John McCain graduated 5th from the bottom of his class
at the Naval Academy--#894 out of 899. What that could
mean for America if he wins the presidency...

dunce.jpg McCain-Bush-hug.jpg


Lesson of George W. Bush:  Beware the bad student who grows up to be president

One of the basic tenets of psychology is that past behavior is one of the best predictors of future behavior.  Yet in the last two Presidential elections, America largely overlooked George W. Bush's hard-drinking, underachieving days, and chose to focus on him as the born again Christian that he allegedly became when he turned 40. 

That's a shame, because Bush's irresponsible youth turned out to be highly predictive of his failed presidency

Bush's professor Yoshi Tsurumi remembered him as spoiled, loutish and a pathological liar who finished in the bottom 10% of his class at Harvard Business School.¹

In his biggest failures, how far removed is Bush from the spoiled brat he was before?  

Just as a spoiled brat tunes out what he doesn't want to hear, Bush ignored official warnings a month before 9-11 that Bin Laden was "determined to strike in the United States," and four years later, that Hurricane Katrina could cause the levees to fail and bring unprecedented devastation to New Orleans. 

Just as a spoiled brat gets his friends to beat up someone he doesn't like, Bush convinced America that Saddam Hussein was behind 9-11, had weapons of mass destruction, and that Iraq needed to be invaded. 

And just as a spoiled brat chafes at rules, Bush fought regulation of the financial markets until they failed and he had to turn to American taxpayers for a $700,000,000,000 lifeline.
Obama and McCain…Clues from their Past

When we examine this year's candidates' pasts, there is a marked contrast between Barack Obama, known in his younger days as Barry, and John McCain, known in his younger days as McNasty. 

Obama graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review.  Professors and classmates described the Law Review as sharply divided at the time between conservatives and liberals, and praised Obama's skill in getting people to work together.   

John McCain barely graduated from the Naval Academy—5th from the bottom of his class, as he told CBS 60 Minutes on September 21.  (Finishing #894 out of 899, McCain, if elected, would likely be the lowest academically ranked president in history.) 

Just as Bush's campaign focused not on the candidate's hellion days but on the born again Christian, McCain and his handlers—since he entered politics—have made sure that he is always viewed as the heroic former prisoner of war.  (It took someone with the brass of retired Army General Wesley Clark to say, "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."²

Just as we should have paid more attention to the young George Bush, John McCain's poor performance at Annapolis may be more predictive of his performance as president than his ability to endure 5½ years of torture, heroic as it was.  Asked why he finished 5th from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy, John McCain told 60 Minutes, "The fact is that I was pretty rebellious.  And I was immature.  I was sort of fighting against the tradition.  I also didn't take well to the discipline." 

Those are encouraging traits for someone wanting to be Commander in Chief:  rebellious, immature, fighting against tradition and discipline.³  How much does a person—and his underlying character—really change throughout life? 

McCain's Early Years 

Staff writer Robin Abcarian profiled John McCain for the Los Angeles Times on September 4, 2008, the day he accepted the Republican Party's nomination for President.

What can you learn about a man from his nicknames?

To his high school friends, McCain was " Punk," " Nasty," and " McNasty."  At the Naval Academy, they called him " John Wayne McCain.”  Washington Magazine once dubbed him " Senator Hothead."

In McCain's own telling, he has had a bad attitude that has followed him from infancy into old age.  Sometimes it is a thing to be proud of, sometimes a thing to regret. " My temper?" he has joked.  " I was just exploding about it this morning."

In his memoir, McCain said his parents recalled him developing " an outsized temper" at age 2:  He would hold his breath in a rage until he crashed to the floor unconscious.

At 12, during one of many cross-country moves with his mother, sister and younger brother, his mother became so exasperated that she cracked him on the head with an aluminum thermos, denting the thermos.  " From that time on," Roberta McCain told McCain biographer Robert Timberg, "he was a pain in the neck."

Small and always the new kid at school, he picked fights.  "I foolishly believed that fighting, as well as challenging school authorities and ignoring school regulations, was indispensable to my self-esteem and helped me form new friendships," he wrote....

His father deposited him at the door of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.—"a place I belonged at but dreaded," he wrote—in 1954, when he was 17.  He was a lackluster student prone to demerits and bad grades.

"I was an arrogant, undisciplined, insolent midshipman,"he wrote.  "In short, I acted like a jerk"...

