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An Anniversary to Remember for Both the Boomer and the POW


McCain in Hanoi; Hillary Rodham delivering the 1969 student commencement address at Wellesley College. (John McCain 2008; Wellesley College Archives).

They are the Sixties bookends of the 2008 campaign, one a college protester during Vietnam, the other a decorated naval officer who flew combat missions in the skies over Hanoi. On Friday, their biographies will intersect in a powerful evocation of a decade that long has shaped the politics of the country.

It is an accident of history that Hillary Clinton's 60th birthday will fall on the 40th anniversary of the day John McCain was shot down over Vietnam. Today they campaign for the White House as respectful rivals but across a vast cultural chasm that still divides the country.

It is ironic perhaps that their shared anniversaries come at the end of a week in which McCain has tweaked Clinton over one of the great symbols of that decade, the Woodstock rock concert in upstate New York, which McCain described in last Sunday's debate as a "cultural and pharmaceutical event" that he missed because he "was tied up." Clinton's support for $1 million in taxpayer dollars to help fund a Woodstock memorial is the subject of McCain's new campaign ad.

Baby Boomer Clinton will mark her big birthday with a big celebration, a fundraising bash Thursday night featuring rocker Elvis Costello that will include friends and political contributors and will be hosted by her husband.

McCain, more than a decade older and therefore not sharing the sensibilities of the Boomer generation, will not celebrate as much as commemorate the anniversary of his capture. He plans to campaign Friday in Iowa with Bud Day, with whom he shared a prison cell at the Hanoi Hilton.

McCain's life was forever shaped by Oct. 26, 1967 and the subsequent six years he spent as a prisoner of war. He still carries the physical scars from his torture and exudes the indomitable spirit that kept him alive. So too was Clinton's life changed by those years. She was 20 at the time and in midstream of a political evolution that would take her from Goldwater Girl to liberal activist to the most prominent woman in the Democratic Party.

[Photo]
McCain with Nixon in 1973

When McCain was finally released from prison in the spring of 1973, he met President Nixon at a White House reception for the POWs, resulting in a famous photo of their handshake. By the end of that year, Clinton, then a young law school graduate, had been recruited to join the staff of the House Judiciary Committee for its Watergate impeachment investigation.

To many Republicans, Clinton and her husband remain symbols of all that was wrong with the Sixties. One need only to recall the speech Marilyn Quayle delivered at the 1992 Republican convention in Houston. "Not everyone demonstrated, dropped out, took drugs, joined in the sexual revolution or dodged the draft," she told her Astrodome audience that week.

McCain has never engaged in such rhetoric. When it comes to Vietnam, he has sought to be a conciliator. He developed genuine friendships with some of the fiercest opponents of the war and pushed for normalization of relations with Vietnam at a time when many conservatives were opposed. He gave aid and comfort to President Bill Clinton on that issue during Clinton's presidency.

Today he says of Hillary Clinton, "I like her. I respect her." He also says she is a liberal and he a proud conservative.

As fellow senators, McCain and Clinton have traveled overseas together, once sharing a bottle of vodka with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in a memorable night of senatorial camaraderie that seemed to cut against all the stereotypes. Their trips included one to Iraq.

At one time, they even came close to seeing eye-to-eye on Iraq, this being when both were critics of the administration's management of the conflict and of then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Today they are as divided over Iraq as they once were over Vietnam, only now it comes in the context of a high-stakes presidential campaign.

As Clinton shifted left to accommodate the views of her party's base and embraced the politics of withdrawal, McCain dug in as the most visible supporter of sending more troops into Baghdad and elsewhere. They are poles apart over what may be the most important foreign policy issue of the campaign.

They began the 2008 campaign being viewed as likely rivals in the general election. McCain's star has since faded as Clinton's has burned brighter. That they could yet end up in direct competition for the White House is of course possible, but fewer envision that today than did 10 months ago.

What kind of campaign would that be? I asked McCain that the other day. "I hope it would sound like a respectable debate based on philosophical differences, which are significant," he said. "For example, she voted to cut off funding to the troops in Iraq after it was clear we were going to stay. I think that that's something that ought to be debated. I think that her view of mandates for health care as opposed to mine is a issue that ought to be debated."

Clinton and McCain may never share that presidential campaign platform, never meet in a general election debate. But on Friday their names will be intertwined in the headlines and in the chatter of talk television, two veterans of the cultural and political clashes of the Sixties now symbols in their own right seeking to lead a still-divided nation.

--Dan Balz

By Washington Post editors  |  October 25, 2007; 1:50 PM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , Dan Balz's Take  
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Comments

Mitt: Marijauna is a gateway drug. LOL. If it is, it is only because it is the least dangerous ILLEGAL drug available. Make it legal and it wouldn't be the gateway to illegal drug use.

