COROLLA, N.C. -- It's hard to be a hero in America. John Kerry learned that the hard way. He returned from the war in Vietnam, decorated by his grateful country, and turned on the men he had left behind, accusing them of crimes and atrocities. Years later, after he "reported for duty" as the nominee of his party, he was "Swift-boated" by men with whom he had served. Turnabout may or may not have been fair play, but it was enough to sink Kerry's boat.
John McCain seemed safe and comfortable in his accolades as the prisoner of war home from the Hanoi Hilton. The scion of a distinguished Naval family had not only endured unspeakable pain and horror, but had refused to leave his fellow prisoners when the North Vietnamese said he could leave.
Most Americans forgave his adulterous dalliances when he returned, figuring that anyone who suffered so much with such grace had something coming to him. But that was then. Now he hears occasional Democratic sneers of "so what?" Wesley Clark sniped that being a prisoner of war was no qualification for the presidency. Joe Biden damns with faint praise: "John McCain is my friend. But these times require more than a good soldier."
In modern America, heroism has the shelf life of a shrimp.
Politics is above all about "what works." Barack Obama, demonstrating how easily "change" can be manipulated as well as exploited, changed the tone of his campaign by changing his emphasis from "outside" to "inside." Joe Biden is the ultimate insider, suspicious of reformers and of anyone who would challenge the perks of insiders who know how Washington works and want to keep it that way.
Politics takes on strange shapes the farther you get from the center of the action. Perspectives change as quickly as Obama's definition of change. It's hard to hear the roar of the distant crowd at Pepsi Center over the roar of the ocean sending foamy whitecaps cascading toward the beach beneath a Carolina moon, making the balmy night of late summer a backdrop of something close to perfection. It's difficult to remember that the end of August marks the end of the beginning of a presidential campaign that is soon to turn ugly and violent.
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