John McCain’s secret history — John Cole does not go far enough

This is a Sunday kind of post (and after an 8 year old’s birthday party too) so feel free to pass this one by in in kind silence.

But I was taking in my morning Balloon-Juice, I came across this post. In it, Cole points to the hornet’s nest of stupid Senator Tom Harkin has provoked by noting that John McCain is “trapped” in a worldview created not just by his career as professional military man, but through the immersion in military habits of thought that comes with being the son and grandson of career guys, and admirals too boot.

What Cole doesn’t add, and what the quote from Harkin seems to miss, just by a hair, is that it isn’t just the command-and-control habits that come with a professional life lived in that particular institution that should lead folks to question whether or not John McCain has temperament needed to govern.

Rather — focus on the phrase, “the son and grandson of admirals.”

Of all the four armed branches, the Navy is the most Burke’s-ian . Its officer corps is not in fact hereditary, of course, but there are strong family tradtions within it (see the McCain three-generation Navy cycle)*  and the Navy is known to have the most “gentlemen and other ranks” culture of the four fighting services. In that context, the young McCain would have spent a childhood within an acutely rank-conscious community — not just that of the Navy itself, but those of Navy officer’s bases, wives and families. Given his father’s rank and his family’s history, he’s been the laird’s son his entire life.

The sense of entitlement, the aggression, the short temper when thwarted, the absolute certainty, facts be damned…that’s McCain’s personality, which comes, as all ours do, from a wealth of sources. But one of those sources is his cradle-adulthood experience of growing up within the Duchy of Navy, a peer’s son and grandson.

It should be noted that career officers have a spotty record as Presidents at best — Einsenhower being really the clear counter example. Jimmy Carter, Annapolis ’47, is the only Naval Academy graduate to hold the office. (Washington was not truly a career military man. He was just the nearest thing to one available in 1775, at least among the well connected candidates.)

Just a thought to be going on with…or rather, perhaps this is another area in which one could channel Brad Delong and wonder why no one in our not-better press corps has dug up what it really was like to grow up John McCain.

*The fourth generation, represented by John McCain’s son, is a member of the US Marine Corps.

Image: “Second Battle of the Virginia Capes,” property of the United States Navy, (Hampton Roads Naval Museum). Nineteenth century. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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