“HE IS HOTHEADED” By Tim dickenson
Over the years, John McCain has demonstrated a streak of anger so nasty that even his former flacks make no effort to spin it away. “If I tried to convince you he does not have a temper, you should hang up on me and ridicule me in print,” says Dan Schnur, who served as McCain’s press man during the 2000 campaign. Even McCain admits to an “immature and unprofessional reaction to slights” that is “little changed from the reactions to such provocations I had as a schoolboy.”
McCain is sensitive about his physical appearance, especially his height. The candidate is only five-feet-nine, making him the shortest party nominee since Michael Dukakis. On the night he was elected senator in 1986, McCain exploded after discovering that the stage setup for his victory speech was too low; television viewers saw his head bobbing at the bottom of the screen, his chin frequently cropped from view. Enraged, McCain tracked down the young Republican who had set up the podium, prodding the volunteer in the chest while screaming that he was an “incompetent little shit.” Jon Hinz, the director of the Arizona GOP, separated the senator from the young man, promising to get him a milk crate to stand on for his next public appearance.
During his 1992 campaign, at the end of a long day, McCain’s wife, Cindy, mussed his receding hair and needled him playfully that he was “getting a little thin up there.” McCain reportedly blew his top, cutting his wife down with the kind of language that had gotten him hauled into court as a high schooler: “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.” Even though the incident was witnessed by three reporters, the McCain campaign denies it took place.
In the Senate — where, according to former GOP Sen. Bob Smith, McCain has “very few friends” — his volcanic temper has repeatedly led to explosive altercations with colleagues and constituents alike. In 1992, McCain got into a heated exchange with Sen. Chuck Grassley over the fate of missing American servicemen in Vietnam. “Are you calling me stupid?” Grassley demanded. “No, I’m calling you a fucking jerk!” yelled McCain. Sen. Bob Kerrey later told reporters that he feared McCain was “going to head-butt Grassley and drive the cartilage in his nose into his brain.” The two were separated before they came to blows. Several years later, during another debate over servicemen missing in action, an elderly mother of an MIA soldier rolled up to McCain in her wheelchair to speak to him about her son’s case. According to witnesses, McCain grew enraged, raising his hand as if to strike her before pushing her wheelchair away.
McCain has called Paul Weyrich, who helped steer the Republican Party to the right, a “pompous self-serving son of a bitch” who “possesses the attributes of a Dickensian villain.” In 1999, he told Sen. Pete Domenici, the Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, that “only an asshole would put together a budget like this.”
Last year, after barging into a bipartisan meeting on immigration legislation and attempting to seize the reins, McCain was called out by fellow GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. “Wait a second here,” Cornyn said. “I’ve been sitting in here for all of these negotiations and you just parachute in here on the last day. You’re out of line.” McCain exploded: “Fuck you! I know more about this than anyone in the room.” The incident foreshadowed McCain’s 11th-hour theatrics in September, when he abruptly “suspended” his campaign and inserted himself into the Wall Street bailout debate at the last minute, just as congressional leaders were attempting to finalize a bipartisan agreement.
At least three of McCain’s GOP colleagues have gone on record to say that they consider him temperamentally unsuited to be commander in chief. Smith, the former senator from New Hampshire, has said that McCain’s “temper would place this country at risk in international affairs, and the world perhaps in danger. In my mind, it should disqualify him.” Sen. Domenici of New Mexico has said he doesn’t “want this guy anywhere near a trigger.” And Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi weighed in that “the thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded.”
McCain’s frequently inappropriate humor has also led many to question his self-control. In 1998, the senator told a joke about President Clinton’s teenage daughter at a GOP fundraiser. “Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?” McCain asked. “Because her father is Janet Reno!”
More recently, McCain’s jokes have heightened tensions with Iran. The senator once cautioned that “the world’s only superpower . . . should never make idle threats” — but that didn’t stop him from rewriting the lyrics to a famous Beach Boys tune. In April 2007, when a voter at a town-hall session asked him about his policy toward Tehran, McCain responded by singing, “bomb bomb bomb” Iran. The loose talk was meant to incite the GOP base, but it also aggravated relations with Iran, whose foreign minister condemned McCain’s “jokes about genocide” as a testament to his “disturbed state of mind” and “warmongering approach to foreign policy.”