In the Arena

McCain’s Radical Pal

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One of the ways I got to know John McCain a decade or so ago was through a mutual friend—a fellow by the name of David Ifshin. I knew David through Democratic Party politics. He was a stalwart moderate, a member of the Democratic Leadership Council and an occasional adviser to Bill Clinton. Our wives were, and are, close friends. But McCain’s relationship with David was far more interesting.

Ifshin, you see, had been a vehement anti-Vietnam radical. He had even gone to Hanoi at the height at the war and given a speech denouncing the American pilots dropping bombs on North Vietnamese civilians as “war criminals.” The speech was broadcast repeatedly in the Hanoi Hilton, where McCain was being held captive. More than a few people thought Ifshin was guilty of treason.
After McCain was tortured and broken by the North Vietnamese and signed a confession of “criminality,” he was so ashamed that he attempted suicide—and later made a vow that he wouldn’t question the decisions or statements made by anybody else about the war. And so, when he arrived in the U.S. after his released and was asked about the antiwar protesters by Life magazine, he refused to condemn them. He kept to this policy, more or less, until 1984 when, as an ambitious young politician, he was asked by the Reagan campaign to deliver a speech slamming one of Walter Mondale’s top advisors—his campaign counsel, David Ifshin—for going to Hanoi, and giving aid and comfort to the enemy during wartime..
McCain gave the speech but, he later told me, felt great remorse about it. “I didn’t know the guy. I’d never met him,” he told me.
McCain and Ifshin met the following year at the annual AIPAC convention in Washington—and there is some disagreement what happened next: Both men later told me that the other initiated the conversation by apologizing. “McCain said, ‘I’m sorry I gave that speech. I didn’t even know you’” Ifshin told me. “And I said to him, ‘You’re apologizing to me?’ I’ve been wanting to apologize to you for years. I feel so terrible about that speech I gave in Hanoi.”
The two became fast friends. They did charitable work together in Vietnam and elsewhere. When Bill Clinton went to the Vietnam Memorial for Memorial Day 1993, both Ifshin and McCain were there, too. And when McCain saw a sign in the crowd—“Clinton: Tell Us About Ifshin”—McCain went to the floor of the Senate the next day and said, “Let me tell you about David Ifshin…David is a friend of mine.”
And when David was diagnosed with cancer, John McCain was there for him. And when David died, McCain gave one of the eulogies at his funeral. His voice broke when he said, “David taught me a lot about the meaning of courage.”

I’ve told this story many times, especially to veterans groups, because it says so much about the importance of forgiveness, of reconciliation. But, in the heat of the campaign, I’d forgotten about it…until the past weeks, when Obama’s passing relationship with the radical Bill Ayers—not nearly as close as McCain’s friendship with David Ifshin—became news, and has been relentlessly exploited by John McCain and his campaign, most recently in robo-calls that flagrantly distort the nature of Obama’s relationship with Ayers.
If you want to know why I—like so many others–held John McCain in such high regard for so long, it had a lot to do with David Ifshin. And if you want to know why my opinion of him has plummeted, it has something to do with William Ayers.

It Gets Worse: McCain accuses Obama of socialism, even though his own health care tax credit is refundable–and therefore a distribution of wealth downward…Of course, McCain has been on the record for months–years, actually–in favor of redistributing wealth…upward, toward the wealthy, on the theory that it will “trickle down.”