John McCain’s dark side fueled by obsessive ambitions
Commentary by PAT MURPHY
Those of us who’ve known John McCain since he began his Arizona political career made two mistakes.
First, overestimating the Washington media’s willingness to look beyond a politician’s self-serving façade.
Second, underestimating McCain’s skill in camouflaging his bullyboy ways and reincarnating himself as a lovable maverick glowing with political virtue.
If McCain becomes President, America will have more than a prickly president with a low boiling point. He carries grudges, fibs rather than admits mistakes, cannot endure criticism, threatens revenge, controls by fear, is consumed with self-importance.
Shifting blame also is second nature.
It was vintage McCain who exploded when The Arizona Republic questioned whether the man dubbed "Senator Hothead" in Washington was fit to handle presidential powers. Instead of conceding what’s common knowledge, McCain erupted into denial, blaming a newspaper vendetta (rubbish!) and George W. Bush for "orchestrating" the criticism (more rubbish!).
McCain’s artfully contrived persona of a high-minded champion of political virtue works: Washington reporters blindly lionize McCain.
But venerable Washington Post columnist David Broder warned on NBC’s "Meet the Press": "After the experience we all had with President Clinton, I’m not inclined to discount the view of home state reporters and journalists who have covered a candidate over the years," meaning McCain.
But except for Boston Globe reporter Walter Robinson who spent several weeks digging into McCain’s Arizona behavior and reporting his dark side, Washington reporters avoid disturbing their "hero" perception of McCain.
ABC’s 20/20 almost gave the nation a clearer snapshot. Sam Donaldson taped an interview with Amy Silverman, of The Phoenix New Times, regarded as Arizona journalism’s expert on McCain. But the segment was canceled the night before airing, fueling speculation that McCain’s powerful Senate Commerce Committee’s oversight of broadcasting makes TV wary of offending him.
As an early McCain acquaintance and now a former friend, I find him to be a man of obsessive ambitions with self-destructive petty impulses. McCain admits to a lifelong thin skin: as an infant, he held his breath until he was unconscious when angry. In Washington, he’s resorted to physical pushing and shoving of colleagues when irritated.
When feeling inferior, McCain belittles: he snidely said, for example, that he slept better knowing that George W. Bush guarded the Texas border as a pilot in the National Guard.
When he explodes, McCain is quick to threaten, "I’ll destroy you!"
After McCain settled in Arizona with his young second wife, a millionairess, he asked me at dinner for help with a political career.
As editorial page editor of The Arizona Republic, and later publisher, I demurred. We socialized, however, including dinners in his home, and even once discussed writing a book.
But our friendship was shattered by a story and editorial exposing McCain as a liar. He’d boasted to me and my wife over lunch in Washington that he planted complex questions with the chairman of the Senate Interior Committee to sabotage testimony of Arizona’s Gov. Rose Mofford, a Democrat, about the Central Arizona Project, which delivers Colorado River water to Arizona urban areas.
When reporters later asked McCain about planted questions, he feigned insult and denied any dirty trick.
I informed editors in Phoenix of the deceit. Within hours of a story and an editorial appearing, McCain was in meltdown, shrieking on the phone,"I know, you’re out to get me!"
Several years later, McCain admitted the dirty trick and apologized to Mofford, who was then out of office.
· When NBC refused to support his TV rating system, McCain wrote NBC president Robert Wright threatening to work to have the FCC lift NBC licenses of locally owned stations.
· When Barbara Barrett, wife of Intel CEO Dr. Craig Barrett, ran against McCain’s protégé, Arizona Gov. J. Fife Symington III, McCain offered to buy her out of the 1994 GOP primary. Barrett refused. Furious, McCain threatened revenge, which materialized only in minor ways.
· Barrett lost, but Symington later was forced out of office after being convicted on seven counts of fraud. Barrett, meanwhile, continues a successful international law practice and serves on major corporate boards.
