What will be the fate
Of the Manchurian Candidate?
Known to party and swirl
With dozens of girls
Showing a temper that’s famous
Using words that will shame us
While courting the Right Wing
That excuses his night flings
So, just what will unfold
Will he crash and explode?
A week ago or so, a friend handed me a short crash history of the presidential candidate. It caused me to do a little research beyond McCain’s autobiography that I had read years ago. We all know about his crash as a fighter pilot in North Vietnam and that seems to be an unfortunate reality of a man doing his job and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Chalk that up to bad luck even if you believe that he should have ejected sooner than he did. His injuries were caused by the ejection process at 500 knots and not by his judgment. There are four other McCain airplane disasters that do not easily fall into the same category however. Let us start at the beginning of his government life. McCain had the reputation of being a marginal but hard drinking midshipman while at Annapolis. According to fellow midshipman Robert Timberg who wrote, The Nightingale’s Song, “being on liberty with John McCain was like being on a train wreck.” It is that character issue that causes me to pause at those who wink and nod at the indiscretions and bad judgment of potential leaders. I see them as being either too forgiving or blind to a defect that could affect us all if McCain becomes Commander-in-Chief. After all, we have just experienced nearly 8 years of a hard drinking party animal who continuously demonstrated bad judgment in nearly every aspect of leadership and took us all along for the ride to an unnecessary war while failing to prosecute the war in Afghanistan, to a market crash, to the loss of millions of jobs, to the loss of our noble international reputation, to institutionalizing torture, to the supremacy of loyalty over competence, and to an economy that depends more on oil today than when he took office in January 2001.
The parallels between Bush and McCain don’t end with the party animal escapades but extend into the world of privilege that both enjoyed by virtue of family ties. Let us begin with McCain’s first airplane demolition. Lt. McCain was a student pilot for 2 ½ years at Pensacola and Corpus Christi after graduating from the US Naval Academy. While in Pensacola, he dated the exotic dancer (stripper) “Marie, the Flame of Florida.” His fitness reports appear to indicate that his performance was below par. Indeed, he crashed his trainer into Corpus Christi Bay while trying to land. That was often enough to boot a trainee out of flight school, but not McCain who had an active 4 star admiral dad and a retired 4 star admiral grandfather. Of course, that could have been coincidence, just as it was coincidence that W got into the Texas Air Guard despite long waiting lists of less well-connected citizens. Sometimes good stuff happens to well-connected people. His second crash happened because he was flying too low over Spain while on a Mediterranean cruise, and he took down power lines along the way. The headlines did not reflect his bad judgment or faulty depth perception, but that he was the son of an admiral. Not to worry; he was nonetheless promoted to flight instructor back at Pensacola. His third crash happened as he was flying a Navy trainer (solo) to Philadelphia on the way to an Army-Navy game. He parachuted safely, but the plane was destroyed striking a group of trees. Nobody killed…no harm; no foul? Again, the Navy glossed over the event and there was no uproar over personal use of a military aircraft. After all, what could be more important than the Army-Navy game?
John McCain’s 4th airplane disaster actually occurred on the deck of the USS Forrestal. He was waiting on deck for takeoff, and (according to one nasty version) he wet-started his A4E Skyhawk which caused a jet of flame to strike the Phantom F 4 immediately behind him. That caused a Zuni rocket to ignite and launch starting a chain of events that killed at least 164 men. The more official version attributes the M 48 Zuni launching to stray current when the system was switched from external to internal. The “angry” (Navy veterans) version described McCain as a “hot dog” pilot who wet started his aircraft and that he panicked and dropped his two 1,000 lb bombs on the deck in the ensuing fire. Regardless of what version you may read, McCain was quickly and singularly removed from the Forrestal and put in safety, some say to protect him from other crew members who felt that the accident was caused by his actions. Indeed, a Navy veterans’ group has been vicious in criticizing McCain for this incident. If there is evidence that he caused the accident, I have not read it and, personally, I feel that the stray electrical current is a credible cause. Unfortunately, McCain reported several versions of the event himself and some critics are using this as proof of his guilt. We don’t need to go there. It is clear that he got special treatment by being the only one given immediate removal from the burning ship, but if you have experienced the confusion of similar smoke, fire and chaos, you will understand that details will never be known. It is unwise as well as unfair to blame McCain for that tragedy. He has enough blame to bear as we review his crashes and behavior.
John McCain’s fifth and final crash resulted from enemy action and, again, it is not fair or wise to assume that greater skill would have avoided it. In summary, it would appear that three of the five demolitions were caused or contributed to by questionable pilot judgment and the willingness of the Navy to keep McCain flying despite marginal skills and demonstrations of “hot-dogging.” I have not read of any “near misses,” but only of his 5 crashes. In a way, I equate McCain’s actions to that of a rebellious and spoiled teen who wrecks his daddy’s Corvette only to be given the keys to a newer model. The Navy and his 4 star daddy continued to give him the keys.
