There is something not quite right about John McCain. Before he became the Republican nominee for president, some who knew him well, or at least worked with him closely, raised questions about his “temperament.”
Temperament was a polite was of saying that the curious blend of emotion and intellect that makes each human unique makes McCain uniquely unsuitable for the White House. In the early days of this very long election, it was easy to dismiss such talk as “loose” or “unfounded.” Rivals, after all, will say or do just about anything to make their opponents look bad or to sow doubts about them.
Still, it is unfortunate that Republican voters did not pay more attention to those warnings, because it looks as if the United States now has about a 50-50 chance of electing as president someone who is clearly not all there. Every president does things that some, even many, think are crazy. But in its colorful history, the United States has yet to knowingly elect a chief executive who is himself unbalanced.
Watching McCain over the past several weeks, it is hard to escape the conclusion that he is unhinged: regularly forgetful, alternating between aggressive bluster and smug self-satisfaction, and lying with wild abandon.
Considered in isolation, any one of these tendencies might not be cause for alarm. We all forget things. Perfectly able 72 year olds will concede that their memories are not what they used to be. The close combat of a national election certainly calls for a sort of manic energy. So what if McCain runs a little too hot? And lying . . . well, that is a staple in politics.
Then again, maybe not.
McCain lies with an intensity that would make President George W. Bush blush. Bush’s lie about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction may have caught up with him, but so big was that lie that it took a year or two for the truth to come out. And even when Bush’s rationale for invading Iraq was revealed as a fraud, he was able to seek solace among true believers by suggesting it was dependent upon one’s interpretation. We know the horribly costly consequences of that lie.
McCain, on the other hand, lies about things that can be quickly disproved and are not subject to any interpretation. McCain said that, as governor of Alaska, vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin opposed the so-called Bridge to Nowhere. It took about 72 hours for that whopper to be shot down. McCain said that he favored regulation that would have prevented the financial crisis that now threatens the American — and the world — economy. The record shows the opposite to be true. We’ll accept the uncomfortable proposition that it is not crazy to lie in politics. But does it make sense to tell crazy lies?