· Maricopa County (Phoenix) schools superintendent Sandra Dowling, a Republican, refused McCain’s demand to abandon support of Barrett. Dowling told Morley Safer during a "60 Minutes" interview about Arizona politics that McCain exploded and threatened to "destroy" her. Thereafter, her son lost his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, where McCain sits as an ex-oficio member of the Board of Visitors. McCain denied any connection.
· One of my Arizona neighbors, Dianne Smith, wrote McCain protesting his criticism of Anita Hill in confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. A widow then in her 60s, Ms. Smith was flabbergasted when McCain phoned her, shouting at her for "questioning my integrity."
· He recruits Republicans to run against Arizona GOP officeholders whom he considers insufficiently loyal to him. McCain’s candidates inevitably lose.
· Upset about coverage in The Phoenix New Times by Amy Silverman, McCain phoned her father, Richard Silverman, general manager of the Arizona water-electricity utility Salt River Project to complain. McCain’s intent seemed clear—using muscle on the federally chartered SRP in hopes Silverman would pressure his daughter to cease.
· Although McCain promised Arizona voters that "I’ve never tried to exploit my Vietnam service to my country because it would be totally inappropriate," his presidential campaign is built on his POW years.
· While he moralizes about corrupt corporate money, McCain unabashedly rakes in tens of thousands of dollars from Washington lobbyists plus asking corporations for their jets for campaigning. A lobbyist told Newsweek: "He (McCain) sees no connection between twisting our arms for money and then talking about how corrupt the system is."
· As he lectured about campaign finance corruption, McCain’s handpicked candidate for Arizona attorney general, state Sen. John Kaites, was being investigated for violating Arizona’s campaign finance law.
· McCain attacks tobacco addiction, but ignores alcohol addiction. No surprise: his wife’s fortune stems from the family beer and wine distributorship, Arizona’s largest.
· While serving Arizona’s First Congressional District, McCain lived in a modest townhouse in suburban Mesa. Impatient for bigger things, he took over a lavish home owned by his wife’s father in a pricey Phoenix neighborhood 25 miles away. Papers taken out for renovations were in the name of "Smith." McCain denied deceiving voters, and blamed others—architects—for using "Smith."
· McCain’s friendship with master swindler Charles Keating wasn’t his only misjudgment in friends.
· McCain’s Arizona protégé, Gov. Fife Symington, claimed to be a successful tycoon. In fact, he was bankrupt, later convicted on seven counts of fraud and forced to resign. McCain’s wife was a front row regular at Symington’s criminal trial in Phoenix. McCain still calls Symington "my friend."
· McCain picked my publisher predecessor, Duke Tully, to be godfather of his first child. Tully boasted he was an Air Force hero of the Korean and Vietnam wars—but ultimately was exposed as a phony who never served in the military. McCain says he considers Tully "my friend."
· McCain is no friend of free speech. He favors the "flag desecration amendment" that would criminalize "abuse" of Old Glory, and the number of news reporters he’s threatened to have fired because of stories he dislikes would staff a large newspaper.
· McCain bullied Arizona legislators into creating a Republican-only presidential 1996 primary to benefit Sen. Phil Gramm at a cost of more than $2 million to all taxpayers. Gramm pulled out, and never showed up for the Arizona election.
· A person who was there tells how McCain reacted when a delegation went to his Senate office in 1991 to discuss liberalizing flight duties for women in military aviation. After greeting them with "Hi, honey, Hi sweetie," McCain launched into an angry diatribe, disparaging the women as "a bunch of Pat Schroeders"—the Colorado Democrat known for championing feminist causes.
Although he’s on his best behavior now, the campaigning McCain is not recognizable to Arizonans who know his real persona.
Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.
Frank Rich is a political columnist for the New York Times, which was assailed today by McCain's top campaign adviser and former Karl Rove acolyte as "not — by any standard — a journalistic organization." Since everyone else in the profession of journalism recognizes the Times's No. 1 ranking in Pulitzer Prizes and its national circulation as among the very highest, let's just say that not by any standard is the aggressively stupid, venal and sleazy John McCain fit for office.
