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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Did It Happen To Another Guy?

Andrew Sullivan

Here's McCain, in his now-famous "agents of intolerance" speech, recounting the Good Samaritan story as if it happened to an anonymous American POW:

Many years ago a scared American prisoner of war in Vietnam was tied in torture ropes by his tormentors and left alone in an empty room to suffer through the night. Later in the evening a guard he had never spoken to entered the room and silently loosened the ropes to relieve his suffering. Just before morning, that same guard came back and re-tightened the ropes before his less humanitarian comrades returned. He never said a word to the grateful prisoner, but some months later, on a Christmas morning, as the prisoner stood alone in the prison courtyard, the same good Samaritan walked up to him and stood next to him for a few moments. Then with his sandal, the guard drew a cross in the dirt. Both prisoner and guard both stood wordlessly there for a minute or two, venerating the cross, until the guard rubbed it out and walked away.

That is my faith; the faith that unites and never divides; the faith that bridges unbridgeable gaps in humanity.

You can see how this story moved McCain as it would move anyone. You can see why McCain would use it against the abusers of religion on the Christianist right. But why, under those circumstances, did he not say that this prisoner of war was himself? It could be explained by literary indirectness. But it would have served his purposes far more effectively in the first person, and he had already told the story in his 1999 book. Might it be that McCain knew that these stories had become mashed up, that Salter had enhanced the anecdote, and felt queasy owning the story in his own words? Salter had already exploited McCain's war record in ways McCain might once have balked at. Could this violation of a sacred moment have pricked his conscience a little too much? Or could including it in a very contentious speech have led him to be more careful about his sourcing?

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