Posted by: dcuptoejuice | October 29, 2007 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Mc Cain did not field a question....he introduced the topic of the Woodstock museum on his own. What he said was more choreographed than the average Broadway show. He's old (72), tired,and pretty unenlightened. Thanks for the service, John,and please do what you told everyone to do.....buy the record....and enjoy it in your retirement.

Posted by: soonipi6 | October 26, 2007 6:47 PM | Report abuse

McCain's "tied up" remark was great. I have new respect for his ability to think on his feet.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | October 26, 2007 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Have we still not gotten past Vietnam, jeuss christ. No wonder most young people aren't interested in politics, we're still rehashing the debate over a war that ended 33 years ago.

How about we listen to what and where the candidates stand on more important wars, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Posted by: thegribbler1 | October 26, 2007 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Most New Yorkers will tell you that Hillary Clinton has not done much of anything significant for them as their senator of New York. And she has not done much of anything significance for the country either. She has however filled her pockets full of special interest and lobbyist money and she does indeed have the blood of our troops on her hands since she authorized Bush to send our beloved troops to Iraq. Don't be insane, do not place a vote for Hillary Clinton, she by no means deserves to be the next President.

To determine how Mr. Obama is doing in the race, go by actual fact, not polls. Political polls this year are quite unreliable indicators -- especially in regard to Mr. Obama's success.

The truth is that Mr. Obama is running a record setting campaign. He is making history.

-- He has raised more money to date than any other candidate for President has ever done.

-- He has the most organized and invloved grassroots campaign going.

-- He is drawing more people to his rallys than any other candidate, probably in history.

-- He has the broadest voter support than any other candidate in the race. He has Independents, Republicans, Democrats, and people of all races and ages planning to vote for him in their primaries.

So you can't go by those unreliable national polls being done, you have got to go by the actual facts to see who is actually winning this race. Based on the facts -- Barack Obama is winning.

Obama '08

Posted by: AndreaT1 | October 25, 2007 10:24 PM | Report abuse

showze2 :

1) Conservatives do not "hate" Hillary, they fear what she will try to do to this country.

2) Hillary is as far left as they come. She wrote her senior thesis on, and was a fervent disciple of Saul Alinsky. And based on her own stated plans, she's a full-blown Socialist, waiting for her chance to remake this country in her own image.

Posted by: wash | October 25, 2007 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Conservatives never got over the sixties. The Conservative movement to this day is essentially a reaction to the sixties. Its the reason, that conservatives are increasingly irrelevant, 40 years later in the 21st century.

Posted by: showze2 | October 25, 2007 7:53 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: jabailo | October 25, 2007 03:46 PM :
"The hippie revolution was not a revolution against America -- it was a revolution for America by a lot of people who wanted to be let into the system."


Exactly, but then first the drug dealers and finally the Socialists took over that revolution.


Posted by: wash | October 25, 2007 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Why all the rehashing involving past and DEAD Ex Presidents. Nixon isn't quite a role model the GOP should be proud of. Speaking of not being proud of Replican Presidents have you noticed our Ugly present Pres. lately. He either looks like an unhappy and frustrated jerk, or his famous SNEAR AND FEAR TACTICS ARE GETTING MORE INTENSE. Turn our food into Oil, get Castro mad enough to try to sink this SOB and turn Iran into a deadly enemy with Putin in Iran's corner and let the world Burn while Ceaser(GWB) fiddles!

Posted by: LOONYBIN2000 | October 25, 2007 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Being a prisoner is not in it's self heroic, also being a young woman working to grow with age is not flipflopping. What have they done lately, what do they espouse for now and the future is the test. Under that test HC is head and shoulders over MaC. Age is also a factor and MaC has to much of it for the rigors of being Pres. Party is VERY important. MaC will pick from the same crowd that Bushie rummaged through to bring us Gonzo and "TurdFlower". Hill will pick a better class of appointees. MaC will bomb Iran cause he can, Hill will if she must.
And so on.

Posted by: jtill10610 | October 25, 2007 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Good for you scribbly. I like what you had to say. We need to understand one another in this country, bridge the "chasms" this article discusses.

highwayscribery

Posted by: highwayscribery1 | October 25, 2007 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Why do the conservatives hate Hillary? She was not a sixties radical, not even close. She is just a little left of mainstream America, a moderate, a christian, and a family woman. So, why do the conservatives hate her? conservative hatred of Hillary is irrational. Can someone explain? i never figured it out, other than attributing their hatred to typical conservative tribalism.

Posted by: showze2 | October 25, 2007 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Is it possible that the sacrifice of Vietnam war vets and the cultural significance of Woodstock are BOTH highly valid and important for America in 2008? Didn't Mike Huckabee worship Jimi Hendrix as a teenager? Only the far right and the press will make an issue out of this false dichotomy.