Oh, what caused the bullyboy's bullyboy to go off on the Times? It had reported that McCain's campaign manager had earned nearly $2 million in recent years lobbying for Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. Lobbying to get regulations loosened.
I hope Mr. Rich doesn't mind my quoting his column in entirety.
September 21, 2008
Truthiness Stages a Comeback
By FRANK RICH
NOT until 2004 could the 9/11 commission at last reveal the title of the intelligence briefing President Bush ignored on Aug. 6, 2001, in Crawford: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” No wonder John McCain called for a new “9/11 commission” to “get to the bottom” of 9/14, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers set off another kind of blood bath in Lower Manhattan. Put a slo-mo Beltway panel in charge, and Election Day will be ancient history before we get to the bottom of just how little he and the president did to defend America against a devastating new threat on their watch.
For better or worse, the candidacy of Barack Obama, a senator-come-lately, must be evaluated on his judgment, ideas and potential to lead. McCain, by contrast, has been chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, where he claims to have overseen “every part of our economy.” He didn’t, thank heavens, but he does have a long and relevant economic record that begins with the Keating Five scandal of 1989 and extends to this campaign, where his fiscal policies bear the fingerprints of Phil Gramm and Carly Fiorina. It’s not the résumé that a presidential candidate wants to advertise as America faces its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. That’s why the main thrust of the McCain campaign has been to cover up his history of economic malpractice.
McCain has largely pulled it off so far, under the guidance of Steve Schmidt, a Karl Rove protégé. A Rovian political strategy by definition means all slime, all the time. But the more crucial Rove game plan is to envelop the entire presidential race in a thick fog of truthiness. All campaigns, Obama’s included, engage in false attacks. But McCain, Sarah Palin and their surrogates keep repeating the same lies over and over not just to smear their opponents and not just to mask their own record. Their larger aim is to construct a bogus alternative reality so relentless it can overwhelm any haphazard journalistic stabs at puncturing it.
When a McCain spokesman told Politico a week ago that “we’re not too concerned about what the media filter tries to say” about the campaign’s incessant fictions, he was channeling a famous Bush dictum of 2003: “Somehow you just got to go over the heads of the filter.” In Bush’s case, the lies lobbed over the heads of the press were to sell the war in Iraq. That propaganda blitz, devised by a secret White House Iraq Group that included Rove, was a triumph. In mere months, Americans came to believe that Saddam Hussein had aided the 9/11 attacks and even that Iraqis were among the hijackers. A largely cowed press failed to set the record straight.
Just as the Bushies once flogged uranium from Africa, so Palin ceaselessly repeats her discredited claim that she said “no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere. Nothing is too small or sacred for the McCain campaign to lie about. It was even caught (by The Christian Science Monitor) peddling an imaginary encounter between Cindy McCain and Mother Teresa when McCain was adopting her daughter in Bangladesh.
If you doubt that the big lies are sticking, look at the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. Half of voters now believe in the daily McCain refrain that Obama will raise their taxes. In fact, Obama proposes raising taxes only on the 1.9 percent of households that make more than $250,000 a year and cutting them for nearly everyone else.
You know the press is impotent at unmasking this truthiness when the hardest-hitting interrogation McCain has yet faced on television came on “The View.” Barbara Walters and Joy Behar called him on several falsehoods, including his endlessly repeated fantasy that Palin opposed earmarks for Alaska. Behar used the word “lies” to his face. The McCains are so used to deference from “the filter” that Cindy McCain later complained that “The View” picked “our bones clean.” In our news culture, Behar, a stand-up comic by profession, looms as the new Edward R. Murrow.
Network news, with its dwindling handful of investigative reporters, has barely mentioned, let alone advanced, major new print revelations about Cindy McCain’s drug-addiction history (in The Washington Post) and the rampant cronyism and secrecy in Palin’s governance of Alaska (in last Sunday’s New York Times). At least the networks repeatedly fact-check the low-hanging fruit among the countless Palin lies, but John McCain’s past usually remains off limits.
