John McCain’s Temper Preceded Vietnam

Ronald Kessler
Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006

By his own account, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the front-runner for the 2008 presidential race, had trouble controlling his anger long before he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Back in 1999, McCain allowed reporters from the Arizona Republic, New York Times, and The Associated Press to review 1,500 pages of his medical and psychiatric records from his service in the military.

McCain would not allow reporters to copy the records. Only a few papers ran details relating to his temper.

The documents, which include the results of annual psychiatric exams after he was released from a North Vietnamese prison in 1973, indicate McCain was not diagnosed with any psychiatric disorder and had adjusted well to his ordeal. McCain’s imprisonment began in October 1967 when he was shot down over Hanoi. However, in response to the question, “What traits do you have that others object to?” McCain answered, “Quick temper.”

In one of the documents, a Navy psychiatrist, Dr. P.F. O’Connell, who examined McCain in 1973, said McCain thought he had made progress in controlling his anger during his captivity. “He learned to control his temper better,” the evaluation said. McCain learned while a prisoner “to not become angry over insignificant things: not ‘to go to the mat’ over some minor provocation by a guard that resulted in needless torture.”

Incidents

A July 5 NewsMax.com article quoted former Sen. Bob Smith, a New Hampshire Republican who served with McCain on the Senate Armed Services Committee, as saying, “I have witnessed incidents where he has used profanity at colleagues and exploded at colleagues . . . He would disagree about something and then explode. It was incidents of irrational behavior. We’ve all had incidents where we have gotten angry, but I’ve never seen anyone act like that.”

McCain’s outbursts often erupted when other members rebuffed his requests for support during his bid in 2000 for the Republican nomination for president, the story said. “People who disagree with him get the ‘f*** you,'” said former Rep. John LeBoutillier, a New York Republican who had an encounter with McCain when he was on a POW task force in the House.

“He had very few friends in the Senate,” said former Sen. Smith, who dealt with McCain almost daily. “He has a lot of support around the country, but I don’t think he has a lot of support from people who know him well.”

An Aug. 2 NewsMax story quoted Andrew H. “Andy” Card Jr., President Bush’s former chief of staff, as saying he also has observed McCain’s outbursts of anger. “Sometimes he was pretty angry, but I felt as if he was putting on a show,” Card said. “I don’t know if it was an emotional eruption or it was for effect.”

McCain Notes

At other times, McCain is simply nasty, those who know him say. Last February, McCain sent Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a mocking letter, saying he wanted to “apologize” for “assuming” Obama’s private assurances of working together were sincere.

“I’m embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics, I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear more noble,” McCain said sarcastically. “Again, sorry for the confusion, but please be assured I won’t make the same mistake again.”

McCain and Obama later talked and agreed to “move on,” as McCain put it. Senators joke among themselves about their collection of “McCain Notes” — apologies McCain sends after he has unleashed a tirade.

Democrat Paul Johnson, the former mayor of Phoenix, saw McCain’s temper up close. “His volatility borders in the area of being unstable,” Johnson has said. “”Before I let this guy put his finger on the button, I would have to give considerable pause.”

“I think he is mentally unstable and not fit to be president,” former congressman LeBoutillier said.

McCain’s office did not respond to requests from NewsMax for comment.

Not a Result of Captivity

Many have thought that McCain might have developed his out-of-control temper while a POW. But as described in his military records, McCain’s anger pre-dated his captivity.

McCain has alternately denied he is given to angry outbursts and has admitted he struggles to control his anger. On Oct. 31, 1999, for example, The Associated Press quoted him as saying, “Do I insult anybody or fly off the handle or anything like that? No, I don’t.” But in his 2002 memoir, “Worth the Fighting For,” McCain said, “I have a temper, to state the obvious, which I have tried to control with varying degrees of success because it does not always serve my interest or the public’s.”

This year, the Baltimore Sun quoted McCain on March 20 as denying he had a temper. “Just because someone says it’s there, you would have to provide some corroboration that it was,” McCain said. “Because I do not lose my temper. I do not.”

McCain continued: “Now do I speak strongly? Do I feel frustrated from time to time? Of course. If I didn’t, I don’t think I would be doing my job. But for someone to say that McCain became just angry and yelled or raised my voice or – it’s just not true. It’s simply not true,” McCain said.

