By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

McCain’s temperament

Last week I was at a dinner with a former national political reporter who was telling stories about John McCain’s volcanic temper. It was a social occasion, and I don’t feel at liberty to repeat what I heard. But let’s just say those stories fit well with yesterday’s Washington Post piece, by Mark Leahy, in which McCain is depicted as angrily berating fellow senators and lowly aides alike.

In 1999 I wrote an article for the Boston Phoenix that focused in large measure on McCain’s temper. My reporting left me surprised by the degree to which McCain was perceived differently by the national press corps, which, if anything, loved him even more then than it does today, and the Arizona media, which had suffered his insults and silences for years over their aggressive reporting on — among other things — the Keating Five scandal and Cindy McCain’s drug problem.

As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama tear each other to shreds, this is a story worth keeping an eye on.

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  1. Anonymous

    EB3 hereI always wondered why had a reputaion of not being popular among other mewmebrs. Stuff like that means alot to me. In this case, not liked by guys at work. Ain’t that how it always is. To know them is to love them. Like John Kerry and Mitt Romney. We here in Mass know/knew them better than the rest of the country. John Kerry is ‘yuk’ but our yuk. We know Kerry’s major faults and is missing something that makes us shake our heads too many times.Romney was just yuk.On the flip side, Barney Frank is seen by some around the country as far left politician with an agenda. Yet we who know him know better. And that is why little old ladies in his district who have “Pray the Rosary” bumper stickers love Barney Frank. They know him, they know he is watching out for them. They say, “hey has some crazy stuff he likes (politically and personally)but who doesn’t. Barney knows what he is doing when it comes to stuff important to Fall River. And he’s a good kid.”

  2. Anonymous

    Sunshine is the best disinfectant for both parties. Today’s WSJ front page on Barry’s Chicago beginnings is illuminating. (I’ll bet the “guys at work” just LOVE you, EB.)

  3. Anonymous

    I was going to vote reluctantly for John McCain in November. Now that I am aware of his temper, I will vote for him with much more enthusiasm.Glen BergendahlWeymouth

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Glen: It’s an issue. I don’t know how much of one. And, as your comment suggests, I suspect it cuts both ways.

  5. O-FISH-L

    Dan, when does a story become officially trite? By your own admission, you were keeping an eye on McCain’s “temper” as far back as 1999, yet he has enjoyed continued electoral success at home and now nationally. It’s now 2008 and you’re telling us “this is a story worth keeping an eye on”. It’s been almost a decade Dan, where’s the beef?

  6. Don, American

    We can use a President who can tell tinhorn dictators around the world to “Go to Hell!” (As opposed to former Presidents who play footsie with terrorists.)

  7. mike_b1

    Contrast this with Brian Mooney’s story in the Globe Sunday where he claims in graf 2: “But that [maverick] image, cemented during his failed first run for the White House eight years ago, has been scuffed on his way to becoming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. To woo the GOP’s conservative base, McCain has repositioned himself to align with the party mainstream on some key issues and downplayed others that once defined his independence.”All of which belies his truly conservative voting record. Never let the facts get in the way of the media’s portrait of an individual.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: It’s true that McCain’s voting record, for the most part, is traditionally conservative. But he moved way to the center (including flirting with a pro-choice stand on abortion and openly denouncing the religious right) during his 2000 campaign, opposed Bush’s tax cuts, led the way on campaign-finance reform, and, depending on whom you believe, may have actively solicited Kerry to be his running mate in 2004. And let’s not forget his admittedly fuzzed-up opposition to torture (sadly, that now differentiates him from most conservatives) and his humane stand on immigration (something he shares with Bush).It’s not just the stats, Mike. I’ve been trying to tell you that for a long time. 😉

  9. mike_b1

    I would separate what a politician says (perception) with how they vote (record). My hope is the media would do the same, since as unlikely it would be for an individual to calculate Bronson Arroyo’s ERA from inning to inning over an entire season (or career), even rarer is the voter who would take it upon himself to comb the Congressional Record of a career politician.

  10. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: Denouncing the religious right was something he did, and it’s not the sort of thing that comes up for a vote. (He has since retreated.)Humane immigration reform was a bill he spearheaded, and it never came up for a vote.Campaign-finance reform was something he did, and in that case, it was indeed approved by Congress.Here’s another thing … he and John Kerry ran a commission that concluded there were no living POWs in Vietnam. Again, not something that had to be voted on, but it was incredibly important, and it infuriated some conservatives.Surely you will concede that a member of Congress does many important things other than vote.

  11. MeTheSheeple

    Dan,Wow. Do you really see McCain moving to the center as opposed to trying to pander his way to a majority?1) denouncing the religious right … then a few years later, reconnecting with Falwell & Co. without explanation or critical review.2) opposing Bush’s tax cuts … and then renewing them, almost certainly by greatly increasing the deficit;3) opposing torture … and then agreeing to something that would legalized the Nuremberg defense.So if he moved to the center, is he back in crazy la-la land? If not, what’s the answer?1) He’s pandering to whatever constituency might put him into office, regardless of the facts;2) His straight talk isn’t, and his values aren’t;3) ???

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Sheeple: Jonathan Chait, whose work I admire and who has covered McCain very closely over the years, believes McCain was undergoing a genuine centrist conversion at one time. This is well worth reading. Mike ought to read it, too.Why did McCain flip back? Who knows? My personal belief is that the only issue McCain really cares about is foreign policy, and that he eventually came to see that the only people who held his hawkish views were conservatives, mainly because formerly hawkish moderate Democrats ended up disavowing Bush and the war in Iraq.

  13. Anonymous

    His temper might become an issue if he blows up on YouTube. If it’s a member of the news media, it helps. If not, it hurts.

  14. MeTheSheeple

    The Chait article was interesting reading, thank you.The thing that popped up at me in the beginning was that for both major political swings in recent history (how many were there before?) McCain attributes it to learning more about issues he hadn’t paid as much attention to.McCain was first elected to Congress in 1982. So by the time he was “learning” enough to shift to the center in 2000, he’d only been elected to a high federal office for a mere 18 years.In 18 years of learning, I went from kindergarten to leaving with a master’s degree. That’s a really long time to be discovering there’s issues other than foreign affairs.There’s a badly drawn political cartoon on McCain in the new issue of “Rolling Stone,” which accurately suggests that if he’s having problems figuring out that Al Qaeda is not Shi’ia … it’s pretty much the same thing as thinking the Nazis were Russians.

  15. mike_b1

    Dan, thanks for the Chait reference. My problem with all this is that it’s the media that has drawn this picture of McCain that, based on his voting record, has never squared with reality. Politicians talk. It’s what they do best. And because they talk so much, they end up saying things that, well, are probably not really what they believe. Years ago, I edited a book by a couple of Georgetown professors who compiled essays on the 1988 White House and Congressional campaigns. One specific comment that stood out was from George Bush (daddy) who, after the infamous “Read my lips” comment, seemed surprised that people actually wanted to hold him to that pledge. “That’s just what you say to get elected,” he said.I see no reason why McCain should be viewed any differently. And nowhere in Mooney’s story did he reference the specifics of McCain’s voting record. It was completely anecdotal, something reporters seem to love but in my opinion leaves too much of the story in the reporter’s hands.

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