Political Hay

Lyndon McCain Meets Woodrow Obama

 Vietnam Vets and the professor presidents.

By 9.10.13

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What made John McCain Senator John McCain?

Republican presidential nominee John McCain?

Long before that, Congressman John McCain?

And what exactly does Barack Obama have in common with Woodrow Wilson?

First, let’s deal with Senator McCain and his fellow Vietnam vets Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Everyone in America knows the answer to the first three questions about McCain, and everyone in America still admires and respects him for it. Doubtless millions are also familiar with some version of Kerry’s more controversial Vietnam story, and many may well know that Hagel too is a Vietnam Vet.

McCain’s entire political career, of course, stems from the mind-bending heroism of his time as a POW during the Vietnam War. As mentioned, everyone knows the story. Shot down over Hanoi, he was immediately captured. For the next five-plus years McCain, badly injured right off the bat, was repeatedly and viciously tortured. To this day his awkward movements of his right arm are a literal daily reminder that this is a man who cannot perform some of the most routine of human functions because of the injuries suffered as a Navy pilot.

No one is questioning that John McCain isn’t a man of indelible courage and bravery. 

And while the role of Secretary of State John Kerry as a young Navy Swift Boat officer in Vietnam carries with it much more controversy — as evidenced when he was the Democrats’ 2004 presidential nominee — Kerry famously never hesitates to play the “I served in Vietnam” card. As he did just the other day in an appearance before a House committee discussing the Syria situation. 

Not to be left out of this is Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel — he too a Vietnam Vet.

As the debate around U.S. involvement in Syria swirls, there is an obvious point that needs to be raised here. And alas for McCain, Kerry, and Hagel — Syria interventionists one and all — they are personally emblematic of the problem that an overwhelming majority of Americans see with a potential American involvement in Syria.

Let’s get to the basics.

When was the young John McCain shot down over Hanoi?

Answer? October, 1967.

When did the young John Kerry make his appearance in Vietnam?

Answer? In 2004 his own presidential campaign stated it this way: “After graduating from Yale, Kerry enlisted in the Navy and was sent to Vietnam in 1967.”

And young Chuck Hagel? You guessed it. Army Sergeant Hagel arrived for his year-long tour of Vietnam duty in 1967.

OK. Fair enough on all three counts. We’re not interested here in what happened to any of the three men once they were in Vietnam. What we are interested in is this statement from the man who was serving as the commander-in-chief of John McCain, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel in 1967. 

That man would be President Lyndon B. Johnson, a liberal Democrat from Texas — the father of the Great Society, vice president of John F. Kennedy, and earlier in life famously the young congressional protégé of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In fact, there were already American boys in Vietnam when LBJ became president. JFK had begun to change the policy of the Eisenhower administration. The old D-Day general and lifetime soldier who had ended the Korean War as president had refused the idea of getting the U.S. involved in a second land war in Asia.
 
Kennedy and his advisers, disdaining Eisenhower as an old man with no ideas, were enamored of the then-new concept of “guerilla warfare.” By May of 1961, JFK had sent 400 “Green Beret” U.S. soldiers as “advisers” to South Vietnam. Over time the role of the U.S. had metastasized. By the time Lyndon Johnson becomes president at JFK’s death in November of 1963, LBJ finds there are 16,300 American “advisers” now in Vietnam. 
 
In 1964, campaigning for election to the White House on his own, LBJ was facing the conservative Arizona Republican Senator Barry Goldwater. And during that October of 1964 Lyndon Johnson sought to soothe the anxiety of the American people about the prospect of a full-blown war in Vietnam by saying, among other things, the following:

We are not about to send American boys 9 or 10 thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.