Just two days earlier, however, McCain said at a forum in Scottsdale, Ariz., “I have had a bad temper in my life.” Saying he displayed his temper in his early days in office, McCain said, “Every time I ever lost my temper, I regretted it since then.”

Charmed Media Life

If McCain has had trouble keeping his story straight, he has enjoyed a charmed life with the national media. Besides largely ignoring McCain’s anger issues, the media have run few details of McCain’s bouts with malignant melanoma, a deadly form of cancer that can spread quickly throughout the body, and have rarely cited a litany of inappropriate comments by McCain over the years.

For example, only a few news outlets, like the Phoenix New Times in Arizona and the National Journal, have run an Associated Press story reporting McCain’s 1998 joke suggesting that Chelsea Clinton was ugly and that Janet Reno and Hillary Clinton were lesbians.

“Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?” McCain said at a GOP fund-raiser in Washington. “Because Janet Reno is her father.”

When running stories on Sen. George Allen’s recent reference to a student of Indian descent as a “macaca,” a genus of monkey, the media referred to inappropriate remarks by other political candidates but never mentioned McCain’s 2000 statement, “I hate the gooks,” a racial epithet for Asians. McCain later apologized and said he was referring to his wartime captors.

When McCain recently said it “grieves me so much” that the American people were “led to believe that this [the invasion of Iraq] would be some kind of a day at the beach,” 177 news outlets ran the story. The Washington Post referred to McCain’s criticism in 10 stories. The New York Times referred to it in three stories. But only two media outlets — MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews and Fox News’ Special Report with Brit Hume — referred to an AP story quoting McCain’s March 2003 statement on Hardball that U.S. forces would “absolutely, absolutely” be greeted as liberators.

In part because he gives reporters access and charms them with his apparent openness, and in part because they relish his condemnations of President Bush and agencies like the FBI and CIA, McCain is a darling of the press.

In contrast to the buttoned-down Bush press operation, McCain’s handlers allowed reporters to spend hours schmoozing with him on bus tours during his 1999 campaign. That strategy has worked.

In a major exception to what it called the “fawning” treatment the national media give McCain, the Arizona Republic, in a front page article and separate editorial in October 1999, said it wanted the nation to know about the “volcanic” temper McCain had unleashed on top state officials.

“McCain often insults people and flies off the handle,” the editorial said. Moreover, he is often “sarcastic and condescending.” The paper said that it was “time the rest of the nation learned about the John McCain we know in Arizona.” The editorial said there is reason to “seriously question” whether McCain has the “temperament” to be president.

Healthy Enough to Serve?

McCain has had a lengthy battle with cancer, yet only the Arizona Republic has fully covered McCain’s health history. McCain has never allowed his doctors to talk directly to the press. However, according to his office, a melanoma was removed from McCain’s left shoulder in 1993. In 2000, McCain had surgery to remove two more melanomas on his left temple and left upper arm. As a precaution, all lymph nodes were removed on the left side of his neck. Also, part of the parotid gland was removed.

According to McCain’s office, his doctors at the Mayo Clinic said surgical margins around the melanomas were clear of cancer. The lymph nodes were negative. McCain’s office said his prognosis was “very good,” and the new melanomas were not related to the 1993 melanoma.

According to Dr. Bill Halmi, a dermatologist with St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, it is unusual to have three melanoma lesions in a lifetime. The chances of developing one is only 1 percent to 2 percent.

“The fact that he [McCain] has had several means he’s someone that you have to keep a close eye on,” he said.

However, “It doesn’t sound like he has any risk at the moment,” said Dr. Burton J. Lee III, White House physician to former President George H.W. Bush. Lee, who specialized in lymphomas at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said, “If any one of them [the melanomas] had recurred, then you have a bad situation. You either get them out or you don’t. Most of the time, if you have a good surgeon and get them early enough, you get them out.”

Given that McCain just turned 70, his health would be expected to be an issue in a presidential run. If elected president, McCain would be three years older when elected than Ronald Reagan was when he won his first term. At 69, Reagan was the oldest man elected president.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of NewsMax.com.

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