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John McCain Needs a Permanent Time Out

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On the eve of the final presidential debate for 2008, the question about who John McCain "really" is needs to be addressed carefully and clearly.

Since the financial crisis, McCain has called himself a regulator who seeks to eliminate earmarks and to regulate Wall Street in other ways.

But for the previous two decades, McCain has been a noted anti-regulator. He was criticized -- to say the least -- by Senate colleagues for his role in the Keating Five corruption scandal. Never before has he supported corporate regulation.

Therefore it is unsurprising that John McCain is unable to regulate his rage reactions, his moods and his impulsive outbursts. His character is the quintessential de-regulator. His assertions to the contrary, he is constitutionally incapable of walking the walk or talking the talk. Even after he spoke in support of change, he continued to behave the same as always. He couldn't self-regulate when he suddenly suspended his campaign, when he flew to Washington to disrupt bail-out meetings, when he threatened to derail the first debate.

Worse than that, he showed no capacity for self-regulation in his impetuous choice of Governor Palin as his running-mate. And most telling of all is his insistence on using language aimed at inflaming his supporters. He whips them into a frenzy of hatred that even he cannot control - as witnessed by shouts of "kill Obama" and accusations that Obama is a terrorist become more and more stentorian. This behavior is not only damaging his campaign but also damaging our nation and what we stand for (or used to stand for).

He cannot regulate himself. He cannot regulate his supporters. And he cannot regulate Sarah Palin who has become an out-of-control attack dog. In psychiatry we speak of "affect regulation", meaning the ability to regulate one's emotions, to control them enough so they don't result in impulsive behavior.

In order not to lose his temper in the first two debates, McCain tried to regulate himself by repeating rote phrases. In the first debate McCain said the Obama "doesn't understand" foreign policy; in the second debate McCain kept repeating "my friends". In neither debate could he look Obama in the face. This is not passive-aggressive behavior, fear-driven, or even racist -- he was simply protecting himself from blowing his stack.

Obama's calm must drive him crazy.

John McCain used contempt instead of finger pointing or chest-thumping. But his attempts at self-regulation were in vain. His contemptuous attitude, linked with his refusal to address Obama directly, made it clear what leadership is not about. Leadership is about respecting people who hold different views rather than ridiculing them for not understanding what the problems are. Such ridicule has nothing to do with genuine strength; it is simply about hanging on without losing control.

John McCain cannot be allowed to answer the proverbial 3 AM phone call. He is not mentally equipped to do so. He just might repeat, "we are all Georgians" or sing "bomb bomb Iran" as he impulsively pushes the nuclear trigger. Characters like John McCain add color to our political landscape, but they have no place in the White House, where they have the ultimate power to destroy us all.