoner: immediate release, no strings attached. He refused, thereby sentencing himself to four more years in a cell.

The sad truth is that Perot is still on his quixotic quest for the supposed "missing" POWs and MIAs.

Not surprisingly, McCain sees it differently. He has told me several times over the years that the myth of live POWs was a cruel hoax on the families. He chaired hearings into the issue in the 1990s and found nothing. "The committee did an exhaustive job and pored over thousands of records and every claim of a sighting, no matter how outlandish," says Salter. "It was all untrue."

Look, I can buy that the people who pushed the POW/MIA issue in the 1980s legitimately thought they were helping. I cheered like everybody else in the theater when Chuck Norris burst into that hearing room with the guys he had freed.

But that was Hollywood.

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