McCain Able

by Michael O. Allen on February 6, 2008

Newsweek has this profile of John McCain that is par for the course when it comes to how the Beltway pundits, especially allegedly liberal ones, treat his various perfidies. The broad outline is this:

* McCain, a son of privilege, was a hellion who listened to no one, acted out whenever he felt like it. Here’s a description:

“According to Robert Timberg’s ‘The Nightingale’s Song,’ McCain’s nicknames at EHS were “Punk,” “Nasty” and “McNasty.” A classmate described him as a ‘tough, mean little f–––er.’ Episcopal had borrowed from state military schools the sobriquet “rat” to describe first-year students at the mercy of upperclassmen hazing. McCain writes: ‘My resentment, along with my affected disregard for rules and school authorities, soon earned me the distinction of ‘worst rat’.’ At Annapolis, he was, he writes, ‘a slob.’ He looked for authorities to subvert, settling on a bullying, second-year midshipman he and his friends dubbed ‘Sh–––y Witty the Middy,’ and making life miserable for a by-the-book captain who was supposed to discipline him. ‘I acted like a jerk,’ McCain writes. McCain came close to ‘bilging’—getting kicked out—but seemed to know exactly how far he could go. He graduated fifth from the bottom of his class.

* The story went on to describe him as “at best an average pilot, a daredevil, ‘kick-the-tires and light-the-fire’ type who sacrificed careful preparation for more time at the O Club bar.”

* McCain was a combat pilot in Vietnam and was shot down in October 1967, breaking his right leg and both arms while ejecting from his plane. By all accounts, including his own, McCain was a heroic prisoner of war. He suffered horrible and unimaginable torture at the hand of his captors. He refused release until all other captives had been released, staying five and half years in the prison camp.

* Back stateside, McCain was an incorrigible philanderer who wrecked his first marriage with his affairs. That is OK, however, because he fessed up to it. In fact, McCain almost always fesses up to every mistake, including being a sleazeball who took money from Charles Keating then leaned on regulators to ease off on Keating as he looted the Savings and Loans bank he ran into the ground. But that is OK, too, because McCain allegedly made up for this by authoring the McCain/Feingold law to regulate the serial bribery of our legislators by lobbyists.

* McCain is also notorious for having a bad temper, “Senator Hothead,” they called him. Here’s another portion of the story:

But a number of senators and former lawmakers are still licking their wounds from run-ins with McCain. “It’s sad, really,” says former senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire. “John McCain can tell a good joke and we can laugh, and I’ve had my share of good times with him.” That is the side of McCain, says Smith, that the press sees. But behind the scenes lurks a less amiable McCain. “You can disagree without being disagreeable,” says Smith. “And I don’t think John is able to do that. If he disagrees with you, he does it in a way that is disagreeable.”

McCain is widely reported to have yelled profanities at senators and even shoved one or two (including the late Strom Thurmond, a feisty nonagenarian at the time of the alleged incident). After McCain used an obscenity to describe Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa to his face in 1992, Grassley did not speak to McCain for more than a year. (“That’s all water over the dam,” Grassley says.) McCain has reportedly learned to control his temper; still, there are moments when he cannot or does not. Last spring, at a closed-door meeting of senators and staff, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas tried to amend the immigration bill to make ineligible convicted felons, known terrorists and gang members. Agitated that any attempt to amend the bill would jeopardize its slim chance of passage (ultimately, the bill failed), McCain snapped, “This is chickens–––.” Cornyn shot back that McCain shouldn’t come parachuting in off the presidential-campaign trail at the last minute and start making demands. “F––– you,” said McCain, in front of about 30 witnesses. (A Cornyn aide says that the Texas senator was unbothered by the incident. “I think he just thought, ‘Here’s John being a jerk’,” says the aide, who declined to be identified speaking for Cornyn.)

Sen. Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, has had his share of dust-ups with McCain, usually over some appropriation that McCain regards as pork-barrel spending. “He gets very volatile,” Cochran tells NEWSWEEK. “He gets red in the face. He talks loud.” Cochran, who says he is still a friend of McCain’s (“at least on my part”), says the Senate dining room has lately been buzzing with Senator Hothead stories, mostly stirred by a recent wave of press interest. “I was surprised to find so many senators who’d had a personal experience when he’d lost his temper,” says Cochran. Did he find McCain’s temper to be somehow disabling or disqualifying in a potential president? “I don’t know how to assess that,” says Cochran. “I certainly know no other president since I’ve been here who’s had a temperament like that. There’s some who were capable of getting angry, of course. Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter both. But this …” His voice trailed away. “You like to think your president would be cool, calm and collected. He’s commander in chief.”

Cochran is supporting flip-flopper extraordinaire Mitt Romney for president.

Newsweek writer Evan Thomas goes out of his way to cast many of these things in a “good” light. For instance:

*In rare weak moments, he can seem prickly, impetuous, vindictive—the sort of military martinet whose finger is supposed to be kept far from the button. Yet he is endowed with self-knowledge and self-effacing dignity. “I’m a man of many failings,” McCain says with a genuine, if practiced, ruefulness. “I make no bones about it. That’s why I’m such a believer in redemption. I’ve done many, many things wrong in my life. The key is to try to improve.”

That much vaunted McCain candor again. McCain gets away with everything because he’s allegedly candid. And the reporters are just tickled pink because he talks to them and would confess to anything. It’s alright that he cheated in his marriage because he confessed afterward. It’s alright that he was corrupt and took money from a man looting a bank. He not only confessed to this, he wrote a law to make it difficult to do what he did (stop me before I sin again?).

What I see is a man who, despite his years, is immature, petulant, who does not care about anyone else, is a bully to everyone (except reporters who slave over his every word) and insist on getting his way. Here’s McCain as a baby:

*As an angry toddler, he would hold his breath until he passed out (his parents’ cure was to drop him fully clothed into a bathtub of icy water).

From everything I read in the Newsweek article, instead of holding his breath, elderly now, McCain turns vituperative and when not being verbally abusive, physically assaults his colleagues in the U.S. Senate. And we’re supposed to make this man our president?

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