A NOUN, A VERB, AND P.O.W….. After the McCain campaign responded to yesterday’s flap over the senator’s untold number of homes by emphasizing his background as a former prisoner of war, I started wondering just how often Team McCain plays this card.

Perusing the last couple of weeks, I found four examples: 1) in response to questions about McCain’s marital infidelities; 2) in response to criticism of McCain’s healthcare plan; 3) in response to a question about the first thing that comes to his mind when he thinks of Pittsburgh; and 4) in response to allegations he may have heard the questions in advance of Rick Warren’s recent candidate forum.

The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein went a little further, noting that McCain also emphasized his background as a prisoner of war while railing against earmarks and again when talking about his taste in music.

After all of this, for the first time, McCain is actually starting to face some media push-back.

Once a remarkable and respected aspect of his biography, John McCain stands on the brink of “trivializing” his past as a prisoner of war, which has become a “crutch in the campaign,” Newsweek’s Howard Fineman declared Thursday.

“I think they are going to it way too many times. It’s the original story that defined John McCain, that still when you read it in his book ‘Faith of my Fathers,’ when you read about it in ‘The Nightingale’s Song,’ you can’t help but have admiration and respect for the guy. And I think he wisely for many years stayed away from it as a political tool, he really did. But now it not only defines him, it’s become a crutch in the campaign. And I think he is in danger of trivializing it. By the time they get to the convention in St. Paul, there might not be much of it left to use.”

It’s not just Fineman. Time’s Ana Marie Cox went so far as to argue that McCain’s over-reliance on this is “bordering on irrational.”

Greg Sargent summarized the problem nicely: “[I]f you print too much currency, it devalues it. The McCain campaign is cranking out all these bills with a little ‘McCain as P.O.W.’ logo on it and is trying to use them to buy their way out of every controversy that comes along. Pretty soon the McCain team’s money won’t be good anywhere.”

Quite right. I’d just add that the hard-sell wouldn’t be quite so awkward if McCain didn’t go around saying that he’s reluctant to talk about his Vietnam experiences.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.