Thursday, October 2, 2008

South Philly for McCain Doorknob Flier Gets Cockblocked by Rolling Stone

I haven't seen them on my block, but Philebrity reports McCain supporters hanging doorknob literature trying to seduce South Philly machismo into voting for McCain. The text reads:


The people of South Philly have long been special to John McCain. He knows the struggles and he knows the strengths of the neighborhood. As he recalled in his first interview after being released from a Vietnamese prison camp:
We had a particularly bad spring and summer in 1969 because there had been an escape at one of the other camps. Our guys carried out a well-prepared plan but were caught. They were Ed Atterberry and John Dramesi. Atterberry was beaten to death after he escaped.
There is no question about it: Dramesi saw Atterberry taken into a room and heard the beating start. Atterberry never came out. Dramesi, if he wasn't such a tough cookie, would probably have been killed too. He's probably one of the toughest guys I have ever met -- from South Philly. "Star and Stripes"

McCain knows South Philly!

Paid for by Al Schmidt
Philebrity credits "South Philly for McCain" as the source of the doorknocker. There may well be a "South Philly for McCain" chapter of the McCain campaign in Philadelphia, but all we could find was this Phillyblog thread about the opening of a McCain office in South Philadelphia. A quick Google of Al Schmidt indicates he's the executive director of the Philadelphia Republican City Committee though isn't listed on the Committee's relatively minimal website. There's this Citypaper profile of Schmidt when he assumed the role of Deputy Director for the city GOP, though most Google search results for him and the Committee turn up the executive director title.

Anyway, the tactic here is obvious. Dramesi's a tough as nails guy from South Philly! A lot of guys of all ages in South Philly like to think of themselves as tough as nails too. So, hey, they ought to identify with Dramesi and back McCain! Right?

Not so fast.

Before we get into it, it should be noted that this account may not have actually come from "Stars and Stripes," but rather an exclusive oral history McCain gave about his POW experience to U.S. News and World Report. Admittedly, that corrections a bit nitpicky, but the original and actual source of the quotation also includes the mention by the article's editor that at the time of the writing, May 1973, McCain had been assigned to attend the Navy War College that August.

It's unclear in the article what contact McCain had, if any with Dramesi as a POW. That said, about a year after this article, Dramesi and McCain do share a moment together. Rolling Stone writer Tim Dickenson uses Dramesi's perspective on that meeting as the framing anecdote for his unflattering profile on McCain, "Make Believe Maverick" (bold emphasis Bostodelphia's):

At Fort McNair, an army base located along the Potomac River in the nation's capital, a chance reunion takes place one day between two former POWs. It's the spring of 1974, and Navy commander John Sidney McCain III has returned home from the experience in Hanoi that, according to legend, transformed him from a callow and reckless youth into a serious man of patriotism and purpose. Walking along the grounds at Fort McNair, McCain runs into John Dramesi, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who was also imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam.

McCain is studying at the National War College, a prestigious graduate program he had to pull strings with the Secretary of the Navy to get into. Dramesi is enrolled, on his own merit, at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in the building next door.

There's a distance between the two men that belies their shared experience in North Vietnam — call it an honor gap. Like many American POWs, McCain broke down under torture and offered a "confession" to his North Vietnamese captors. Dramesi, in contrast, attempted two daring escapes. For the second he was brutalized for a month with daily torture sessions that nearly killed him. His partner in the escape, Lt. Col. Ed Atterberry, didn't survive the mistreatment. But Dramesi never said a disloyal word, and for his heroism was awarded two Air Force Crosses, one of the service's highest distinctions. McCain would later hail him as "one of the toughest guys I've ever met."

On the grounds between the two brick colleges, the chitchat between the scion of four-star admirals and the son of a prizefighter turns to their academic travels; both colleges sponsor a trip abroad for young officers to network with military and political leaders in a distant corner of the globe.

"I'm going to the Middle East," Dramesi says. "Turkey, Kuwait, Lebanon, Iran."

"Why are you going to the Middle East?" McCain asks, dismissively.

"It's a place we're probably going to have some problems," Dramesi says.

"Why? Where are you going to, John?"

"Oh, I'm going to Rio."

"What the hell are you going to Rio for?"

McCain, a married father of three, shrugs.

"I got a better chance of getting laid."

Dramesi, who went on to serve as chief war planner for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and commander of a wing of the Strategic Air Command, was not surprised. "McCain says his life changed while he was in Vietnam, and he is now a different man," Dramesi says today. "But he's still the undisciplined, spoiled brat that he was when he went in."

Later in the profile, Dramesi makes it clear he wasn't interested in removing any honor from McCain's service, though does find the celebration of McCain's POW experience a bit much, given that Dramesi doesn't find McCain an exceptional example of POW conduct. That aside, it's clear Al Schmidt and his South Philadelphia operators pulled a boner in choosing Dramesi as an icon to draw macho South Philly into McCain's camp. Dramesi clearly isn't interested in being a McCain campaign surrogate, so the only really lesson South Philly can take from Dramesi's character is this: Man up, and call out the McCain campaign on its bullshit. McCain might say he knows South Philly, but South Philly should know McCain is full of it.


lakeside said...

This is a direct quote from a book Dramesi wrote in 1975 entitled "Code of Honor", W.W. Norton & Co. I found this in a local library. Here is what he said about POW McCain, page 191: " I met white-haired John McCain for the first time. We shook hands and hugged as though we were longtime friends. The magnetism of two men with like attitudes and respect for one another was easily felt.Most of the time he moved around on a crutch.He had a broken arm and a damaged knee, yet he was able to get up on stools and devise the most ingenious ways of communicating. He was always on the move, smiling and waving to people he knew were watching and disregarding the guards' harassment. The sight of the lively John McCain was enough to lift your spirits for the rest of the week. For the weak he was an inspiration; for the strong a constant reminder to keep trying. It was not the North Vietnamese who impelled John's smiling and laughing. He had a smile for all Americans and a disdain for the North Vietnamese. He was thin and not a big man,but there was no doubt John had heart." His opinion of McCain seemed pretty high in the past.

Anonymous said...

Nice quote lakeside. I am surprised that there aren't any other comments on this page. Maybe people have finally gotten as tired as I have about all of the McCain bashing. It's sad to see that so many people would be so horrible to this honorable man. I saw his biography on the BIO channel, there were no lies, no theories, (such as the above article is slanted towards) just straight talk.

check out this video about Obama and Kenya, scary.

Cheesesteak the Impaler said...

Your YouTube link's broken, bub. Real scary, not. I don't know how Dickenson's article is "theory," since all it does is dig deeper into the "facts" of McCain's experience and comes to a unfavorable view of the Senator's leadership ability.

Lakeside, Dramesi piled praise on a lot of his fellow POWs in Code of Honor, more than a scant back patting paragraph for quite a few. Not surprising, anyone who had been in the Hanoi Hilton or any other camp would have nothing but praise for other POWs when writing so soon after their imprisonment. A generation later, you can expect a more frank assessment.

Yes, so many people have gotten tired of the criticism of McCain that the polls have actually swung the election almost solidly in Obama's favor. Straight talk, my friend. Out of curiosity what, precisely, is horrible about anyone's treatment of McCain?