In fact, LBJ said some version of this all over America in 1964. Famously, LBJ’s campaign ran this television commercial in which a young girl is picking the petals off a daisy, counting them one by one. When she gets to “9” the camera zeroes in on her eye — the screen goes dark and the voice changes to a male voice in a countdown. At “Zero” a nuclear bomb explodes, over which we hear LBJ’s voice saying that “these are the stakes.” As his voice fades, noting that we must “love each other or die” — the screen is black once again, with the exception of the words: “Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd.” Says the announcer’s voice: “The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” 

The point, of course, was that Johnson’s GOP opponent Goldwater was a war monger. A dangerous man who would, in a blink, send “American boys 9 or 10 thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” LBJ, insisted LBJ and his party, simply would never do this.

The LBJ message was received (with the help of the liberal media of the day that painted Goldwater as not only a warmonger but a nut and quite possibly a Nazi— another story, another day). LBJ won in a landslide, in no small part because of that pledge not to send American boys to Vietnam. 

Yet somehow, apparently mysteriously, John McCain wound up as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam in 1967, John Kerry wound up going to Vietnam in 1967 and so too did young Sergeant Hagel arrive on the shores of Vietnam in 1967. Say again: 1967. Which was three years after the President of the United States had solemnly pledged in 1964 — make that repeatedly pledged — that American boys like McCain and Kerry and Hagel would never…repeat never….have to be there in the first place.

And now?

Now Senator McCain, Secretary of State Kerry, and Secretary of Defense Hagel are every bit as pointed as was LBJ in 1964.

Says McCain: "No one wants American boots on the ground. Nor will there be American boots on the ground.”

Says Kerry: “There will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war.” 

Says Hagel through his Pentagon spokesman: “We’re not looking at American boots on the ground in this operation at all.”

The obvious problem?

Both John McCain and John Kerry have their political careers because of Vietnam. Certainly his Vietnam service helped Chuck Hagel with his political career. Now, McCain and Kerry and Hagel’s very physical presence in this debate over Syria is a reminder that all three men served in a war that the then-President of the United States vowed over and over again would simply never happen. Got that? Never. Never, never, never. Never.

No one can say of George W. Bush that he shimmied on what was ahead in Iraq. Once 9/11 had happened, Bush was blunt: Either nations around the world were with us in the fight against terrorism — or they were against us. Bush could not have been plainer. He spent months making his case for invading Iraq, traveled the country repeatedly, went to Congress for approval and was nothing if not blunt that he intended “regime change” and would send the full military might of the U.S. to get Saddam.

Not so with LBJ.

And therein hangs the credibility problem of McCain, Kerry, and Hagel.

They are where they are politically because they were all three in a war that was promised — repeatedly — as something that would never happen.

Thus when all three men repeatedly say there will be “no boots on the ground” and that “it isn’t going to happen” — they themselves are live and in color personal refutations of just why the American people don’t believe a single word they are saying. The three are walking, talking, live and in living color representations of a presidential lie.

The questions pour forth from furious Americans. 

What happens the next time chemical weapons are let loose in Syria?

What happens when the call goes up to secure those weapons that are already there?

What happens if Iran strikes Israel? Or vice versa?

The scenarios for utter global disaster here are endless. The American people are no dummies.

The hard facts — which the American people overwhelmingly understand — is that as night follows day, what Obama is on the edge of doing is launching America into war. All the while, like LBJ, insisting that he isn’t.

Which brings us back to the President himself. The man who advertised himself during the 2008 campaign as a “constitutional law professor” although in fact he was a part-time “senior lecturer” at the University of Chicago and does not have a Ph.D. Be that as it may, Obama regards himself as a constitutional law professor, and during that campaign was given to making statements like this one, made at a March 30, 2007 fundraiser:

I was a constitutional law professor, which means unlike the current president I actually respect the Constitution.

In all of American presidential history, only one other chief executive could claim similar if decidedly more serious academic credentials. That would be, of course, the 28th president — Woodrow Wilson. Wilson, a former President of Princeton, was indeed a professor, getting his Ph.D. in history and political science from Johns Hopkins in 1883. Over the course of his academic career before becoming Princeton’s president, Wilson taught at Cornell, Bryn Mawr, and Wesleyan, writing extensively about the American political system along the way. 

