While Christmas shopping for my favorite little people I encountered a children's book that must be seen to be believed. It rivals Scouting for Boys and the culinary classic Cooking with Pooh in the pantheon of great moments in children's literature. I present John McCain: An American Life.
Believe it or not, I began looking through it because I was going to buy it. Little John and Lucy went to a McCain rally in September and, regardless of my feelings about the respective candidates, I would sort of like it if the kids thought elections were cool. I could get behind a book about the candidate written at the level of a kindergarten or first-grade audience. You know, "This is John McCain, a very brave man who was in the Navy. He is running for President, and Americans will use their right to vote to decide if he is the best person for the job." I anticipated a lot of pictures of his family, talk about his hobbies, and, well, the kind of material appropriate for a four year-old. And in case you have never been around a four year-old, appropriate reading material usually involves talking mice, dinosaurs, and cartoon characters. This makes a book about politics a hard sell, but clearly there is a way the book could be written to connect to a just-learning-to-read audience.
The best way I can describe what actually appeared in the book would be a snuff film hastily edited to get a G rating from the MPAA. The book covered, in both text and pictures, his divorce from his first wife, being tortured by the Viet Cong, his grotesque injuries from being shot down, and the 150 people who burned to death on an aircraft carrier after an accident involving McCain's plane. Oh, and who could forget the pictures of bombs falling in Vietnamese villages – with additional pictures of the post-bombing carnage.
Mommy, what's a divorce? What's torture? What was the Vietnam War? Why are those people on fire?
I am unaware of what if any involvement the McCain campaign had with this train wreck. It is almost inconceivable that someone near McCain read this and gave it the green light. Perhaps because the Senator's children are all adults now he has lost perspective about what is or is not kindergarten-appropriate. Or maybe being four years old in the McCain household is a really intense experience. For most parents the gap between Stuart Little Has a Picnic and the My Lai massacre in their child's reading development is about a decade long. Three generations of military McCains might have condensed that to about 6 months.
Of course there are children's books written about Obama as well, and once again I'm not critical of the idea of this book. It is the end result, the execution of the idea, that baffles me. The book succeeds only in answering the age-old question of what it would look like if R. Lee Ermey and Curtis LeMay wrote a children's book.