The crazy times would happen after graduation in 1958, when McCain became a pilot, traveled the world and, by his own account, lived the life of a profligate flyboy. He fell in love with a wealthy Brazilian fashion model; dated a stripper called Marie, the “Flame of Florida”; drove a Corvette; crashed two planes; and accidentally knocked out power lines"—my daredevil clowning," he called it—while flying too low in southern Spain.4

In April, 2008, McCain told an audience in Pensacola, where he trained as a pilot after the Naval Academy, "You know, there are compensations to growing older, my friends, but the late discovery that you were probably not quite the charming, irresistible young man you once believed you were, but rather callow, conceited and often stupid, is not among them."5 

One constant feature of McCain's autobiographies —initially refreshing but ultimately unsettling—is his self-flagellation for shortcomings throughout his lifetime.  One gets the impression that, should he win the White House, there would be yet another volume from McCain, pointing out his many shortcomings as president. 

Shot Down in Vietnam

Volumes have been written—several by himself—about John McCain's hellish 5½ years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi.  He was beaten severely until he attempted suicide twice and finally signed and taped a confession.  Less well known is how his recklessness helped get him there.  Abcarian wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

On October 26, 1967, in the air over Hanoi, an alarm signaled that a surface-to-air missile had locked onto his plane.  He should have tried to evade the missile but decided to release his bombs first.  The missile took off the plane's right wing; McCain ejected.  He landed, with a broken leg and two broken arms, in a lake in the middle of Hanoi.4

Retired Navy lieutenant and Vietnam veteran Marvin J. Wolf commented in the Los Angeles Times, "Like every U.S. pilot flying over North Vietnam, McCain was trained to outmaneuver antiaircraft missiles.  But instead of following orders, dodging the missile to save himself, his aircraft and its payload before continuing the mission, McCain disregarded the danger to continue his bomb run….This single act of recklessness symbolizes the man and his career:  More guts than sense, unbridled contempt for authority, overweening ambition.  Not the kind of man I want with his finger on the trigger of America's nuclear arsenal."6 

What are some of the traits of a poor student, and how are they manifested in the grown-up McCain?

Foreign Affairs

Failure to finish projects

John McCain was pushing to invade Iraq as soon as the U.S. went into Afghanistan after 9-11.  He soon lost interest with Afghanistan, saying in April, 2003, " Nobody in Afghanistan threatens the United States of America.”  In October, 2005, he claimed, " We don't read about [Afghanistan] anymore, because it's succeeded.”7 

" I know how to win wars,” McCain told an Albuquerque audience on July 16. 

Failure to Improve in Subject

John McCain's long history of being wrong about Iraq is mind-boggling in its consistency. 

"Saddam Hussein [is] developing weapons of mass destruction as quickly as he can," he told Fox News in November 2001.  In February, 2003, he said, " Hussein has the ability to [turn] Iraq into a weapons assembly line for Al Qaeda's network."

"I believe that the success will be fairly easy," he assured CNN's Larry King in September 2002. 

"We're not going to get into house-to-house fighting," he told Wolf Blitzer in 2002.  " We're not going to have a bloodletting."

In March 2003, he said, " There's no doubt in my mind…we will be welcomed as liberators."8 

On July 22, 2008, McCain faulted Obama for initially opposing the troop surge in Iraq:  "I had the courage and the judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war.  It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign." 

Hold on there.  Admiral Mullen and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were also opposed to the surge.  Does that make them all traitors too?  " In essence, [the Joint Chiefs'] argument was that, even if the surge succeeded in reducing violence, the U.S. might end up a loser because it would increase the Iraqis' dependence on American military forces.  The more troops committed, this line of thinking went, the longer more of them would have to stay to prop up the Baghdad regime.  Moreover, committing the number of troops…demanded would leave the Pentagon unable to respond to any other global threat.”9

Maybe McCain was sore over the rejection the day before of an op-ed piece on Iraq that he'd written for the New York Times.  Editor David Shipley explained that in order for the article to be published, " it would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Sen. McCain defines victory in Iraq."10  Every time McCain says we have to achieve " victory" in Iraq before our troops can come home, we wonder the same thing:  Saddam's gone; there are no WMD…so when exactly can our brave troops come home?  Perhaps when all the Iraqis stop shooting at us?  When will that be?  (If Iraq invaded America with superior force, would we ever stop shooting at them?) 