That’s strange since the indisputable historical antecedent for our current crisis is the Lincoln Savings and Loan scandal of the go-go 1980s. When Charles Keating’s bank went belly up because of risky, unregulated investments, it wiped out its depositors’ savings and cost taxpayers more than $3 billion. More than 1,000 other S.&L. institutions capsized nationwide.
It was ugly for the McCains. He had received more than $100,000 in Keating campaign contributions, and both McCains had repeatedly hopped on Keating’s corporate jet. Cindy McCain and her beer-magnate father had invested nearly $360,000 in a Keating shopping center a year before her husband joined four senators in inappropriate meetings with regulators charged with S.&L. oversight.
After Congressional hearings, McCain was reprimanded for “poor judgment.” He had committed no crime and had not intervened to protect Keating from ruin. Yet he, like many deregulators in his party, was guilty of bankrupt policy-making before disaster struck. He was among the sponsors of a House resolution calling for the delay of regulations intended to deter risky investments just like those that brought down Lincoln and its ilk.
Ever since, McCain has publicly thrashed himself for his mistakes back then — and boasted of the lessons he learned. He embraced campaign finance reform to rebrand himself as a “maverick.” But whatever lessons he learned are now forgotten.
For all his fiery calls last week for a Wall Street crackdown, McCain opposed the very regulations that might have helped avert the current catastrophe. In 1999, he supported a law co-authored by Gramm (and ultimately signed by Bill Clinton) that revoked the New Deal reforms intended to prevent commercial banks, insurance companies and investment banks from mingling their businesses. Equally laughable is the McCain-Palin ticket’s born-again outrage over the greed of Wall Street C.E.O.’s. When McCain’s chief financial surrogate, Fiorina, was fired as Hewlett-Packard’s chief executive after a 50 percent drop in shareholders’ value and 20,000 pink slips, she took home a package worth $42 million.
The McCain campaign canceled Fiorina’s television appearances last week after she inadvertently admitted that Palin was unqualified to run a corporation. But that doesn’t mean Fiorina is gone. Gramm, too, was ostentatiously exiled after he blamed the economic meltdown on our “nation of whiners” and “mental recession,” but he remains in the McCain loop.
The corporate jets, lobbyists and sleazes that gravitated around McCain in the Keating era have also reappeared in new incarnations. The Nation’s Web site recently unearthed a photo of the resolutely anticelebrity McCain being greeted by the con man Raffaello Follieri and his then girlfriend, the Hollywood actress Anne Hathaway, as McCain celebrated his 70th birthday on Follieri’s rented yacht in Montenegro in August 2006. It’s the perfect bookend to the old pictures of McCain in a funny hat partying with Keating in the Bahamas.
Whatever blanks are yet to be filled in on Obama, we at least know his economic plans and the known quantities who are shaping them (Lawrence Summers, Robert Rubin, Paul Volcker). McCain has reversed himself on every single economic issue this year, often within a 24-hour period, whether he’s judging the strength of the economy’s fundamentals or the wisdom of the government bailout of A.I.G. He once promised that he’d run every decision past Alan Greenspan — and even have him write a new tax code — but Greenspan has jumped ship rather than support McCain’s biggest flip-flop, his expansion of the Bush tax cuts. McCain’s official chief economic adviser is now Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who last week declared that McCain had “helped create” the BlackBerry.
But Holtz-Eakin’s most telling statement was about McCain’s economic plans — namely, that the details are irrelevant. “I don’t think it’s imperative at this moment to write down what the plan should be,” he said. “The real issue here is a leadership issue.” This, too, is a Rove-Bush replay. We want a tough guy who will “fix” things with his own two hands — let’s take out the S.E.C. chairman! — instead of wimpy Frenchified Democrats who just “talk.” The fine print of policy is superfluous if there’s a quick-draw decider in the White House.
