The P.O.W. card makes a comeback

THE P.O.W. CARD MAKES A COMEBACK…. Over the summer, it seemed John McCain and his campaign would reference his background as a prisoner of war during Vietnam in response to almost any question. Eventually, there was some pushback against the exploitation. Newsweek’s Howard Fineman said McCain stood on the brink of “trivializing” his past, using it as a “crutch in the campaign.” Time’s Ana Marie Cox went so far as to argue that McCain’s over-reliance on this was “bordering on irrational.”

Soon after, the Republican campaign dialed the talk back, and we stopped hearing about this on a daily basis.

This morning, it made a comeback.

Defending the aggressive campaign rhetoric at recent McCain-Palin events against criticisms made by Rep. John Lewis, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis raised John McCain’s history as a POW on Sunday.

“Look, Chris, I think we have to take this very seriously,” Davis told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace. “And the kind of comments made by Congressman Lewis, a big Obama supporter, are reprehensible. The idea that you’re going to compare John McCain to the kinds of hate spread in the ’60s by somebody like George Wallace is outrageous. Where was John McCain when George Wallace was spreading his hate and segregationist policies at that time? He was in a Vietnam prison camp serving his country with his civil rights also denied.”

John Lewis’ point was that the McCain campaign has fostered “an atmosphere of hate” and “hostility.” He later clarified that he “did not compare Sen. John McCain or Gov. Sarah Palin to George Wallace,” but rather, wanted to remind Americans about “toxic language” that can lead to “destructive behavior.”

Regardless, for those keeping score at home, the McCain campaign has now referenced the senator’s P.O.W. background in response to questions about McCain’s marital infidelities; his healthcare plan; his opinion of Pittsburgh; his response to allegations he may have heard the questions in advance of Rick Warren’s recent candidate forum; his distaste for earmarks; and his taste in music.

What’s more, in late August, McCain appeared on “The Tonight Show” last night, and Jay Leno joked about McCain’s confusion over how many houses he owns. McCain responded by pointing to — you guessed it — his background as a former prisoner of war during Vietnam.

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Steve Benen

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.