In August, McCain claimed in a testy interview with Time Magazine that Iraq " is a peaceful and stable country." Not peaceful and stable enough that our troops can come home, of course...but " We are winning, and we will come home with honor and victory, not in defeat."11
Attorney Randolph L. Rhett blasted McCain's continued references to defeat in the Los Angeles Times: 

Our soldiers have done their job

The only candidate talking about military defeat in Iraq is John McCain. Our soldiers have achieved every military goal we have asked of them. They are heroes who have done their jobs flawlessly and successfully. The failures have all come from Washington. Our politicians have failed to plan, failed to set goals, failed to understand the situation and failed to construct an achievable policy.

For McCain to talk of military defeat in the face of the failure of Washington politicians is shameful, disrespectful of our armed services and astonishingly arrogant. Someone needs to remind McCain that just because politicians failed in Washington, that doesn't mean our brave soldiers failed in Iraq.

Withdrawing our troops is not a sign of military defeat; it is an acknowledgment of mistakes by civilian politicians in Washington. Keeping our troops in harm's way does not bring them honor; it sacrifices them on the altar of political hubris.12

Spoiling for a fight

Not content with two wars with no end in sight—Afghanistan and Iraq—McCain declared, "Today we are all Georgians," during the brief war between Russia and Georgia.    

(No we're not.  We're in two wars already!)  While McCain has advocated that Moscow be isolated and that Georgia be supported at all costs"including fast-tracking its membership in NATO which would require a U.S. military response should the conflict flare up again"both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have urged diplomacy and spoken out against further isolating Russia.  Said Mullen," They're going to be an important player for a long time and we are going to have to have a relationship with them."13

Geography:  D-

In a July 21 interview with Dianne Sawyer on ABC, McCain referred to the Iraq-Pakistan border, though the countries are over 750 miles apart.
The week before, he made continued references to Czechoslovakia, though the country by that name ceased to exist in 1993.

On September 18, McCain was asked by a Miami radio interviewer if as president he would meet with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.  His noncommittal answers suggested that he thought Zapatero was from Latin America:  "All I can tell you is that I have a clear record of working with leaders in the hemisphere that are friends with us, and standing up to those who are not.  And that's judged on the basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America and the entire region."  

Sociology:  D-

During his most recent trip to the Middle East, McCain claimed that Iran was training Al Qaeda and had to be corrected on camera by Senator Joe Lieberman.  (The Shiites of Iran despise Sunni-dominated Al Qaeda.)


Hanging with the class bully

During the Republican primaries, McCain boasted, "I did everything I could to get [Bush] elected and reelected.”  When an interviewer suggested that McCain was different from Bush, the senator replied, "No.  The fact is that I'm different, but the fact is that I have agreed with President Bush far more than I have disagreed.  And on the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I've been totally in agreement and support of President Bush."14

Waiting till last minute to do assignment

Soon after choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate, the news that Palin's 17-year daughter was pregnant, and growing evidence that Palin abused her power in firing Alaska's Public Safety Commissioner, raised questions about how thoroughly the McCain campaign had investigated Palin before selecting her.  Prominent Alaska politicians said that they had never been contacted by the campaign.  A GOP source with close ties to the campaign said that McCain aides "vetted her through Google and clipping services,"the Los Angeles Times reported.  "They didn't send lawyers there or talk to people who knew her there,"said the source, who did not want to be identified discussing the campaign's inside moves."15 

Asked by 60 Minutes how he made the decision to pick Palin, McCain said, "Well, I based it on what's the best for the country.  I looked at her record.  I looked at her."16  Egad, home of the whopper…

Take your marbles and go home

On September 2, 2008, angry about a tough CNN interview with a campaign aide about Sarah Palin's foreign policy credentials, McCain canceled an interview with Larry King.    



 "I know the economy.  I know how to fix it,"he told 60 Minutes on September 21.  McCain was backtracking from an earlier interview he'd given, stating that he didn't know too much about the economy.  "That statement about me and the economy was made in the context of a long conversation.  Moral of the story is, don't have long conversations, especially with 60 Minutes.  Point is, no seriously, is that I understand the economy as chairman of the Commerce Committee, which oversights [sic] all of the commercial aspects of America's economy.  I've been involved in these issues for many, many years.  I know the economy.  I know how to fix it."

Skipping Homework

A reporter asked McCain on September 23, 2008,"What do you think of Secretary Paulson's plan?"  (The 2½ page bailout plan had been released four days before.)
"I haven't had a chance to see it in writing,"McCain answered. 

Against the rules…until things blow up

"I'm always in favor of less regulation," McCain told the Wall Street Journal in March.

