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Takes One To Know One

It seems John McCain is kind of a prick:

It was early 1992, and the occasion was an informal gathering of a select committee investigating lingering issues about Vietnam War prisoners and those missing in action, most notably whether any American servicemen were still being held by the Vietnamese. It is unclear precisely what issue set off McCain that day. But at some point, he mocked Grassley to his face and used a profanity to describe him. Grassley stood and, according to two participants at the meeting, told McCain, "I don't have to take this. I think you should apologize."

McCain refused and stood to face Grassley. "There was some shouting and shoving between them, but no punches," recalls a spectator, who said that Nebraska Democrat Bob Kerrey helped break up the altercation.

Grassley said recently that "it was a very long period of time" before he and McCain spoke to each other again, though he declined, through a spokesman, to discuss the specifics of the incident.

And there's this:

The nomination of a beleaguered John Tower to become defense secretary was already in trouble when Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, a conservative Democrat who later became a Republican, helped doom it by voting against Tower. A furious McCain, believing that Shelby had reneged on a commitment of support, accosted him, got within an inch of his nose and screamed at him. News of the incident swiftly spread around the Capitol.

And quite a number of other, similar incidents. Some show what appears to be a genuinely vindictive side to McCain. But in many cases the targets of his rages have ended up becoming supporters -- enthusiastic or pragmatic.

So. What does it mean? It means McCain has a temper. Bill Clinton had a temper. Lyndon Johnson had a temper. Lots of people have a temper. I have a temper. I've been called a prick more than once . . . by my wife. And others.

Of course I'm not running for president, and we have good reason for holding presidents to a higher standard than we hold temperamental kid book writers.

I have certain standards that govern my own prickishness. My rule of thumb is that it's okay to bitch upward, understandable to bitch horizontally (depending on circumstances,) and unacceptable to bitch downward. Bitching at people three rungs down the ladder from you is bullying. By my -- perhaps self-serving -- moral standard, it's kind of okay to be a prick, but contemptible to be a bully. Fine line, I grant you, and I doubt that everyone who has irritated me over the years would buy the distinction.

In addition to the direction of one's son-of-a-bitchiness, there's the question of whether the nastiness is a calculated display or evidence of a loss of self-control. I suppose with most of us bastards there's a mix, a ratio. In my case it's about 80/20 display to genuine emotion. Generally I'm putting on a show, I don't lose control. (Unfortunately my kids long ago figured this out and now calmly munch popcorn while I call down fire and brimstone.) People whose ratios are reversed scare me, because those guys are too close to being out of control. Theatrical fury is one thing; genuine purple-faced out-of-control rage is another thing entirely.

Early during their days together in the Senate, [former senator Bob, R-NH] Smith came to believe that McCain often used his temper as a strategic weapon, that if he "couldn't persuade you, he was going at least to needle you or [sometimes] belittle you or blow up into trying to have you believe you were beneath him, so that you'd be less likely to challenge him. He needed to be the top guy."

Smith admits to not liking McCain, a point he has often made over the years to reporters. "I've witnessed a lot of his temper and outbursts," Smith said. "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."

It doesn't bother me much that McCain would express contempt for Bob Smith -- Smith has it coming. But this is different:

A platform that had been adequate for taller candidates had not taken into account the needs of the 5-foot-9 McCain, who left the suite and went looking for a man in his early 20s named Robert Wexler, the head of Arizona's Young Republicans, which had helped make arrangements for the evening's celebration. Confronting Wexler in a hotel ballroom, McCain exploded, according to witnesses who included Jon Hinz, then executive director of the Arizona Republican Party. McCain jabbed an index finger in Wexler's chest.

"I told you we needed a stage," he screamed, according to Hinz. "You incompetent little [expletive]. When I tell you to do something, you do it."

Hinz recalls intervening, placing his 6-foot-6 frame between the senator-elect and the young volunteer. "John, this is not the time or place for this," Hinz remembers saying to McCain, who fumed that he hadn't been seen clearly by television viewers. Hinz recollects finally telling McCain: "John, look, I'll follow you out on stage myself next time. I'll make sure everywhere you go there is a milk crate for you to stand on. But this is enough."

McCain spun around on his heels and left. He did not talk to Hinz again for several years. In 2000, as Hinz recalls, he appeared briefly on the Christian Broadcasting Network to voice his worries about McCain's temperament on televangelist Pat Robertson's show, "The 700 Club." Hinz's concerns have since grown with reports of incidents in and out of Arizona.

See, that's uncool. If that's true, then McCain was bitching downward, attacking someone in no position to defend himself. And then, rather than be grateful to Hinz for stopping him from making an ass of himself, McCain held a grudge.

That's bitching downward plus an obvious loss of self-control. Not good.

As a bit of an s.o.b myself, I feel a certain sympatico with my fellow short-tempered assholes. I can see where McCain is coming from. I feel his pain.

But I've never screamed at anyone as far down the totem pole from me as that volunteer was from McCain. I can't imagine doing it. That leaves me suspecting that John McCain is a bigger prick than I am. I don't think that's disqualifying in and of itself, but it's not nothing, either. It's something voters should consider . . . at least as much as they consider whether Barack Obama's preacher is a nut.

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“Takes One To Know One”

  1. Blogger Tony of AntiSocial Commentary Says:

    The volunteer in that final vignette wasn't this Robert Wexler -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Wexler -- was it?

    He would have been close to the right age, but I don't know if he has ever lived in Arizona.

    I've seen a lot of the "McCain has a temper" meme recently. I think it might actually help him with his base.

  2. Anonymous C Stanley Says:

    It should be noted that McCain staffer Mark Salter says that the story about the Young Republican was a complete fabrication:
    http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=OWFmYTNmYTQ5OTcyY2QyN2ZmZDg1YzNlZWU3ODk3MjI=

  3. Anonymous Dave Schuler Says:

    I, too, have a temper. Once on a time I made a regular practice of beating the snot out of people who looked cross-wise at me. My parents enrolled me in a martial arts course. After two years I was fairly skilled, significantly more controlled, and I stopped fighting. Except for a few cases in which I was jumped and took unseemly glee in beating the snot out of my attackers.

    Age and a lifetime of martial arts have given me the control to regulate myself.