By John Chuckman
McCain does a good job with the appearance of a boyishly honest man.
He puts on his quiet voice and uses his boyish (albeit now partially fossilized) expressions and, reminding me of Richard Nixon during something like his Checkers speech, sometimes glances down at his well-shined shoes, as though wordlessly to say, see what a good boy I am.
McCain’s actual record of ethics and behavior is rather dreary, and it is a subject which mysteriously eludes treatment in mainline media which seem always ready to treat trivia like flag pins. There are many parallels of insensitivity, anger, aggression, limited capacities, and grotesque humor with George Bush.
McCain was, quite simply, a nasty brat as a young man. There are many stories of the way he bullied others, including teachers, stories perhaps easy to make light of fifty years later, but not funny if you were his victim and, more importantly, all too similar to stories of his adult behavior. He was a poor student. He always took advantage of being the son and grandson of admirals to get away with his sometimes vicious antics and failures.
Despite his favorite public act as boyish fighter pilot, he apparently remains an often nasty man in private. Many fellow politicians, including Republicans, testify to his furious, spluttering temper and the use of the most obscene words to friends and work associates with whom he is unhappy. There is also the story, related by a Republican, of his sudden physical attack on a member of the government of Nicaragua during a Congressional mission.
When McCain’s being shot down in Vietnam is discussed, the fact that he was bombing civilians is almost never mentioned. He’s just lucky he survived. He might well have been torn limb from limb had he been a Vietnamese pilot shot down in Texas.
How did he survive being shot down? After all, he landed in a body of water and he was hurt. A group of local villagers, and one Vietnamese man in particular, Mai Van On, left their bomb shelters and pulled McCain from the water where he would certainly have drowned otherwise.
That brave and decent Vietnamese man, whom McCain once acknowledged, died recently, a very disheartened man that McCain never showed any real sign of thanks or reciprocity. His wife has spoken to the press on this. After all, in many cultures, someone’s saving your life creates a powerful bond or debt, but apparently not for John McCain.
Apart from some fitting communication from the man who went on to become famous, imagine how even a little money order from this well-off man could have altered the lives of those who saved him?
When McCain returned home to the wife who had waited for him for the five and a half years he was in prison, he discovered his wife had been in a terrible car accident in which she was disfigured.
Instead of compassion and loyalty, McCain started a series of affairs, ending with wealthy future wife Cindy.
He left his crippled wife to marry the money. It was a pretty shabby display, reminiscent of Newt Gingrich’s telling a wife dying of cancer he was divorcing her, but it did considerably help finance his political career.
During the great savings-and-loan scandals, McCain was at the center, having got a lot of money and favors from (to-be convicted felon) Charles Keating.
McCain’s second wife, Cindy, was a drug addict, by her own admission. She also stole a large quantity of drugs from a charity for which she did volunteer work to feed her habit, an act which would earn you or me hard time in prison in Bush’s America.
You do have to ask about the mental state of a woman who is said to be worth $300 million yet who steals the drugs she craves.
But Cindy got off with a slap on the wrist, thanks in part to the efforts of her husband. This law-and-order conservative, this defender of the hard line in the war on drugs, saw nothing wrong in using his influence. No insistence here that Cindy do the time that he and Bush insist on, and snigger over, for young black men caught with modest quantities of cocaine.
Cindy, in her efforts to soften her brittle Bergdorf Goodman image – or whatever expensive store it is in New York to which she regularly flies to buy racks of clothes – and connect with average Americans, also had the minor flap of being caught misrepresenting other people’s recipes as her own. Integrity does not appear to be a strong McCain family value.
Recently McCain had a hard time remembering how many houses he and Cindy owned. Does anyone believe that that is the kind of personal matter someone forgets? If he was indeed being honest, then almost certainly Alzheimer’s has set in. More likely though, he was not being honest, trying to deflect an embarrassing question. The latest count on the houses is eight.
McCain, in 2000, told us exactly what he really thinks of the Religious Right. After all, he is known as a rather irreligious, worldly man. He did endear himself to many as he lambasted the Religious Right’s nasty, inappropriate influence in American politics, but practically the next day, he was crawling around on his belly, saying he was sorry, having quickly realized what he had done to his political ambitions.
And that last pattern has been typical of McCain’s entire public career. Shoot off his mouth, make big noises about being tough and honest, and then crawl back quietly shortly afterward, having achieved nothing but adding a notch to the reputation he relishes as a maverick.
Of course, there never has been a bombing run McCain did not eagerly support. He embraces enthusiastically, consistently, all war measures, no matter how weak or foolish the reasons used to support them. That’s why Lieberman, supposedly a Democrat, supports McCain so enthusiastically, Lieberman being another man who never saw a bombing run he did not like nor an excuse too flimsy to support one.
As for McCain’s humor, nothing so reveals him for the mild psychopath that he is. The sense his humor conveys, at least a good deal of it, is very much along the lines of what Bush’s humor conveys. As, for example, the time Bush made some twisted comment and facial expressions to reporters about the pitiful woman he refused to stay from execution in Texas despite her pleas as a converted Christian. Or Bush’s comment to reporters in Chicago when, not long after 9/11, he joked about having "won the trifecta" with his new-found popularity. Or the story from an acquaintance of his youth about his favorite stunt, repeated many times over, of shoving lit firecrackers into the mouths of captured frogs and watching them blow up. The disgusting nature of some of McCain’s jokes is summarized here.
After eight years of Bush’s incompetence and brutality, are we to have another man as president reflecting many of the same qualities and views?
One recent poll showed that while nearly ninety percent of Republicans would support McCain, only seventy-three percent of Hillary Clinton’s supporters would support Obama. These disaffected voters should examine closely the character of the man for whom they may vote in protest.
John McCain is certainly well aware of them. He just picked a soccer mom from Alaska as his candidate for vice president.
-John Chuckman is the author of What’s It All About? The Decline of the American Empire, published by Constable & Robinson Ltd, London. Available from Indigo Books, Canada.