Maverick Ambition

21:16 Thu 09 Oct 2008. Updated: 17:32 28 Jan 2009
[, ]

This Rolling Stone demolition job on John McCain is long, rather detailed, and replete with quotations from many sources. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture, but it’s absolutely worth reading.

McCain’s father was a four-star admiral; so was his grandfather. McCain apparently couldn’t make it in the military the way they did, but was just as (or more) ambitious. Growing up privileged seems to have convinced him that political success is simply his right. This makes sense to me, especially given McCain’s temper—that kind of temper seems to go hand-in-hand with a sense of entitlement.

Some highlights:

McCain attended Episcopal High School, an all-white, all-boys boarding school across the Potomac in Virginia, where tuition today tops $40,000 a year. There, McCain behaved with all the petulance his privilege allowed, earning the nicknames “Punk” and “McNasty.” Even his friends seemed to dislike him, with one recalling him as “a mean little fucker.”
Make-Believe Maverick, rollingstone.com, 16 Oct 2008, accessed 09 Oct 2008

He adjusted early to the idea that his background gave him a free hand:

When McCain was not shown the pampering to which he was accustomed, he grew petulant—even abusive. He repeatedly blew up in the face of his commanding officer. It was the kind of insubordination that would have gotten any other midshipman kicked out of Annapolis. But his classmates soon realized that McCain was untouchable. Midway though his final year, McCain faced expulsion, about to “bilge out” because of excessive demerits. After his mother intervened, however, the academy’s commandant stepped in. Calling McCain “spoiled” to his face, he nonetheless issued a reprieve, scaling back the demerits. McCain dodged expulsion a second time by convincing another midshipman to take the fall after McCain was caught with contraband.
Make-Believe Maverick, rollingstone.com, 16 Oct 2008, accessed 09 Oct 2008

In the cockpit, McCain was not a top gun, or even a middling gun. He took little interest in his flight manuals; he had other priorities.
“I enjoyed the off-duty life of a Navy flier more than I enjoyed the actual flying,” McCain writes. “I drove a Corvette, dated a lot, spent all my free hours at bars and beach parties.”
Make-Believe Maverick, rollingstone.com, 16 Oct 2008, accessed 09 Oct 2008

He had a penchant for crashing his planes, doing so three times—but kept his flight privileges, despite the fact that one crash normally means your career is over. One of the crashes involved deviating from his flight plan in Spain and slicing through a power line…

As for his time as a POW, while not denigrating his suffering or suggesting that I would do any differently, it’s worth noting that strictly following military discipline would have required McCain not to tell his captors anything other than name, rank, birth date, and service number. McCain didn’t live up to that high standard:

Soon after McCain hit the ground in Hanoi, the code went out the window. “I’ll give you military information if you will take me to the hospital,” he later admitted pleading with his captors. McCain now insists the offer was a bluff, designed to fool the enemy into giving him medical treatment. In fact, his wounds were attended to only after the North Vietnamese discovered that his father was a Navy admiral. What has never been disclosed is the manner in which they found out: McCain told them. According to Dramesi, one of the few POWs who remained silent under years of torture, McCain tried to justify his behavior while they were still prisoners. “I had to tell them,” he insisted to Dramesi, “or I would have died in bed.”
Make-Believe Maverick, rollingstone.com, 16 Oct 2008, accessed 09 Oct 2008


Only two weeks after his capture, the North Vietnamese press issued a report — picked up by The New York Times — in which McCain was quoted as saying that the war was “moving to the advantage of North Vietnam and the United States appears to be isolated.” He also provided the name of his ship, the number of raids he had flown, his squadron number and the target of his final raid.
Make-Believe Maverick, rollingstone.com, 16 Oct 2008, accessed 09 Oct 2008

That doesn’t disqualify him from being President, of course. Resisting torture is hardly a fair litmus test for public office. However, that his capitulation is acclaimed as some kind of heroic act seems very wrong, and particularly unjust to those POWs who didn’t talk.

There’s a lot more in there, including some coverage of the Keating affair, and his legendary temper. It’s definitely worth reading, partly as an insightful view of how the upper echelons of power in this country operate.

(next) »

Leave a Reply