10/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why Should it Take a Prison Cell to Raise a Citizen?

Here's John McCain's story as told last night, if anyone actually listened to the unadorned narrative:

Even though I was born into a life of privilege and patriotism, until I was 30 I was a spoiled wastrel.

Long before Tom Wolfe wrote the Me Generation, I lived it. I was as self-involved as the elitist leftist kids that my party has mocked and derided for decades.

"I liked to bend a few rules, and pick a few fights for the fun of it. But I did it for my own pleasure; my own pride. I didn't think there was a cause more important than me.

My father and my grandfather were both four-star admirals, but either they failed to imbue a true love of country in me, or their efforts failed because of my own lack of depth and narcissism.

I got into Annapolis because of my family's legacy, probably taking a position from someone better qualified, but less connected. That didn't mean squat to me. Rather than recognizing that responsibility, I screwed around so much that I graduated 894 out of a class of 899 at Annapolis. The Navy was our family business, and it gave me the chance to continue to drink and carouse with impunity.

Then my plane got shot down and I was gravely injured. Suddenly I was in a position where I didn't call the shots anymore.

"I couldn't do anything. I couldn't even feed myself. They did it for me. I was beginning to learn the limits of my selfish independence."

It took the deprivation and torture of captivity to make me appreciate, not to make me actually "love" America. Before then, I didn't really give a crap about it. I never really understood the wonder of our diversity and democracy. I was actually so dense that I didn't realize that America was actually an "idea."

"I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's."

So now I'm not my own man. I don't know what that means, especially because the whole thing about being a maverick is that you should totally be your own man. But Mark Salter wrote it for me, and it sounds really good if you don't think about it too much.

Or at all.