cupped a fist and began pumping it, up and down, along the side of his
body. It was a gesture familiar to a participant in the closed-door
meeting of the Senate committee who hoped that it merely signaled, as
it sometimes had in the past, McCain's mounting frustration with one of
But when McCain leaned toward Charles E. Grassley
and slowly said, "My friend . . ." it seemed clear that ugliness was
looming: While the plural "my friends" was usually a warm salutation
from McCain, "my friend" was often a prelude to his most caustic
attacks. Grassley, an Iowa Republican with a reputation as an
unwavering legislator, calmly held his ground. McCain became angrier,
his fist pumping even faster.
It was early 1992, and the occasion was an informal gathering of a
select committee investigating lingering issues about Vietnam War
prisoners and those missing in action, most notably whether any
American servicemen were still being held by the Vietnamese. It is
unclear precisely what issue set off McCain that day. But at some
point, he mocked Grassley to his face and used a profanity to describe
him. Grassley stood and, according to two participants at the meeting,
told McCain, "I don't have to take this. I think you should apologize."
McCain refused and stood to face Grassley. "There was some shouting
and shoving between them, but no punches," recalls a spectator, who
said that Nebraska Democrat Bob Kerrey helped break up the altercation.
Grassley said recently that "it was a very long period of time"
before he and McCain spoke to each other again, though he declined,
through a spokesman, to discuss the specifics of the incident.
I am not concerned about a man's temper. Hell, I've got a temper that rivals McCain's. However, what I am concerned about is his manner towards people when he is in his temper. Mocking another person, personally attacking them verbally, is simply an act of an insecure person lacking confidence. That is not what I want from a person sitting in the Oval Office.
A lot happens in this world. Much of that makes me angry. Yes, I accept that even the President of the United States can, and will, get angry. But I expect them to use that anger to energize them into constructive action. What I don't want is another childish, insecure reactionary in the office, making decisions based on misguided personal feelings of honor and dignity.
When the next person steps into the Oval Office, they damn well better understand it is not about them, but about the country. The current occupant never figured that out.