Why is this relevant to what’s going on in Syria?

Safe to say, Woodrow Wilson, a thorough-going activist in America’s then-blossoming Progressive movement, was decidedly hostile to the nation’s Founders and the Constitution. A supremely arrogant man, it was Wilson who campaigned for re-election in 1916 on the slogan “He kept us out of war” — and then, once re-elected and barely a month after his second inauguration— plunged the country into World War I. In essence he was LBJ before LBJ.

The other day in Forbes Peter Ferrara had an extremely perceptive review of Mark Levin’s bestseller The Liberty Amendments.

Titled "100 Years After Woodrow Wilson, Mark Levin Pens A Brilliant Response," Ferrara writes:

One hundred years ago, Woodrow Wilson was leading a counterrevolution against the Constitution. Unfortunately, he was doing it from the White House, as President of the United States. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Wilson was one of the early leaders of the so-called Progressive Movement, which was an open conspiracy against the Constitution from the start.   Former President of Princeton University, he had the haughty attitude of superiority that marks so-called “Progressives” to this day. He was so sure he was so much smarter than the Founding Fathers, who laid the careful foundations of the most successful country in the history of the world. He displayed the contempt for the average American Progressives exhibit to this day as well, successfully running for reelection in 1916 on the Slogan “He kept us out of war,” before he led America into World War I the next year.

What Obama and Wilson have in common is their contempt for the Constitution, the arrogance of an academic that they are so much smarter than both the average American not to mention the Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution.

The actions of both — one long dead and the other very much the lead player in America today — have collectively fueled a long-time-coming backlash. This was happening before Syria — but without doubt Syria has accelerated that backlash. 

One need not go any further than the reaction to the aforementioned book of Mark Levin. The reception greeting this book has been a roar of approval, the book dominating every bestseller list in sight, flying off of bookshelves. Just this past weekend Levin was out at the Reagan Library — an appearance that was sold out within 16 minutes of its announcement.

Right Scoop has posted the entire Levin appearance at the Reagan Library, and here’s the link. Take note of Mark’s reception from the audience. One might be tempted to dismiss this as just a typical response from an audience of Reagan fans — this is, after all, Reagan’s own presidential library. But the fact is that wherever Mark has gone to promote this book the response has been similar — with thousands lining up as if at a rock concert featuring the Rolling Stones and Lady Gaga.

Why?

Because — and this is in no small part due to Mark Levin as Peter Ferrara notes in that Forbes review — the American people have now come to understand exactly what it means when President Obama says he wants to “transform America.” What Obama has been trying to do is update Wilson. Levin’s response is to defend the Constitution — not the status quo, the Constitution.

The reason the young John McCain, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel found themselves in Vietnam in the first place is that LBJ’s Vietnam policy, in the precise style Wilson championed, was unmoored from the Constitution.

And to the Progressives of Johnson’s era — like their political ancestors in Wilson’s day — the Constitution was something made to get around or ignore completely. And so, they did. Some fifty thousand Americans paid with their lives because of this Progressive approach to governance. 

Now, in a confluence of events — the implementation of Obamacare and immigration being but two of those events — along comes Syria. A pluperfect example of Progressivism at work in the realm of foreign policy.

This debate is about infinitely more than Syria.

It is about the Constitution.

It is about the way American foreign and domestic policy are and have been conducted. 

And as that debate moves forward, the literal presence of John McCain, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel will serve as daily if not hourly reminders of what happens when the Constitution is ignored and in its place is substituted the promises of the politicians of the moment.

“We are not about to send American boys 9 or 10 thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves, promised Lyndon Johnson as he played a sleight-of-hand with the Constitution.

Today the buzzword is “no boots on the ground.”

No wonder that when Americans look at John McCain and Barack Obama they hear the voice of someone who, with no small irony, might be called:

Lyndon McCain

Or Woodrow Obama.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.