Andrew Sullivan is shocked (shocked!) that anyone could think that his questioning of McCain's cross in the dirt story could be characterized as "Swiftboating":
It's worth noting that pursuing the cross-in-the-dirt evangelical parable as it might have happened to McCain is in no way impugning anyone's war record. No one is disputing in any way what McCain did in Vietnam, his heroism, his sacrifice or any jot and tittle of his combat in arms and time in captivity.
Uh huh. McCain tells a story of his war time experience meant to illuminate his character. Sully questions that story but he is not "disputing in any way what McCain did in Vietnam". Hmm, I guess he is merely disputing what a Vietnamese guard did, and what McCain remembers. Quel difference! Or as Sister Toldjah rejoins "Yeah. And my writing this post? It’s not part of my blog."
Byron York is a calming beacon of light:
Team McCain reshaped and altered the utterly believable story, Sullivan says, to appeal to the evangelical base, beginning in the 2000 campaign. (And we all know how hard John "agents of intolerance" McCain was working to sweet-talk evangelicals back in 2000.) Anyway, Exhibit A in this is a McCain campaign ad telling the cross-in-the-dirt story. In the ad, we see video of someone making a cross in dirt — using a stick. And McCain had said the North Vietnamese guard used his sandal. Aha!
I threw in my two cents about the bitter "stick versus sandal" schism in comments to this post:
However - a sandal is also a lot less visually interesting to film, at least in a quick ad (What do you show, some guy shuffling his feet?). Creative license.
I have a very hard time believing that Sully wouldn't be offering these rationales himself if he were sincerely interested in sorting this out. [Long time McCain aide and co-author Mark Salter goes with "artistic license". OK, then, show us the license...]
As to why McCain didn't tell the story himself in 1973 - a commenter suggested that maybe ratting out a Christian sympathizer among the prison guards struck McCain as a bad idea.
If I may dare to play armchair psychologist — one point of the “cross in dirt” story is McCain’s recognition of and reconciliation to the humanity of his often brutal captors. My guess is that in May of 1973 he had not fully worked through his issues with the North Vietnamese.
Well. Let the Switfboating continue!
TRYING TO GRASP THE SUBTLETIES OF "SULLYBOATING": Let's see if I get Sullivan's argument - McCain's memory of a cross in the dirt is not a story about his courage or in his military record, and he may or may not have invented it in 2000 for political purposes; therefore, critics are not engaging in "Swiftboating" when they pick at it.
Well, then, what about folks, including the Swiftboaters, who questioned Kerry's "Christmas in Cambodia" story? That incident was not in Kerry's record (since it never happened!); he had not received a mdeal for it; and he seemd to have invented it for political purposes (e.g., in a Senate speech in 1986 Kerry's point was that he had special moral authority to denounce a secret Iran-Contra war since he had been a participant/victim of Nixon's secret war in Cambodia in 1968. Please ignore the fact that Nixon was inaugurated in January 1969.)
By Sullivan's new standard the Swiftboaters were not Swiftboating Kerry on this topic, since they were only questioning a politically motivated story and not "real" conduct in Vietnam. A fine distinction - can we call this "Sullyboating"?
Pretty complicated! In my world, if a politician wants to run on his record, critics should be free to examine it, and take the consequences. In Sully's world, the rules are less clear, but let me guess at a summary - it is OK to attack Republicans.