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September 25, 2008

Old McCain CW: Heroic Bomber Pilot. New McCain CW: Kamikaze.

Mccain White House

It’s one of the few shots of the White House economic crisis distraction meeting taken today from McCain’s end of the room.

It’s also a good opportunity to call out one of McCain’s characteristic expressions.  Sitting there pretending he’s being constructive just after colluding with House Republicans to blow up intense, three-day-old bipartisan negotiations, that’s the look of the cat that ate the canary.

Like I said in my tweet earlier today (after McCain did-but-really-didn’t suspended his campaign, but before I knew about the House meetings): “After yesterday, you’d think the notion of someone crashing all those fighter planes wouldn’t look all that random.”

Update:  I just finished reading the TPM post by David Kurtz about McCain’s supposedly strange and sudden swerve in casting his economic lot with the right-wingers.  Actually though, the move is perfectly consistent with John McCain’s psychology.

Speaking as a clinician now and not just a visual analyst, what McCain demonstrates time-and-again — as the hallmark of his psychology — is oppositional-defiant disorder.  What McCain gets off on, also reflected in the expression above, is throwing over the status quo.  (Although the disorder is primarily attributed to children and closely fits McCain’s repeated, indulgent descriptions of his earlier acting out, his touchiness, anger and authority issues are all still very much in evidence.)

Without an appreciation for the psychopathology underlying this behavior, people tend to chalk up the swerve-after-swerve in McCain’s career to independence of mind or this ridiculous “maverick” label.  I say ridiculous because what we are seeing play out once more is not a constructive trait but an impulsive pathological reaction — one which manifests itself in a pernicious and destructive way.

For an additional clinical take, check out psychologist Bryant Welch’s piece at HuffPost about McCain’s “authority problem” written just after the RNC.

(image: Tim Sloan/Getty Images/AFP.  White House Cabinet Room. September 25, 2008. Washington, DC)

  • irishdave3

    The Old Coot was NOT a Fighter pilot…you may be thinking of Duke Cunningham, now enjoying Federal Accommodations…Bomber McCain,self-confessed War Criminal, didn’t have to stretch too far to qualify as the Divine Wind(Kamikaze). BTW, did you know he was a P-O-W?

  • http://mxrk.net Mxrk

    I love your (and Welch’s) analysis, but I wonder to what extent having had to ask a woman for help because he was losing the election to a black guy has led to John McCain’s current outburst. I mean, let’s show the world this old white guy’s still got some juice.

  • KansasKowboy

    I grew up in a Military town. I have known a lot of kids like McCain. He is the way he is because he grew up with a bunch of Military authority figures in his family. A lot of them were rebelious and not all in a good way.

  • bystander

    You’re right. That is one self-satisfied expression, isn’t it.
    I know there are otherwise healthy individuals who are drawn to those who evidence some level of psychopathology. And, I imagine there are some diagnostic categories which can elicit more empathy than others. But, in my experience, human beings do have an innate ability to sense an when other person’s off-kilter view of the world is dangerous. I just cannot figure out why John McCain continues to poll as high as he does.
    I don’t think it’s as simple as the press presenting McCain in a favorable light, or giving John McCain an automatic pass. Enough of McCain’s ricochet behavior has made it into the press narrative for people to get a sense of the instability.
    I wondered the same thing about Bush and the public in 2000. I don’t think a full graduate level course in psychopathy is necessary for folks’ basic instincts for self-preservation to kick in. Bush, last I read was polling at about 19%. That explains some of Teh Maverick’s appeal. But, where does the rest come from?

  • http://www.agrippinaminor.com/wp/ Wayne Dickson

    Visually, everyone else is in fairly sharp focus. McCain is fuzzy. Any takes on that?

  • Gasho

    You know what we don’t see here? Rolled up sleeves. These posers aren’t working on the problem, they are having a meeting entitled “working on the problem”.