The twin-pronged strategy of truculence and propaganda that sold Bush and his war could yet work for McCain. Even now his campaign has kept the “filter” from learning the very basics about his fitness to serve as president — his finances and his health. The McCain multihousehold’s multimillion-dollar mother lode is buried in Cindy McCain’s still-unreleased complete tax returns. John McCain’s full medical records, our sole index to the odds of an imminent Palin presidency, also remain locked away. The McCain campaign instead invited 20 chosen reporters to speed-read through 1,173 pages of medical history for a mere three hours on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. No photocopying was permitted.
This is the same tactic of selective document release that the Bush White House used to bamboozle Congress and the press about Saddam’s nonexistent W.M.D. As truthiness repeats itself, so may history, and not as farce.
After McCain had wrapped up the Republican nomination, someone put together this list of endorsements, all but one of them obviously Republicans.
And those, with the possible exception of the last comment, are his friends!!
Q: “How much support do you think he has among the base of the Republican
A: “I don’t think he has any…I think holding their nose they’re going
to have to take him…he’s backed Bush in everything except Rumsfeld.”
~ John’s mother, Roberta McCain
“I cannot see a more counterproductive candidate for women. I cannot
vote for McCain.” ~ Jillian Manus-Salzman, leading California Republican activist
and top GOP donor.
“Mr. McCain is running the absolute most pathetic campaign I have ever seen in my whole life. His campaign is just heartbreakingly pathetic. He is a very impressive guy. He is a brave guy, but he is running the most lackluster campaign I have ever seen in my entire life. I would have thought Bob Dole’s campaign would have set a record for poor campaigns, but this one is even worse. I mean it is shocking.”
~ Ben Stein
“People would be calling in to [state committee] headquarters every week, absolutely enraged, threatening to leave the party because of some comments McCain made. The guy has no core, his only principle is winning the presidency. He likes to call his campaign the ’straight talk express.’ Well, down here we call it the ‘forked tongue express.’ …McCain is mentally unstable and out of control and vindictive…what does that say about his ability to handle real political problems?” ~ Rob Haney, Arizona State Republican Party Committee Chairman, District 11 (McCain’s home district)
“I couldn’t take it anymore. [McCain] couldn’t be worse. If McCain is
so against abortion why does he oppose all the measures needed to reduce the
need for it - making insurance companies cover contraceptives, federal funding
for birth control and comprehensive sex education? If he overturns Roe v. Wade,
what criminal penalties would he propose? He’s had a terrible record. He’s zero,
he couldn’t be any worse …he’s all against big government, and he wants big
government … to get involved in the most private decision women can make. And a
lot of women have no clue on how he is on this.” ~ Harriet Stinson, 82-year old founder of Republicans for Choice, on why she re-registered as a Democrat after 60 years as a registered Republican and GOP activist
“The war issue is a strong one … as lower-income, middle-American families are taking a disproportionate share of the burden. … It really touches the lives of women who are left behind while their husbands are deployed overseas and families who have lost a loved one.” ~ Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of former GOP President Dwight Eisenhower and now a Washington strategist and consultant, and lifelong GOP voter on why she’s “backing Obama over McCain because the Democrat has shown more understanding of how the Iraq war, the economy and other key issues affect women’s daily lives.”
