Once upon a time there was a true American icon. He grew up privileged in a family of admirals and lived off the public dime his entire life. He returned that debt honorably if not sometimes, in a reckless, irresponsible and immature manner. John McCain had it instilled in him that he had to achieve, that he had to outperform his father and grandfather. For most of his adult life he was a figure wrapped in honor and integrity.
Life at the Naval Academy, while mostly a lark of seducing young women in and out of his dress whites, nonetheless a strong sense of honor was planted in the young man. The Navy tradition of grooming young men to be officers and gentlemen mostly succeeded. Though his hard partying and lack of interest in studies resulted in his graduating 894 out of 899 his strong family connections enabled him to obtain the commissions he desired. That’s what happens when your father and grandfather were both admirals.
Young John McCain did have a strong sense of honor. Honor to his country and honor to his service. He fairy tale would end with his achieving the status of commander in chief, a rank over and above anything his paternal predecessors achieved. It was his ultimate goal.
Unfortunately for young John McCain his reckless and irresponsible streak kept interfering with his path to success. He kept crashing Navy jets due to poor judgment. He finally wrangled a tour to Vietnam because his father was the Admiral in charge of that theater of operations for the Navy.
Unfortunately he was shot down for, again, flying too low. This is where the fairy tale began going wrong for McCain. The POW camp at the Hanoi Hilton wasn’t anything like the Naval Academy. They weren’t impressed with his name, his rank, his dashing manner. Two years of torture broke the man and he decided to make the best of a bad situation. He told his captors who he was, who his father was in return for better treatment.
The fairy tale went off the rails when young John McCain, a POW, gave his captors a confession. Honor went out the window in return for survival. Now it is difficult to criticize anyone in such circumstances. Who knows what any of us would do in a survival situation? His campaign trail story of being a hero POW is not entirely accurate however.
The fairy tale went awry again when the POW returned home. He discovered his statuesque wife had been badly disfigured in a car crash and was undergoing many surgical procedures. John McCain went off to Hawaii and met another statuesque beauty, this one with the financial means to help him achieve his fairy tale. The opportunistic young man traded wife and family number one for wife and family number two. It might have been more successful long term had he not committed adultery and filed for a marriage license while still married to his first wife. Oops.
Heck, we all make mistakes. None of us is perfect so the religious right has forgiven John McCain for his youthful (42) indiscretions. The fairy tale was back on track with aid from the Hensley millions. John McCain, redefined as a war hero, ran for Congress and then the Senate. He gained a reputation for not always going along with his party leaders.
Through it all he jealously guarded his reputation for honor and integrity. Even after being caught in the largest banking scandal of the Eighties he turned it to his advantage by ratting out his fellow accomplices. Mission successful, he got a dose of religion about honor.
Sen. John McCain desperately wanted to out achieve his father and grandfather and was well on his way. In 2000 he ran for president and maintained his sense of honor in the face of a dishonorable campaign run by George W. Bush. Maintaining his restored sense of honor and integrity John McCain ran well but lost.
That was the end of Sen. McCain’s honor and integrity and this is where this American fairy tale has a sorry ending. Instead of remaining the man America knew and respected John McCain ran again in 2008 and threw every ounce of honor and integrity to the wind in one final, desperate, dishonorable and reckless campaign.
It began when he betrayed his religious principles and embraced the radical religious right. Hugging the likes of Jerry Falwell and embracing the hate filled rhetoric of Focus on the Family McCain courted the base of his party with a zeal never before seen outside his bedroom exploits.
He then ran a presidential campaign based on fears and smears. No level was too low for him to sink, no rumor too horrible to float, no fact he was willing to ignore, no lie he was unwilling to tell, he ran his reputation into the gutter of hardball politics.
This was an American fairy tale with a very bad ending. The voting public witnessed the self destruction of a once honorable man. The world witnessed the decimation of a reputation for honor built for decades. The media watched him transform himself into a nasty, vile and miserable caricature of himself. In this fairy tale the goon unmasked himself and revealed that the reckless, irresponsible youth was still hidden inside the craggy, cancer stricken face of the old man.
The fairy tale does have a happy ending however. His opponent, with a message of hope, defeated the old troll and saved the republic. It is an American fairy tale with a happy ending.