You might think that if Bill Clinton learned anything from his controversial role in his wife's unsuccessful presidential bid this year, it is that a former president should choose his words carefully.
When Clinton can't find controversy, it seems to find him. Take his remarks the other day about prisoners of war. Clinton, who did about everything short of fleeing to Canada to avoid the Vietnam-era draft, said former prisoners of war suffer "anger'' for years after their release. His remark might have gone unnoticed were John McCain, who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, not the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Speaking in Aspen, Colo., the former president said: "It's like if you know anyone who's ever been a POW for any length of time, you will see that (they) go along for months or even years and then something will happen that will trigger all those bad dreams and it will come back.''
Clinton made the comments in the course of discussing former South African President Nelson Mandela's 27 years as a political prisoner. He said Mandela told him he had to let go of his anger.
Some conservative editorialists have accused Clinton of suggesting that McCain, whose name was not mentioned by Clinton, may have snakes in his head from his time as a POW in a Hanoi prison. Didn't George Bush supporters suggest as much in a whisper campaign against McCain in the 2000 presidential primary in South Carolina?
Even if he didn't have McCain in mind, critics say, the former commander in chief's remarks are offensive to all American prisoners of war.
"I don't know where he (Clinton) gets his expertise,'' McCain told Fox News Channel. "Some of the greatest moments of my life was I had the great honor of serving in the company of heroes and observing tremendous acts of courage.''
I would give Clinton the benefit of the doubt on this one. In the future, however, the only thing he should say about our former prisoners of war is to thank them for their service to country. And above all, he should stay out of their heads.