Tuesday, September 30, 2008

KS: As VP debate looms: remembering Admiral Stockdale

I have to admit, this resonanted with me. I remember this debate and that I had no idea who Admiral Stockdale was - I just followed the media circus. It wasn't until years later that I learned about his record and his heroism. We need to always remember that those running for public office are not caricatures of media projection, but real people deserving our fair hearing and consideration.

From Kathy Shaidle at five feet of fury [non-italic boldface mine]:

His son writes:
Anyone over 30 will probably remember the spectacle. (...)

My father, a bona fide war hero, was trying to adapt to a format of discourse utterly foreign to him.

The debate hall was noisy, hot and nasty. My mom took a bad fall just before coming out to sit down. She, the strongest woman I know, broke into tears as she was overcome with emotion. Her four sons tried to console her.

Dad entered the race reluctantly, and only due to the deep gratitude he had for the aid Mr. Perot extended to him and my mom while he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

As everyone saw that evening, he was not a politician. He was a fighter-pilot ace, a Medal of Honor recipient, and a wonderful dad and human being. During his eight years as a POW, he slit his scalp and beat his face with a stool to prevent his captors from parading him in the streets for propaganda purposes. He gave starving men his food rations when he himself was starving. And at home, after his release in 1973, he was a respected leader, scholar and writer. He considered himself a philosopher.

I watched that debate too. I knew nothing about Stockdale; in fact, I don't even remember him being introduced as "Admiral". Not that that would have mattered to me. I was still a vestigal lefty, military-hating peacenik, although just barely.

I squirmed in my seat as Stockdale struggled to fit his answers into the tiny allotment of time, and the audience snickered.

Somehow, the next day, amid all the vicious mockery of Stockdale's performance, and of Perot for selecting him, I learned about the Admiral's past as a brave POW, and his current life as a college professor. Perot must have said as much in an angry post-debate interview.

That evening, my then-best friend (now my key ex-9/11 friend, as I call them) came over. She repeated all the late night talk show hosts' jokes about Stockdale, and -- to her surprise, and mine -- I exploded:
"Don't you know this guy was the leader of his fellow POWs, who kept them going all that time? Don't you know the guy teaches, like, rhetoric or something at some Ivy League college? Jesus, we complain that politicians speak in soundbites and when someone comes along who doesn't, we complain about that! "

Chastened, my friend admitted she hadn't known or thought of any of that. And why would she have? In those pre-internet days, that's just how it was for most people. . .

Some people call themselves "9/11 conservatives" but I guess I'm more a "Stockdale" conservative myself. It had nothing to do with anything Stockdale said that night -- any policy ideas or great philosophical notions (which he wasn't able to articulate in the format anyway...)

It was the reaction of kneejerk liberals and leftists to Stockdale's performance that turned me off -- just as most people join or leave religions based on [ed. not] upon apologetics and theology but upon the behaviour of other believers. . .

Read it all.

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