John McCain is not a bad person, but he makes rash, bad decisions under stress. The fact that far too many Americans didn't realize this earlier is a sad commentary on the press - one largely unwilling to consider the past relevant to the present or just too lazy to do research.
McCain has demonstrated his inability to deal with stress and disagreement for many years. It is a serious detriment to his ability to lead effectively and consistently. And it has very little, if anything, to do with age.
Some of the sharpest people most of us know are over seventy. We diminish the severity of the problem and misjudge the reasons for John McCain's erratic nature by blaming his advancing years. Youth has its down sides too. John McCain's problem is the struggle he has with a very angry, reckless side of himself.
His choice of Sarah Palin may have seemed humorous at first, but it has put this country in jeopardy. Comedic renditions of her may amuse, but Sarah Palin as vice president simply is not funny. McCain's decision to make her his running mate was impulsive - one made without consideration by what we might call John McCain2. His sudden lashing out at Secretary Cox - blaming him for the current economic fiasco was reckless too. His abrupt decision to go to Washington just before the initial vote by Congress on the bailout bill might have been fine. But why days before the first presidential debate announce you might not be there? Why not be patient -- take things a day at a time even hour by hour - to let circumstances play out a little?
John McCain2 angrily berated and walked out on POW-MIA families instead of reasoning calmly as his better side is capable of doing. You can see why Joe Biden considers McCain a friend. When doing his regular senatorial job he can be calm, charming, collaborative, and perceptive.
But which John McCain would we get as president? Even if it were John McCain1 for a while, he's simply too close to the irascible John McCain2. The risk is too high. The next president is going to be under inordinate stress. And that is when the John McCain we saw in last night's debate and in the two before will find his way to the fore. That is the impatient John McCain capable of disdain and hatred for people who disagree with him - to borrow from David Gergen - the man who loses track of his better self.
None of us is the same all of the time. But the presidency does require a "steady hand at the tiller" and John McCain doesn't possess that capacity. Disdain for him because of this is misplaced. But voting for him despite it is misguided.
I have no doubt that John McCain cares about America and the world. He cares about his family and even about our families. He has proven himself brave and a dedicated public servant, but he is scary right now. And it's not because he is over seventy, but because high-level stress brings out his lesser side.
If you've watched John McCain over the years, this is not news. But I guess we had to be completely convinced in the present. Last night's study in "anger management" should have closed the door on any and all doubts that John McCain can calmly, confidently, consistently and compassionately lead this country out of turmoil.
Professor Reardon also blogs at bardscove.