McCain is obviously hinging his whole campaign on his POW time in Vietnam, with this spot closing with 'An American President Americans Have Been Waiting for'. This is a frequent tool he deploys when he speaks with the press, saying things like 'I haven't been questioned this hard since Hanoi'.
I can't help but think that it's a foolish narrative. 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 all saw the candidate without military service elected over the candidate who had served, in several cases heroically. There's a standard conservative narrative about America, one that existed before Hollywood but has been perfected by the entertainment business. In that narrative, baseball was a pastoral sport untainted by money until greedy city corruptors got their mitts on it, rural America is a place free of sin and greed, war is glorious and divine, segregation was an anomaly, businessmen are self-made, and Americans want a hero for a leader. It's the Horatia Alger myth spun in various webs outward, a timeless perfection that is America.
Liberal myths look different, and focus on love of country not as the embodiment of perfection but as the embodiment of our own capacity to improve who we are. This demands an honest understanding that yes, we have flaws. The story that Obama and Clinton tell by their very presence is about our ability to change direction, include those who are different, and build a diverse messy democracy that works. It's a much more real and beautiful story in my opinion, and it's also more powerful at this moment when we are confronted with immense tragedies, many of which are of our own making. And people know this. There are no Rambo style movies coming out anymore emphasizing the indestructable muscle bound American heros and dominating the culture. The top eight grossing movies of 2007 were Spiderman 3, Shrek, the Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, I am Legend, the Bourne Ultimatum, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. All of these emphasize either flawed heros doing battle with themselves, an incompetent, overpowered, or actively malicious state, the apocalypse, or an ironic challenge to mainstream cultural norms as the route to happiness. This is just not a good environment for an excessively sincere call to serve instruments of national power.
So while the conservative myth is dominant in the political press, there's no just no evidence voters want a hero for President, just as every professional baseball team is identified with a city and youth are leaving rural areas for vibrant and diversely creative metropolitan areas. Or at any rate, since 1992, voters keep voting against the hero. So don't be lulled by McCain's narrative into thinking it's a sign that he's a tough candidate. That's what John Kerry thought when he took on George Bush. Bush might be President, but Kerry was a hero in Vietnam, and surely the American people would trust a hero with national security.
McCain may be in the process of making the same big mistake his friend Kerry made in 2004--making his biography the overriding centerpiece of his national security message. Sure, McCain's war record attests to his character and patriotism, but hardly means he'd be an effective commander-in-chief. If that were the case, we'd only have military leaders as presidents. What McCain has to say about national security issues will, over time, have as great an impact on how he's perceived by persuadable voters as endless clips of him in uniform or returning from the Hanoi Hilton. The tragedy of the Kerry campaiign was that the man did have a pretty powerful grasp of national security challenges and what to do about them, but it never much got a hearing thanks to the back-and-forth about his own "story."
In contrast, much of what John McCain's been saying on the substance of national security and foreign policy strikes me as an odd combo of George W. Bush's 2000 and 20004 messages: a multilateral, "humble" foreign policy based on the continuation and even expansion of the very single-minded military adventurism that's made Bush a global pariah and empirical failure. Suggesting that the Democratic nominee isn't fit to debate him on national security because he or she doesn't have a war record isn't going to cut it for John McCain.