  • croatoan

    I don’t think that’s Obama’s happy face.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    ref : “McCain appears to be siding with conservatives and House Republicans who question the bailout and its costs to taxpayers as well as government rescuing private lenders and perhaps taking ownership stakes in rescued banks.
    fwiw, I was hoping that Mr. Obama would seize this “position” = electorate market share, and “draw a line in the sand“.
    This might sound awfully weird, but many of us (progressives) have much more in common with the (pre-NeoCon) blue-blood conservatives ~ especially right now ~ than one might think; e.g., we both want to STOP this “bailout”, and we both see Palin as “Huckabee in drag” = defacto handover of The Party to Theocrats…
    …iow, BOTH Democratic Socialism AND Republican Theocracy are existential threats to our shared sense of American Idealism, imho.
    Demographics consistenly show that the essential distinction between McCain and Obama is that divide between URBAN and non-URBANE Cultures. Even when you drill down in the RedStates, even in the belly of the beast, Texas ~ you see URBANE core Dallas & Houston being RATIONAL, all else being “Proletariat Identity” or an otherwise faith- or profoundly wedge- or ANGST-driven American electorate. Mr. Obama keeps trying to peel off this “middle ground”, apparent ~ frankly, you scratch them deeply enough and you find Americans unready to “vote for a n____________”, period; Whereas, were he to instead “wrap around” he would discover on the HIGH END (rather than the Lowest Common Denominator), there exists an unhappy, dis-enfranchised, wealthy / worldly and urbane Grand Old Party faction that we could “peel off” much more easily, i daresay, than the REDNECKS that Mr. Obama & The Democratic Party keep trying to “convert” to our cause.
    When WE frame the issues as simplistic “haves” -vs- “have-nots”, we delude and deny ourselves the power of common cause. This is a Culture War, not a Class Struggle, imho.
    Unfortunately, Mr. Obama is more akin to a (passive) European “consensus builder” type of “decision taker“, rather than (in the uniquely American sense), an (active) decision maker. Anyone (from our American culture) who has dealt with European government and/or commercial leaders will understand that this is not necessarily “good” or “bad”, but it is profoundly different than the way WE usually do things {grin}

  • http://www.woodka.com donna

    What McCain gets off on is making the drama all about him, personally. You could almost feel the pout when Palin was getting all the attention. I think this little drama was just to let him get the spotlight back on him.