Posted by: scribbly | October 25, 2007 5:17 PM | Report abuse

I am sick and tired of reading and hearing from the candidates themselves and from the conflict- and controversy-obsessed news media about the POW past of war hero McCain and the post-9/11 competency of 9/11 hero Giuliani. Neither one had a choice at the time--McCain was in captivity--certainly not by choice and Giuliani was the mayor of New York City with low approval ratings.
I think a better comparison would have been one between McCain who did serve and Giuliani who did not. But beating up on the female candidate is not only the favorite sport of male presidential contenders on both sides but of reporters and talk show figures as well.
Hope it comes to haunt all of them,
http://www.reflectivepundit.com/reflectivepundit/

Posted by: bn1123 | October 25, 2007 4:58 PM | Report abuse

(* smirk *)
quote: McCain, more than a decade older and therefore not sharing the sensibilities of the Boomer generation)

The author must be another navel gazing boomer born between 1945 and 1965 (twenty years).

(* rolls eyes *)

Posted by: rodstudwell | October 25, 2007 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Dan Balz is really a pretty balanced political reporter usually . As an aging hippie who still misses the good old days of "make love not war", I think Dan was trying to find some new aspect of each candidate's biography as it contrasts with the culture that produced and informed them. I can see where some might find fault with an over interpretation of this, but it is relevant.

Posted by: rdklingus | October 25, 2007 4:17 PM | Report abuse

The MSM want Hilary so they write us vs. them articles. They want the culture wars to continue because agitation sells papers. It was a complicated time. The hippies were right about a lot of things (environment, healthy eating, simpler lifestyle). They were wrong about some things (excessive drug use, free love). The right wing was wrong about a lot of things too. Protesters are not America haters. The war was a lie, McNamara admitted it. People who protested were just a patriotic and loyal as those who trusted their government, followed orders and went. It's over. If either Clinton or McCain are the nominees, the insanity continues. Leave them both in the Senate and elect Obama. There's serious work to be done and we don't need to be fighting about last century's insanity.

Posted by: thebobbob | October 25, 2007 4:05 PM | Report abuse


Woodstock was also one of the most innovative "business" events of the 20th century.

Yeah, it was a "free concert"; anticipating the Open Source GNU movement, but it generated tons of revenue in spinoff businesses, album sales and PR.

The hippie revolution was not a revolution against America -- it was a revolution for America by a lot of people who wanted to be let into the system.

Posted by: jabailo | October 25, 2007 3:46 PM | Report abuse

***"Not everyone demonstrated, dropped out, took drugs, joined in the sexual revolution or dodged the draft," she told her Astrodome audience that week.***

hahaha -- how funny that marilyn quayle's quote surely reflects george w. bush's behavior during that period more than it does hillary clinton's.

btw, dan, what were YOU doing during this period.

Posted by: mycomment | October 25, 2007 3:39 PM | Report abuse

"It is ironic perhaps that their shared anniversaries come at the end of a week in which McCain has tweaked Clinton over one of the great symbols of that decade, the Woodstock rock concert in upstate New York, which McCain described in last Sunday's debate as a "cultural and pharmaceutical event" that he missed because he "was tied up." Clinton's support for $1 million in taxpayer dollars to help fund a Woodstock memorial is the subject of McCain's new campaign ad.

... "Not everyone demonstrated, dropped out, took drugs, joined in the sexual revolution or dodged the draft," she told her Astrodome audience that week.

McCain has never engaged in such rhetoric. When it comes to Vietnam, he has sought to be a conciliator..."

Until now, I guess. Of course McCain will happily lick the bathroom floor if it gets him the nomination, so this is of a piece.

Funny, for a guy who never tires of telling us how he doesn't like to bring up his Vietnam experiences, he sure never tires of bringing up his Vietnam experiences, does he?


By the way, is Mr Balz looking for a supplemental career in television? I'm just trying to figure how he has suddenly lost his professional ethics when Sen Clinton is the subject of his article. Perhaps he is hoping for more TV exposure and everyone knows bashing the Clintons is a free ticket to play Hardball.

Posted by: zukermand | October 25, 2007 3:12 PM | Report abuse

It beats me to understand the media's persistent emphasis on the past of the presidential candidates.
Evolution of the species is an unassailable fact.Could not a human being change entirely in his or her personality over the years.The cruel emperor Ashoka, after the massacre he inflicted in the war on Kalinga became Ashoka the great promoting Buddhism where Hinduism was ruling the roost.
The media should inform the reading and thinking public and the future voters about the present repeat present potentialities of the candidates concerned rather than deal with their wild oats years.

Posted by: cerebral1 | October 25, 2007 2:56 PM | Report abuse

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