Palin, McCain, and Rolling Thunder


Have you read enough about Sarah Palin and her less-than-magical mystery bus tour?

There was one intriguing connection that wasn’t made in many of the media accounts of her participation in the annual Rolling Thunder Memorial Day motorcycle extravaganza in Washington, DC, this past weekend: Palin was hanging out at an event that used to be enemy territory for John McCain.

Rolling Thunder was started in late 1980s to raise awareness about Vietnam POWs missing in action. At that time, many of its organizers and activists accepted the notion (or conspiracy theory) that the US government had knowingly left behind US GIs in Vietnam, and was covering up this dastardly deed. (See Rambo: First Blood Part II). And for many who believed this, McCain, a former POW, was an enemy, for he would not join their cause and—worse—he co-chaired with Sen. John Kerry a Senate investigation that essentially found that Rambo was wrong. Their probe, completed in 1993, concluded:

While the Committee has some evidence suggesting the possibility a POW may have survived to the present, and while some information remains yet to be investigated, there is, at this time, no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia.

This finding enraged the Ramboists within the POW/MIA community. In fact, John Holland, one of the founders of Rolling Thunder, fiercely opposed McCain’s presidential bid in 2008. (Holland also denounced McCain for having collaborated with the enemy when McCain was a POW.)

With the passing years, the Rolling Thunder rally has become less about (nonexistent) POWs and more about itself and motorcycles. And there was Palin, turning the event into a platform for herself. She was mostly well received, it seemed, at this photo-op. But if she had brought her once-partner McCain along for the ride, the picture could have been rather different.

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  • David Corn

    David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief and an on-air analyst for MSNBC. He is the co-author (with Michael Isikoff) of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. He is the author of three New York Times bestsellers, Showdown, Hubris (with Isikoff), and The Lies of George W. Bush, as well as the e-book, 47 Percent: Uncovering the Romney Video that Rocked the 2012 Election. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter and Facebook.