Remember the bumbling villain Snidely Whiplash in the Dudley Do-Right animated series? But for the absence of mustache, John McCain might well have been mistaken for Snidely in the final -- thank goodness -- presidential debate. I could imagine him rubbing hands together, cackling as he anticipated tying the gentle Barack Obama to the verbal train tracks, sure of his imminent demise.
Darting, flashing eyes reveal the anger that roils within McCain, no matter how hard he tries to cover it up. The only time his eyes softened was when he talked about his running mate, Sarah Palin. Then he looked like he was in love.
His unconvincing grin forced through clenched teeth makes him look like a kid who has a really bad tummy ache but doesn't want to leave the party. He tried but failed to control his agitation, revealing a sourness of demeanor that, when spotted on children causes their mothers to warn, "Wipe that look off your face, Young Man!"
Only McCain can't wipe it off because it is what he is: a sour, angry man. His lame attempts at humor inevitably corrupt into sarcasm.
He thought he was cute saying, "Senator Obama, I'm not President Bush."
But as point after pointed, practiced barb failed to hit its calmly smiling target, you could see McCain winding into higher and higher torque. I began to fear his head would spin right off his neck.
Truth is, McCain is simply a mean, nasty man and he can't hide it any more under his fake maverick mantle. Though his hot temper is well known, it's not the temper that bothers me as much as what he does with it. Like all bullies, even laughable, bumbling ones, Snidely McCain is an abuser of his power.
My Personal Experience With McCain's Power Abuse
I've personally borne the brunt of his nastiness more than once since his first run for Congress in 1992. A few years after that, he stormed a Planned Parenthood clinic without warning in his Mesa AZ district.
I was CEO of the Central and Northern Planned Parenthood affiliate, and had several times invited him to come tour the facility. I knew his anti-choice proclivities and never expected him to agree with us on abortion. But I hoped he'd see the value of prevention as did Arizona senator Dennis DeConcini, who also opposed abortion but championed preventive family planning programs like Title X of the Public Health Services Act that funds health services for low income uninsured women. I always reached across the ideological aisle, just as McCain touts over and over.
He repeatedly declined my invitation, but then he decided to go unannounced, clearly intending to find something amiss that he could bash us with. I learned he was there when I received a call from the clinic manager: "Senator McCain is in the reception room and he is screaming and upsetting the patients."
"Hand him the phone," I said. Whereupon he screamed at me, threatening, "I'm going to defund you!" over and over. Mystified as to what precipitated his rage, not to mention his unexpected visit, I asked him to go somewhere he could call me back and we could discuss whatever had so agitated him.
A few minutes later, he called back, still frothing. He asked no questions, but screamed threats to defund us at the top of his lungs. Like Obama, I listened and didn't take his bait. I finally got him to tell me the source of his ire: a small shelf with information about legislation and post cards so people could write their elected officials if they chose. In addition, it was clear he couldn't distinguish between preventive family planning services and abortion and had no idea what services were provided there.
He simply assumed he was entitled to threaten an organization he didn't like because it was vulnerable to his political clout. But he hadn't done his homework. First, this wasn't a federally funded clinic. Second, even if it had been, you don't lose your freedom of speech as a result; it is perfectly proper to offer non-electoral advocacy information with private sources of money. Third, courtesy of Ronald Reagan, we'd recently been audited and found fully in compliance of those rules by both the General Accounting Office and the Inspector General's office. Fourth, no abortions were performed at this clinic.
I explained all this but it didn't mollify him. He kept right on screaming and threatening to use his Congressional power to take away our Title X funding. Which if course, he couldn't. Afterward, he never met with me or my board members again, the bully's way of slinking off to avoid the consequences of his behavior.
Bullies Get Away With It, Until They Don't
Stories of McCain abuses of power are rampant in his (chosen) home state. But few will speak of it publicly for fear of his retaliation. One person told me of how McCain literally threw him and a number of other organizational representatives out of his office because they deigned to urge him to vote against the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork. In this video, prominent individuals from DeConcini to former Phoenix newspaper publisher. Pat Murphy, describe other examples of volatility, explosive anger, and abuse of power.
McCain can't deny any of these things, though he has tried mightily to create a completely different, more moderate image of himself. But as his experience has devolved into arrogance, even his war hero narrative seems to be losing its glow.
So he tries to distance himself from his record and reframe his temper as feistiness. "I got the scars to prove it," he says now, listing issues where he voted against his party. That might be persuasive until Obama points out McCain voted for four of five Bush budgets. We are forced to ask: so if he is working so hard to distance himself from President Bush and his own party, why then is he a Republican? And if he has to work so hard to distance himself from his own character, how can he serve with integrity, or be trusted not to use the awesome power of the presidency to abuse others less powerful?
He hasn't made a coherent case for himself, let alone a compelling one on either the issues or his temperament. Though we're experiencing campaign fatigue, the extensive exposure to the candidates has allowed the American people to see the real John McCain.
This time, McCain looks like the Dudley Do-Right show script that says: "Camera pans to Snidely Whiplash, who is tying a blonde to some convenient railroad tracks. He seems to be having some trouble with the final knot."