The Jolt: Johnny Isakson’s Vietnam confessional on John McCain

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in a 2017 file photo. AP/Alex Brandon
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in a 2017 file photo. AP/Alex Brandon

Credit: Alex Brandon

Credit: Alex Brandon

On Monday evening, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson's staff posted on YouTube a speech the boss had given a few hours earlier, in praise of his late colleague John McCain.

Most attention focused on a single parsed phrase. “Anybody who in any way tarnishes the reputation of John McCain deserves a whipping,“ Isakson said.

The assumption was that the Georgia senator’s remarks were spurred by President Donald Trump, as they no doubt were. But his words weren’t aimed only at Trump. Isakson’s remarks were an extraordinary confession pointing to his entire Vietnam War generation.

They were an attempt to explain that the political support generated by McCain wasn’t just a matter of enthusiasm, but of contrition. Behind the admiration that spurred two unsuccessful presidential runs was an acknowledgement that McCain endured what he did – five cruel years in a North Vietnamese prison – while others actively chose not to.

ExploreListen to the entire speech here:

But here are the parts that matter most:

"My senior year in college, I got a graduation diploma and a draft notice the same day. They were put in the same book. Everybody was going. Or everybody was being called up for the draft. There was a lottery, but so many people were eligible that everybody in my age group would be drafted if they didn't join the service.

"I joined. I joined the National Guard, of which I'm very proud – I'm still a Guardsman to this day. But it also gave me a chance to serve my country in a way that would not put me in as much risk to go to Vietnam as it would if I was drafted. I consciously did that, because I wanted to stay here and get married a few months later to my wife Diane.

"But I was of the age to be drafted. And I made the decision to find a way to serve that would not put me in a position of being drafted, where I lost control. And a lot of people were, but a lot of people weren't. And I know that. And the ones that could, know it, and the ones that couldn't, know it. And the president knows what I'm talking about, being a Guardswoman herself."

In this particular case, the senator’s staff made clear afterwards, Isakson was referring to U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who was presiding over the chamber at the time.

Isakson went on to note a close friend who had chosen to serve in Vietnam, and died doing it. He spoke of the unwelcome reception many received as they returned home to a country split by the conflict. To continue, emphasis ours:

"We owe it, at times like this, to elevate them to the appropriate place in history. And that's what I'm trying to do with John McCain today. I want to elevate John. John was better than me, and I know it. John was the best of my generation. John McCain was and is a great human being.

"I don't know what's going to be said over the next few days about John McCain, by whomever it's going to be said. I don't know what's going to be done. But anybody who in any way tarnishes the reputation of John McCain deserves a whipping. Because most of the ones who would do the wrong thing about John McCain, didn't have the guts to do the right thing when it was their turn. We need to remember that. So I would say to the president or anybody in the world, it's time to pause and say this was a great man. He gave everything for us. We know him nothing less than the respect that he earned."

In that second use of the word "president," Isakson wasn't referring to Ernst.


Andy Miller of Georgia Health News reports that Clay County, a southwest Georgia county that has just one physician, is losing its only drugstore.


The lock-down scare at Cobb County's Campbell High School sparked both candidates for governor to defend their Second Amendment stances.

Stacey Abrams, who has called for a ban on assault weapons and other firearms restrictions, said on social media that "no parent should have to worry about whether their child is safe at school."

And Brian Kemp, the GOP candidate, said he’ll work with “lawmakers, local leaders, and parents to keep our students and teachers safe in the classroom.”

He supports giving school boards the option to arm teachers and employ veterans and retired law enforcement as security.

The school was placed on "Code Red" lockdown for more than an hour Monday as authorities searched for who made a threat via a walkie talkie. The lockdown was lifted after three students were detained. There were no injuries.


On Saturday, at the state Democratic convention, we fell into a discussion with Kip Carr, the state party treasurer, about the roles that candidates for lieutenant governor would play in the general election.

Carr noted that, given that Republican gubernatorial nominee Brian Kemp was now portraying himself as a friendly Ronald Reagan-type, Geoff Duncan, that party’s candidate for lieutenant governor, would have to become the attack dog.

Sure enough, on Monday morning, the Duncan campaign accused Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams of attempting to subvert, then ducking a vote on, Duncan’s 2016 legislation to allow businesses tax credits for donations to rural hospitals. From the press release:

"Stacey told me she liked my bill, that it would be effective but that its success could undermine her push for a Medicaid expansion which, I guess, polled well in the Democratic primary," Duncan said. "She offered an amendment to cut the size of the program, then voted against the bill. Weeks later, she disappeared before the vote on final passage."

An Abrams spokeswoman declared Duncan’s attack to be untruthful. "This false attack is an attempt to distract from a simple truth: Half measures haven't been enough to save our rural hospitals,” she said.

But more to the point, the rural hospital tax credit advocated by Duncan and other Republicans could be undercut by changes to the tax code made last year by Congress – changes that were aimed at high-tax, Democratic states like California and New York. From our AJC colleague James Salzer:

A proposed federal rule could discourage donations to two highly popular Georgia tax credit programs that support struggling rural hospitals and parents who want to send their children to private schools.

The proposed rule by the U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service would limit or eliminate the federal tax break donors get for giving to such state programs.

The rule comes at a crucial time for the two Georgia programs.

The General Assembly this year raised the annual tax credit limit for donors to the private school scholarship program from $58 million to $100 million. And advocates for rural hospitals were planning to push the General Assembly in 2019 to increase the dollar-for-dollar state tax credit for donating to their program from $60 million a year to $100 million.


More fallout on the gerrymandering front, courtesy of The Washington Post:

A panel of three federal judges held Monday that North Carolina's congressional districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans over Democrats and said it may require new districts before the November elections, possibly affecting control of the House.

The judges acknowledged that primary elections have already produced candidates for the 2018 elections but said they were reluctant to let voting take place in congressional districts that courts twice have found violate constitutional standards.

North Carolina legislators are likely to ask the Supreme Court to step in. The court traditionally does not approve of judicial actions that can affect an election so close to the day voters go to the polls.

Georgia has its own gerrymandering lawsuits wending through the legal system. That case centers on the redrawing of two House districts, one in Gwinnett and the other in Henry, to help preserve GOP seats.


Carolyn Bourdeaux, the Democrat challenging Republican incumbent Rob Woodall in the Seventh District congressional contest, picked up a big endorsement yesterday from U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta. The civil rights hero similarly has backed Lucy McBath next door in the Sixth District earlier this summer.


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