August 19, 2008

One Day in the Life of Barack Barackovitch

Hatched by Dafydd

After the Saddleback fiasco for Barack H. Obama, the first meme floated by Obama surrogates (in particular by Andrea Mitchell) was that the only way John S. McCain could have sounded so prepared, so confident, and so well informed was that -- he must have cheated.

He was outside the "cone of silence;" he heard the questions beforehand; he had an unfair advantage because Obama had to go first. But that has been pretty definitively debunked; guest blogger DRJ, for one, at Patterico's Pontifications has a timeline that pretty much rules out that possibility.

So now the desperate Democrats have floated a new meme: McCain's "cross in the dirt" story is "hauntingly like" a story told by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. McCain stole it! It never happened! Sure, John McCain may have done better answering the questions... but all that is negated because he's a serial plagiarist. After all -- didn't he also steal Jackson Brown's "Running on Empty," and didn't he insert a few words from a Wikipedia entry into some speech?

(Of course, if Barack Obama selects Joe Biden as his running mate, the accusation of plagiarism might be quietly dropped.)

Well. Let's take a look at this charge...

In the first place, when did this Solzhenitsyn story appear? It dates from a 1997 article, but it is not even a direct quotation from Solzhenitsyn; instead, it's a retelling by Fr. Luke Veronis, "an American priest serving in Albania," of a moment when Solzhenitsyn had hit a nadir during his long incarceration and had given up all hope:

Laying his shovel on the ground, he slowly walked to a crude work-site bench and sat down. He knew that at any moment a guard would order him to stand up, and when he failed to respond, the guard would beat him to death, probably with his own shovel. He had seen it happen to many other prisoners.

As he waited, head down, he felt a presence. Slowly, he lifted his eyes and saw a skinny, old prisoner squat down next to him. The man said nothing. Instead, he drew a stick through the ground at Solzhenitsyn’s feet, tracing the sign of the Cross. The man then got back up and returned to his work.

As Solzhenitsyn stared at the sign of the Cross, his entire perspective changed. He knew that he was only one man against the all-powerful Soviet empire. Yet in that moment, he knew that there was something greater than the evil that he saw in the prison, something greater than the Soviet Union. He knew that the hope of all mankind was represented in that simple Cross. And through the power of the Cross, anything was possible.

Note the most significant difference: In the Solzhenitsyn story, it's not a guard but rather another prisoner who makes the sign of the cross. If McCain stole the story, why would he change the actor from prisoner to guard? After all, if he's trying to show the fortitude they all displayed, it makes more sense if the prisoners themselves keep each other alive and hopeful, as in his other story about his fellow prisoner who sewed a small American flag out of scraps of cloth.

Second, much is made (e.g., by Andrew Sullivan) that in McCain's first full account of his captivity, written in 1973, he doesn't mention this story. But of course, one could equally well note that in Solzhenitsyn's first full accounting of his story, the Gulag Archipelago, also first published in 1973 (in French; the first English version dates from 1974, I believe), he evidently neglects to tell his own "cross in the dirt" story as well. Lot of that going around.

The story does not come from the Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn's seminal work about his many years in the Soviet political prison system. If someone can find this story there, please let me know, and I will correct this post. I don't think the book is available online in a searchable format (it's probably still in copyright), and I have no intention of thumbing through each page of both volumes of the book to find a single short anecdote. But nobody so far has claimed that the account appears in that work... just in the Veronis article.

Various liberal commentators insist that McCain first told his own story in 1999, two years after the Veronis article. But what they mean is that 1999 was when he first used it publicly as part of a campaign stump speech. But we have a very different claim by one of McCain's fellow POWs, Orson Swindle, held in the Hanoi Hilton at the same time, sometimes in the same cell with McCain:

"I recall John telling that story when we first got together in 1971, when were talking about every conceivable thing that had ever happened to us when we were in prison" Swindle told me a few minutes ago. "Most of us had been kept apart or in small groups. Then, in 1970, they moved us into the big cell. And when we all got to see each other and talk to each other directly, instead of tapping through walls, we had 24 hours a day, seven days a week to talk to each other, and we shared stories. I vaguely recall that story being told, among other stories." [1971 would be 26 years before the Fr. Veronis story first appeared, and even three years before the Gulag Archipelago itself was published in English, just in case the new claim is that the story appears there. I find it unlikely that McCain would have obtained a review copy while in the Hanoi Hilton.]