“John McCain is relevant only in so far as he is not Barack Obama. The Senator from Arizona is incapable of energizing his party, brings no new people to the polls, and has a personality that is best kept under wraps. And while his strong suite is experience, especially on military matters, it was gained almost entirely in Washington, a city that 80% of Americans now believe has miserably misled and mismanaged the nation. ... Since McCain has become the presumptive nominee, I have spoken at more than two dozen Republican gatherings. The sentiment everywhere can best be summarized in the words of one of the activists, ‘No matter who wins in November, we lose.’ ... “Hillary’s women are big government feminists who are not going to be
particularly impressed with McCain’s commitment to conservatives to appoint Scalia-like judges.” ~ Angela Marie “Bay” Buchanan, sister of Pat Buchanan and former Treasurer of the United States under Ronald Reagan
“I don’t like McCain. I don’t like him at all.” ~ Representative Tom Tancredo, (R-Colorado)
“I think it’s a false notion.” ~ Vice President Dick Cheney on McCain’s “gas tax holiday” policy
“I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances…I pray that we won’t get stuck with him…[he] has a legendary temper and often uses foul and obscene language.” ~ Conservative Christian and Focus on the Family leader James Dobson
“The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.” ~ Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi)
“I decided I didn’t want this guy anywhere near a trigger.” ~ Senator Pete Domenici, (R-New Mexico)
“There’s nothing redeeming about John McCain…he’s a hypocrite.” ~ Former House GOP Whip Tom DeLay
“Everybody has a McCain story. If you work in the Senate for a while, you have a McCain story. He hasn’t built up a lot of goodwill.” ~ Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania)
“His temper would place this country at risk in international affairs, and the world perhaps in danger. In my mind, that should disqualify him.” ~ Former Senator Bob Smith (R-New Hampshire)
“I’ve witnessed a lot of his temper and outbursts. For me, some of this stuff is relevant. It raises questions about stability … It’s more than just temper. It’s this need of his to show you that he’s above you — a sneering, condescending attitude. It’s hurt his relationships in Congress … I’ve seen it up-close.” ~ Former Senator Bob Smith (R-New Hampshire)
“What happens if he gets angry in crisis? It’s difficult enough to be a negotiator, but it’s almost impossible when you’re the type of guy who’s so angry at anybody who doesn’t do what he wants. It’s the president’s job to negotiate and stay calm. I don’t see that he has that quality … I’ve just seen too much. That temper, the intolerance. It worries me.” ~ Jon Hinz, former executive director, Arizona Republican
“He is a vicious person. Nearly all the Republican Senators endorsed Bush [in 2000] because they knew McCain from serving with him in the Senate. They so disliked him that they wouldn’t support him.” ~ Former Representative Charles LeBoutillier (R-New York)
“Many Arizonans active in policymaking have been the victim of McCain’s volcanic temper and his practice of surrounding himself with aides and allies who regard politics, in the words of his paid Arizona chairman, state House Speaker Jeff Groscost, as a “bloodsport.” …McCain often insults people and flies off the handle….If McCain is truly a serious contender for the presidency, it is time the rest of the nation learned about the John McCain we know in Arizona… But the presidency is different. There is also reason to seriously question whether McCain has the temperament, and the political approach and skills, we want in the next president of the United States.” ~ John McCain’s hometown newspaper, the Arizona Republic
“For conservatives, Obama represents a sliver of hope. McCain represents none at all. The choice turns out to be an easy one.” ~ The American Conservative author and Boston University professor, Andrew Bacevich
“No dissent, no opinion to the contrary - however reasonable - will be entertained. Hardheaded is one way to say it. Arrogant is another way to say it. Hubristic is another way to say it. Too proud for his own good is another way to say it. It’s a quality about him that disturbs me.” ~ Col. Larry Wilkerson, US Army (ret.) and former chief aide to Colin Powell
“John McCain is Bob Dole minus the charm, conservatism, and youth. Like
McCain, pollsters assured us that Dole was the most electable Republican. Unlike
McCain, Dole didn’t lie all the time while claiming to engage in ‘straight talk.’” ~ Conservative columnist, author, and commentator Ann Coulter
“I always tell him he reminds me of an uncle of mine. You could get into an argument with him, then you’d see him a half-hour later and it was like nothing happened.”
~ Senator Joe Lieberman
“For the past 25 years, John McCain has consistently voted against women’s health. From opposing funding for family planning programs to voting against requiring insurance coverage of birth control, McCain has taken extreme positions. He has voted against women’s health and has not supported legislation that would help reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion. This has earned him a zero rating the lowest rating we give in the U.S. Senate.”
~ Planned Parenthood