10 October 2008

Tim Dickinson on John McCain: A Blistering Biography

It's fun to say "My mother-in-law reads Rolling Stone." Especially since she passed along this incredible link. The nickel version, if I may be presumptuous enough to reduce some 10,000 words, is that the real John McCain biography dramatically undermines the generally accepted mythology of John McCain.

The thesis rests on two key points. A) The pampered flyboy never grew up, never actually underwent that pivotal coming to Jesus that the campaign touts as McCain's revelatory moment, from which point he knew that his life everafter was dedicated to his country first; and B) the Keating-croney politician never truly adopted the philosophies he has espoused since his near political ruin over the savings and loan debacle in 1989. John McCain found a political lifeline in running hard for campaign finance reform and denouncing a system that allowed so much soft money to determine political discourse and policy making in our country; simultaneously, however, the foundation he built to sustain his presidential candidacies was fueled--illegally, since he applied for and got 501(c)3 status as a nonprofit--by those same soft monies and political cronies he so artfully decried.

In telling the back story of the John McCain we see today, Tim Dickinson appears to have done his research. He cites former classmates and POWs, and McCain's colleagues from the Navy, the Arizona Republican Party, and the U.S. Senate. Taken individually, the accounts amount to slightly-more-critical-than-average beefs against a career politician. Put together, however, the criticisms advance an increasingly consistent biography of a John McCain that the campaign wants voters to be desperately ignorant about.

As Dickinson points out, the candidate himself likes to point to his own past weaknesses and mistakes as evidence of his personal and professional growth. Dickinson takes it a step further, though. McCain seems to be aware of the power of the story of his youth to affect political gain. Beyond that, however, the candidate on whom Dickinson reports has little to no use for the lessons that the self-proclaimed maverick claims to have learned the hard way. He is not cool and calm in the face of direct fire; he is not a hero who selflessly puts his own well-being on the line to protect or save others; he does not value the role of coalition building to achieve political goals; he is not the candidate who puts integrity of character and loyalty to truth above personal ambition.

Dickinson backs these statements and many more with disheartening amounts of personal testimonies from the people who know McCain and have worked with McCain since his earliest career in the Navy. More of these statements are made on the record than provided as background, and more are adjoined to a name than delivered anonymously. In an age when sources-who-cannot-be-named-because-they-have-not-been-cleared-to-speak-with-the-media appear to be those most often turned to, Dickinson's determination to rely on named sources to support the bulk of his article is noteworthy.

From crashing three Navy planes to commandeering aircraft to carry out his adulterous affair with now-wife Cindy; from chasing tail across three continents (while married to his first wife) to pulling strings to keep his career afloat; from distorting the actual events surrounding his captivity and torture to distorting the actual events around his second coming as the maverick leader of the Straight Talk Express; from being maliciously smeared and run out of the 2000 presidential race to hiring those very same tacticians to run his 2008 bid, Tim Dickinson devotes every single word to debunking the great McCain mythology that Americans have been asked to swallow whole this election year.

Bookmark the page or buy the issue, and settle in to read a blistering account of the John McCain that only McCain's lifelong familiars could tell.