McCain’s lack of maturity showed up in more personal ways as shown by this excerpt from the web entry “thought Rogue” (http://gto7.wordpress.com):
Upon returning home with the aid of crutches, he discovered his wife Carol had survived her own ordeal - a devastating car accident in 1969 which left her with her own set of crutches, four inches shorter, and considerably heavier than the model she had been.
As he went through physical therapy for his injuries and recovered just enough to be appointed commanding officer of an A-7 Corsair II training squadron in Jacksonville, FL, his marriage entered troubled waters. For all they had been through, chasing his youth (and various women), the Maverick engaged in a series of extra-marital affairs. He said, “My marriage’s collapse was attributable to my own selfishness and immaturity more than it was to Vietnam, and I cannot escape blame by pointing a finger at the war. The blame was entirely mine.”
As the web entry indicates, the party animal of his midshipman days did not disappear after 5 ½ years in the Hanoi Hilton. He was selfish and immature. These are the same characteristics that fellow senators point to today when they describe his verbal and physical assaults in the senate environs. In a quote attributed to McCain by Cliff Schecter, his temper and shameful treatment of his second wife (Cindy) shine through in a harsh and disturbing way. As Cindy twirled his hair, she said “You’re getting a little thin up there.” McCain’s face reddened and he responded, “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you c___.” He offered his fatigue for a long day as an excuse. As president, he might just have a long day once in a while.
As you may remember, the Manchurian Candidate is the story of a brainwashed POW returning to the US and politics. McCain was indeed interrogated by North Vietnamese officials during his time in prison. While McCain vigorously denied that the Soviet Russians also interviewed him, KGB Major General Kalugin testified under oath that the KGB worked on a “high ranking naval officer.” Kalugin was repatriated to the United States. Colonel Bin Tin of the North Vietnamese Army testified that the Soviets indeed interrogated American prisoners and treated them badly. Bin Tin had access to all this information due to his high position in the Communist Party. Bin Tin wants normalization of relations with the Vietnamese and was warmly greeted by McCain when he testified to the US Senate. McCain, in 1991, influenced other Republican senators to stop POW/MIA investigations. Indeed, this interrogation period is troubling because it indicates that McCain was likely given special treatment due to his relationship to his father and, worse that he may have violated Article V of the US Military Code of Conduct that prohibits providing intelligence to the enemy although McCain claims that it was only accidental that he offered “military information” at the time he was getting special medical treatment. (Ted Sampley, U.S. Veteran Dispatch, December 1992). Not incidentally, McCain provided military information that described how tactical air attacks were executed; he estimated pilot losses and how replacements were provided to the mission. It is difficult not to link the two actions since they happened simultaneously. Communists seemed to delight in having the son of an admiral in custody.
Let me review the issues. If past behavior is the best predictor of future performance, then I would expect McCain to take a high risk approach to foreign and domestic affairs as president. Further, I would expect that his “other” affairs would easily outpace Clinton and probably Bush as well. Bush has claimed sobriety for several years and, if true, that would probably cut down his girl chasing. Clinton seems to be recently more discrete if not more pure. McCain’s privileged behavior is troubling even if precipitated by pain of torture that he now supports.
Choosing to focus on issues critical to the nation over self-adulation and indulgence would not seem to be likely for McCain. His renowned temper would probably aggravate delicate foreign relations. Note that he recently rebuked Senator Obama for having said that he, Obama, would negotiate with North Korea, only a matter of two weeks before Bush announced relaxation of sanctions and negotiations with North Korea. The rude disdain he has shown for his two wives (abandonment and crude sexual insult) might not easily support the agenda for women. Finally, his past behavior of expecting personal privilege would interfere with the decision process just as it has with Bush. (“My way or the highway, and there can be no compromise on my powers.”) Three of McCain’s crashes appear to be the result of faulty judgment ignored by a compliant Navy. Bush has enjoyed both compliant parents and the Congress that spoiled him rotten. If that does not bring up the memory of George W. Bush and his inability to stay with the Air National Guard; getting bailed out of weak business decisions in Oil and Baseball industries by Daddy’s friends, then I am missing something. If character means something important to the office of President, then we need to have some straight talk for a change. We cannot afford 8 or even 4 more years of indulging the perpetual adolescent.
The Vietnamese-American citizens of Little Saigon here in Orange County California have been very sensitive to the attempts to normalize relations with the Communists of Vietnam and they already resent the attempts by the Bush Administration to minimize the importance of the hundreds of political prisoners still held by Vietnam. McCain voted with Bush 100% of the time in 2008 and 95% in 2007 including McCain’s reversal to support torture. (He was against torture before he was for it.) Maybe he has been brainwashed in Washington if not Hanoi. It is time for an accounting and not for privilege. It is time to ground McCain and take his keys away before he crashes again.
30 June 2008
(ed note: George has a blog to which this blog is linked, Splinters-splinters. This one seemed critical to all my readers.)