Senator and Republican presidential candidate John Sidney McCain III spends much of his stump time regaling his devotees with stories of how he is – at least since his release from North Vietnam's "Hanoi Hilton" prison – a genuine military hero who has always put "country first." To the contrary, there is evidence that he has always put John McCain first.
A recent Rolling Stone article written by Tim Dickinson, "Make-Believe Maverick", goes some distance in casting a shadow over the Arizona Senator's supposed hero status.
McCain freely admits that he led a lackluster youth, much of it spent carousing and womanizing, and that he was a poor student at the Naval Academy graduating fourth from the bottom of his class. However, he rarely, if ever, has mentioned how he repeatedly took advantage of his family ties — both his father and grandfather were Naval admirals. It was his family connections that got him into the Naval Academy in the first place, something that he likely would not have otherwise accomplished. It was through his father's intervention that John III was saved from expulsion from the Academy on more than one occasion. He used this same influence in obtaining most of his assignments during much of his military career.
Nor does he mention that he was a less than able pilot. Beside the A4 jet lost when he was shot down over Hanoi, McCain managed to lose no fewer than three other planes owing to his lack of piloting skills. None of these incidents involved combat.
Dickinson includes statements from a number of former fellow Navy colleagues and other acquaintances who claim that McCain was a short-tempered, spiteful bully and misogynist both before and after his time as a POW.
Much has been made of John McCain's POW experience in Vietnam during the last several months of campaigning for the presidency. No one will dispute that it was an horrific experience. But Dickinson claims there are issues regarding McCain's version of events during the five-plus years of his captivity. McCain claims that he was tortured and pretty much left to die until his captors discovered that he was the son of an American admiral. What he doesn't relate is that it was McCain himself who informed the Vietnamese of his family ties. According to some fellow POWs, McCain rather readily gave up much more than his name, rank, and serial number while held captive.
To be fair, very few POWs actually manage to adhere strictly to that code. However, according to fellow POW, Air Force Lt. Col. John Dramesi, McCain's behavior as a prisoner, while certainly not dishonorable, was also not exceptional. He managed generally no better nor no worse than the average POW. He did what was necessary to survive. There is certainly no dishonor in that. But, that McCain has chosen to highlight this experience and create the sense that his conduct was exceptionally heroic, leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many former POWs. McCain has and continues to use his POW experience expressly to further his political fortunes.
There is a great deal more to discover in Dickinson's article. McCain's propensity to promote John McCain above all else continues throughout his political career. Dickinson notes that despite what a number of his fellow Senators may say, McCain has few true friends. He is just not a particularly likable guy. The portrait Tim Dickinson paints of John McCain is far different than the one the Arizona Senator would like you to see.