One of America’s best known senators, John McCain’s popularity has been based largely on his reputation as a maverick, as well as his heroism while enduring years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp. Although often characterized as a political moderate, others, including McCain himself, point to a long history of the hawkish rightwing conservatism espoused by his predecessor in Arizona politics, Barry Goldwater. Nevertheless, movement conservatives tend to distance themselves from McCain, citing strong disagreement with his stances on issues like gun control and campaign finance reform.
John McCain was born in 1936, the son and grandson of U.S. Navy admirals. A rebel who nevertheless followed family tradition, he attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis where he eventually graduated, despite some difficulties. As a young naval aviator, he experienced more than one close brush with death, including a narrow escape from a horrific accident on the deck of the USS Forrestal, in which he suffered shrapnel injuries while 132 sailors were killed.
The following year, McCain’s plane was shot down and, after suffering multiple injuries in the crash and beatings from civilians and North Vietnamese military, he was imprisoned at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” POW camp. In the years since, he has been lauded for his courage in the face of ongoing torture and for refusing an opportunity to leave the camp ahead of his comrades. He was released in 1973 and required years of rehabilitation for his many injuries.
In 1976, McCain was appointed the Navy’s liaison to the United States Senate. He apparently liked what he saw and, after a brief stint in business and four years as a Republican congressman, he successfully took over the Senate seat vacated by his hero, rightwing standard-bearer Barry Goldwater. His early senatorial career was marred when, in the wake of the savings and loan scandals of the 1980’s, Senator McCain was rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee for intervening on behalf of Charles Keating, who was later imprisoned for fraud. Since then he has forged a reputation as an unusually straightforward politician with an occasionally quirky sense of humor, who occasionally goes strongly against the mainstream political tides and occasionally shows a bit of temper.
In his 2000 presidential bid, he won the hearts of many independents and moderates with his direct style and sense of humor. With the Republican party increasingly dominated by religious conservatives and unswerving loyalists, his ability to take unusual stances and his criticism of such icons of the religious right as Jerry Falwell set him apart.
Riding a groundswell of dissatisfaction with politics as usual, McCain started quite strongly in the 2000 election primary, but was ultimately defeated by future president George W. Bush. Since, stories have emerged of dirty tricks, including a notorious “push poll” linked to the Bush campaign, which insinuated to Southern voters that McCain had fathered a black child. In fact, McCain and his wife, Cindy Hensley McCain, had adopted a Cambodian orphan. (Twice married and now a grandfather, McCain is the father of seven children, both biological and adopted.)
Despite lingering rumors of deep animosity between McCain and the Bush camp, when the build-up to the Iraq war began in 2003, the Arizona senator was a supporter of the war. However, important differences with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quickly emerged over issues like troop strength.
During the 2004 Presidential election, McCain criticized the so-called “Swiftboat” campaign against his one-time friend and fellow Vietnam veteran John Kerry and some saw him as a potential defector from GOP ranks. In fact, he is believed to have turned down an opportunity offered by Democratic presidential candidate Kerry to run on a “unity ticket” against Bush. In any case, soon after the alleged offer, McCain surprised many observers by making a series of campaign appearances with the President. McCain’s presence in the Bush campaign was seen by many as an attempt at courting the base of the Republican party in preparation for a run in 2008.
The conservative fence mending continued in 2006 with an appearance at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Though he had once called the late fundamentalist reverend an “agent of intolerance,” the appearance was so positive that it also some harsh teasing by his best known liberal-to-moderate media admirer, comedian Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show.” During one of their many interviewers, Stewart asked him on the air whether the Straight Talk Express had “been re-routed through B-llsh-t Town.”
As the primary campaign began in earnest, 71-year-old McCain, who had suffered some health problems, appeared less energetic than before and, despite all the fence mending, he was still distrusted by hardcore conservatives. Meanwhile, with the departure of Donald Rumsfeld in the wake of the 2006 elections and President Bush’s decision to increase troop strength, his support of the Administration’s unpopular war in Iraq became more vociferous, just as its popular approval was dipping to record lows. Whether he will be ultimately be rewarded or punished for his tenacity in sticking with an unpopular war and his past unorthodox opinions remains the key question of his campaign.
John McCain on the Web
The official website of the McCain for President campaign. Features videos of the senator’s latest commercials and campaign videos.
U.S. Senator John McCain
The official web site of John McCain’s senate office.
John McCain on MySpace
Campaign commercials, blog entries, and more.
The YouTube Interview
Senator McCain speaks with YouTube’s Steve Grove.
Economic Policy Speech
McCain speaks on behalf of a tougher line on government spending.
On Meet the Press
The senator reconciles his support of the war in Iraq with a past statement on the U.S. intervention in Somalia.
With David Letterman
Senator McCain announces his 2008 run, but not formally.
On the Woodstock Museum
The senator humorously attacks Hillary Clinton’s support of appropriations for a museum dedicated to Woodstock, from the Fox News debate.
Barbara Streisand Medley
Senator McCain salutes Babs, from a 2002 episode of “Saturday Night Live” hosted by McCain.
On the Campaign Trail
While his outspoken support of the Bush Administration’s post-Donald Rumsfeld Iraq policy hasn’t hurt him among Republicans, McCain, who had been diagnosed with skin cancer, did seem to suffer from lagging energy and a disorganized, under funded campaign.
Now that McCain has reorganized his campaign and the one-time front-runner is now regarded as a dark horse, pundits have somewhat predictable declared that there is a new energy in his campaign and McCain himself. Indeed, in late 2007 appearances, including yet another appearance on “The Daily Show,” McCain appeared far more vigorous than before. Still, it remains to be seen if his once strong cross-over appeal and renewed conservative bonafides can return him to the front ranks of the GOP candidates.
The Quotable John McCain:
On glory and loyalty:
“Glory is not a conceit. It is not a decoration for valor. Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles, to the people on whom you rely and who rely on you in rerun.”
On finding bin Laden:
“On the subject of Osama bin Laden... we will track him down. We will capture him. We will bring him to justice, and I will follow him to the gates of hell.”
On congressional spending:
“Ronald Reagan used to say, we spend money like a drunken sailor. I never knew a sailor, drunk or sober, with the imagination of the Congress. And by the way, I received an e-mail recently from a guy who said, ‘As a former drunken sailor, I resent being compared to members of Congress.’”
“War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality.”
On the use of torture:
"Anyone who says they don't know if waterboarding is torture or not has no experience in the conduct of warfare and national security…. It isn't about an interrogation technique. It isn't about whether someone is really harmed or not. It's about what kind of a nation we are."
Comments, questions and suggestions can be sent to Gerardo Orlando at email@example.com.