"I remember it from prison," Swindle continued. "There were several stories similar to that in which guards -- a very few, I might add -- showed compassion to the prisoners. It was rare, and I never met one, but some of the guys did."

So now, for the Democrats to maintain this meme -- vital to proving that Obama really won the Saddleback non-debate, no matter what ignorant, uninformed voters may have thought -- they must pursue one of the following options:

  • Orson Swindle, who is campaigning for McCain, is a big, fat liar. McCain never told him any such story. Swindle, like his name, is just lying to save McCain from the consequences of the senator's own serial prevarications, lies, slanders, and vicious Swift-Boating of the One, "the leader that God has blessed us with at this time," as Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 93%) said last Sunday.
  • Swindle is simply addled and confused, probably dating to the days of his nightmarish confinement. He's just like Ronald Reagan, whom we now know began suffering the symptoms of his unusually slow-progressing Alzheimer's disease around 1947, when he became president of the Screen Actors Guild and developed an incomprehensible loathing of Communists. Swindle is senile and befuddled and, well, he's just a bundle of nerves. He can't help it... he probably really does hallucinate that McCain told him that story in 1971. But of course, we know that's impossible -- because Solzhenitsyn himself didn't recount the original until 1997. [The wheels on the bus go round and round...]
  • All right, so maybe Swindle is right and McCain really did tell it to him and other prisoners in 1971. But all that proves is that McCain was a serial fabricator even back then. Look at all the other lies that he has told through the years: That the surge is a success, that an embryo is a person from the moment of conception, that we should lower taxes... the man is obviously a pathological liar, and you don't become one of those overnight. Therefore, the evidence is overwhelming that McCain was simply lying about that, air quotes, "cross in the dirt" story as long as 37 years ago. How can even Republicans possibly elect such a corrupt, Bible-thumping Nazi to the presidency?

So, Democrats, what's it to be then, eh? Which explanation do you pick to keep the Meme Team alive?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 19, 2008, at the time of 3:46 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

Well, obviously Mr. Solzhenitsyn stole used John McCain's story! Duh! I mean, isn't it obvious? And just as we punished Pakistan for passing along Nuclear Bomb making technology, we should punish McCain for passing along this lie to Mr. Solzhnitsyn!!!1!

After all, if McCain hadn't forced ol' Alex to use this fabricated story, this whole subject would be moot. Therefor, McCain is once again shown to be a bully AND a liar, and I wouldn't doubt that his known temper issues had much to do with both Solzhenitsyn's decision to USE the story, as well as his confusion in ascribing it to the wrong character...


The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 19, 2008 9:41 PM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

The Obamaton reaction to Obama doing poorly shows so much about them, and him.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 20, 2008 7:49 PM

The following hissed in response by: streeter

I know the man that made the AMERICAN FLAG out of cloth at the "hilton". I know him because I dated his daughter through her collegiate years and had to answer to him on a regular basis. We have remained friends for over two decades and I could tell you exactly what he thinks of McCain but I won't. Instead I will tell a story.

We boarded an elevator with a very large neighbor of his on our way to dinner one evening.
This neighbor was a very large woman who informed us that she was headed to a weight loss camp that was very expensive and the regimine included staration. The Lt. Col. responded quickly that for half the price he could make her lose all the weight and she could even get stale fish stew and rice.
Had to be there. It was a classic.

The above hissed in response by: streeter [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 21, 2008 8:10 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


I could tell you exactly what he thinks of McCain but I won't.

You imply that he hates McCain, and that there is a story attached; now that you've done that much, don't keep us in suspenders... drop the other leaf!


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 21, 2008 9:16 PM

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