"To somehow assert that I'm not for regulation is contradicted by my record," he told the Des Moines Register on September 30.

In fact, McCain has been fighting regulation since early in his career, and it almost cost him his Senate seat.  In the 1980's he voted repeatedly against congressional efforts to tighten regulation of Savings and Loans, and in 1987, when he learned that his political benefactor Charles Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan was the target of a federal investigation, he met with regulators in an effort to get them to back off.  McCain became known as one of the "Keating Five"—senators who accepted large donations from Keating and intervened on his behalf.  He was reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee for "poor judgment."17 

McCain promptly re-invented himself as a campaign finance reformer.  As Noam N. Levey points out in the Los Angeles Times, the about-face was classic McCain.  "The Arizona senator embraces his party's popular critique of government, frequently invoking the deregulatory rhetoric that has helped Republicans win five of the last seven presidential elections.  But when a crisis or scandal makes headlines and sparks a public outcry, McCain is among the quickest in his party to call for robust government intervention….These two sides of McCain make it hard to discern how the politician who boasts of delivering "straight talk' would govern from the Oval Office."18

Now that we've wrecked the cafeteria, let's trash the gymnasium

In the September edition of Contingencies, McCain wrote, "Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation."19



Many of McCain's snipes at his opponent sound like the classroom bully making fun of the kid who's good at math.  In July, after Obama's successful trip to the Mideast and Europe, McCain responded with an ad showing Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Barack Obama.  The announcer sneers, "He's the biggest celebrity in the world." (The significance of thousands of Germans waving American flags apparently eluded McCain.)

Computer Science: D-

On July 13, 2008, John McCain told the New York Times that he is "learning to get online" himself.

When in doubt, make it up

In his advertising and in direct statements, John McCain seems not to have gotten the honesty gene. See the most recent whoppers.

Picking on Girls

In March, 1986, McCain was reported to have told this "joke" at a conference of the National League of Cities and Towns in Washington, D.C.:  “Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die?  When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, "Where is that marvelous ape?'"20

Confronted about the joke in July, 2008, a spokesman said that McCain does not recall telling the joke, but that "he's long said and done things in the past that he regrets. You've just got to move on and be yourself. That's what people want. They want somebody who is authentic and this kind of stuff is a good example of McCain being McCain."21

Talk about lowering expectations...for a president of the United States.


People who know McCain well say he has the personality of a fighter pilot—more reactive than reflective. His service in Vietnam notwithstanding, Americans can be forgiven for thinking that the last thing they need right now—after enduring their own kind of torture for eight years—is another rebellious hothead who fails at the presidency because he was never really suited to it in the first place.  

Robert C. Keating, Editor
October 3, 2008
© 2008 mostcorrupt.com
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¹ Salon.com, September 16, 2004
² Los Angeles Times, June 30, 2008
³ In terms of presidential mythology, we've come a long way from George Washington, who could not tell a lie, and Abe Lincoln, who studied his books for hours by the light of the fireplace.
4 Los Angeles Times, Robin Abcarian, September 4, 2008
5 Los Angeles Times, Maeve Reston and Robin Abcarian, April 4, 2008
6 Los Angeles Times, Letter to the Editor by Marvin J. Wolf, September 8, 2008
7 Los Angeles Times, Rosa Brooks, July 17, 2008
8 Los Angeles Times, Rosa Brooks, May 22, 2008
9 Los Angeles Times, Timothy Rutten, September 10, 2008, reviewing The War Within:  A Secret White House History 2006-2008, by Bob Woodward
10 Drudge Report, July 21, 2008
11 Time Magazine, interview with James Carney and Michael Scherer, August 27, 2008
12 Los Angeles Times, Letter to the Editor by Randolph L. Rhett, July 30, 2008
13 Los Angeles Times, Peter Spiegel, September 23, 2008
14 Los Angeles Times, Jonathan Chait, July 31, 2008
15 Los Angeles Times, Mark Z. Barabak, September 2, 2008
16 CBS 60 Minutes, September 21, 2008
17 Los Angeles Times, Rosa Brooks, September 25, 2008
18 Los Angeles Times, Noam N. Levey, October 2, 2008
19 John McCain, “Better Care at Lower Cost for Every American,” Contingencies.org
20 Tucson Citizen, October 27, 1988
21 MSNBC Countdown with Keith Olbermann, July 17, 2008

Who is the most corrupt president in U.S. history?