11/24/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Lack of Judgment at Pittsburgh


CLINTON, Miss. There he goes again.

John McCain's instant acceptance of the highly suspicious story that one of his female campaign workers had been attacked at an ATM in Pittsburgh by a black Obama supporter who carved a backwards "B" on her face is the latest example of his judgment and style of decision-making, which would be potentially disastrous in a president.

Without waiting to find out whether this cockamamie story, which police immediately discounted. was true, Sen. McCain telephoned and spoke with the putative victim. His campaign pushed the sketchy story to the national media.

The "incident" was shown within hours to have been a hoax by a mentally disturbed woman who is now in custody.

Occurring at a time when the McCain campaign is running an ad warning of how Barack Obama would react to a crisis, Mr. McCain's shoot-from-the-hip reaction to this false story serves to remind us once again how totally inappropriate his reaction to a crisis would be.

It suggests that if a President McCain received a report of Soviet missiles in Cuba, North Vietnamese patrol boats attacking an American destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin, or an Iraqi dictator having weapons of mass destruction, he would believe the report without waiting to find out whether it was true and would go to war first and ask question later--if ever.

Here is John McCain's own description of his mode of decision-making: "I make them as quickly as I can, quicker than the other fellow, if I can. Often my haste is a mistake, but I live with the consequences without complaint."

"The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine," Republican Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi said of Sen. McCain in January of this year. "He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."

I don't often agree with the senior senator from my state, but he's right about this, and the American people had better heed his warning.

Historian Robert S. McElvaine is Elizabeth Chisholm Professor of Arts & Letters at Millsaps College. His latest book is Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America 2008-07-01-GTJcoversm.jpg (Crown). Among his other books is The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941 (Random House).