  • Jan Kees

    The psychological comments are fascinating. McCain is so interesting because his weaknesses and immaturity are there near the surface for all to see, and this photo suggests that.
    But he’s not a loose cannon as far as strategy is concerned, or at least his producers aren’t. And what’s going on in this photo IS strategy, and I fear it will work, and Obama will unfortunately help it work. How?
    Next week we’ll see this picture as prophetic. Here is McCain, the only one in the room smiling, because he knows something we don’t know. He can see, as we all can, that the Dems will join Bush and Wall Street to save their mutual friends (McCain’s friends, too). He can also see that they are going to do it on Bush’s quick, no-think schedule (“this sucker’s going down”) in the same way they supported the Iraq war authorization, and with the same (and equally predictable) result — “mission accomplished” short term, but does anyone REALLY know what a realistic solution looks like?
    But what McCain already knows that he hasn’t told us yet is that HE’S VOTING AGAINST THE BAILOUT. That’s why he’s smirking. He wants there to be a package, and he’s certainly not going to stop it. But he’ll do what he’s already done in Washington — titter on the sideline, give luke-warm support, suggest that conservative Republicans have a point, ask a few questions, raise a few doubts, mill about. Then, when the vote comes and it’s sure to pass, HE’LL VOTE AGAINST IT.
    He’ll vote against it because he knows that people are angry. He will plug into and identify with the deep, strong, and widespread ANGER against this huge, insane injustice. Nearly everyone (except in Congress, Wall Street, the White House, and some “thinking” people in the mainstream media) is ANGRY about this. Everyone is comparing what $700 billion could buy in terms of schools, medical care, infrastructure, bottom-up solutions, and they’re angry. We’ve had no money for anything we really need, and suddenly we have zillions for Wall Street. They ask and it’s theirs. No one else can do that. Actually they dictate and it’s theirs, they threaten and it’s theirs, and here we are a nation of hostages, not of Iran but of Wall Street. I’M ANGRY. (That’s why I’m spending time writing this tirade instead of doing all the other important things I have to do this morning.) I see our Wall-Street-cozy Congress surrender in our name to interests that just waged the biggest economic war of our generation and LOST. The losers are now dictating the terms of the armistice, while Benedict Arnolds in Congress, Republican and (mainly) Democrat, are helping them pull it off.
    Anger is an emotion, and people vote their emotions. So the day after Obama’s YES vote and McCain’s NO vote, McCain will be the hero of Main Street and Obama will be the stuffy, intellectual agent of Wall Street and Bush-Cheney-Paulson, giving sensible, intellectual “explanations” that won’t mean anything to our guts. This will be even worse than the Iraq war resolution, first because “Mission Accomplished” will happen immediately, like the day after the vote when the stocks rise, and second, because there’s a draft this time — young people, old people, middle-aged people, we’ll all be forced to sacrifice for the abstraction of “stabilizing the credit markets,” whatever those are, which none of us knew or cared about 2 weeks ago. The campaign will be McCain’s, because he’ll touch the nerve in the vast majority that says that this bailout is just plain wrong.
    Where the psychology and politics of this photo intersect is in McCain’s lying. He’ll win points through his opposition, and still get the bailout he wants. His whole campaign is run by Wall Street lobbyists who don’t mind his lying because it won’t hurt them in the end but help. Of course he’s not for Main Street at all, but one little vote that has no effect on the outcome will have a huge catalyzing effect on his populist image. Huge. It’ll be symbolic — and symbols are the enzymes that catalyze popular imagination in politics — and it’ll be powerful.
    Equally disturbing, however, is that as progressives our faith in Obama depends on HIS lying about what he’s doing too — appeasing Wall Street to get elected, taking his base for granted “for now” in order to reach for the supposed “middle” to get elected, at which time he’ll turn honest again and help us.
    Even if that’s legitimate in politics, he’s reading the landscape wrong. The “middle” is different in this crisis because the middle cannot include BOTH Wall Street AND Main Street this time as it did during Clinton’s and W’s campaigns. This crisis has brought out the truth of the great divide progressives have long been motivated to change. What’s surfacing in this crisis is a real division so deep, so strong, and so wide (on emotional, political, and economic levels) that Obama will be powerless to heal it through unity-talk, a vote, or even brilliant explanations in speeches. Disunity is a given in this case, and won’t be cured during this campaign, so Obama should not even try. He should choose the right side. If he doesn’t (and signs are, sadly, that he’ll vote wrong) his YES vote will become a symbol as quickly as McCain’s, but one which will mean what Hillary’s vote for Bush’s blank check for war came to mean.
    Presented with an EITHER/OR choice McCain will (appear to) choose Main Street, decisively. Obama is setting himself up for BOTH/AND, pretending to patch up the great divide by being diplomatic, above politics, the president of all. It won’t work. It won’t work because awarding money directly to Wall Street to patch up its avaricious errors won’t heal the divide but will exacerbate it. Obama will be cast as not really standing for anything, which, unfortunately, will be true. McCain will come out of it as decisive, not only opposing the Dems, but get this — opposing Bush, opposing Paulson, opposing the establishment. He’ll be out there taking on Wall Street as if he were Ralph Nader.
    If we go back to Wednesday’s picture of McCain’s producers yucking it up over coffee on the street, we can now understand the secret they’re not telling us (and it has something to do with having their party on the “street”). Their secret is not so much that they had this sneaky plan to suspend the campaign. They knew McCain would be ridiculed for thinking he could do something creative in Washington. The real secret is that they know he did not go to Washington to help the bailout but to OPPOSE it. That’s the lesson from today’s picture and yesterday’s news. They had probably just finishing drafting the speech McCain’s going to give on the Senate floor once the bailout is assured and he votes NO, a fiery McCain-brand speech opposing the bailout in no uncertain terms, a speech he and his supporters will cite over and over between now and election day as an example of the populist fighting for the little guy and “opposing” Wall Street, fighting for his conservative base against the Democratic establishment, fighting for disillusioned Clinton Democrats and against President Bush himself. All this fits well with the psychology you describe, as well as a cynical, winning strategy. He won’t fight against the bailout to win, but only to fight. And he won’t really “fight” until what he’s “against” is a done deal. He wants the bailout as much as any other rich guy, but he’s going to rely on Dodd, Reid, Pelosi, Obama, Biden, Clinton, and the rest to join Bush in doing his dirty work for him. The guys in Wednesday’s picture are partying on the street because they know that in a few days, after the Dems rush to give Bush most of what he wants, McCain will get on his white horse, “re-start” his campaign with a vengeance, and joust with Wall Street like Don Quixote, but knowing, as Don Quixote did not, that it’s all in fun. Even Bush’s being upset with him at the Big Meeting yesterday was probably feigned (or Bush, in character, was a useful idiot who’s now out of the loop). All Rove’s men know what’s going on. Just before that photo, McCain’s happy helpers had just hatched a plan to get the last laugh. They knew the public would ridicule McCain for thinking he could fix this thing, but they’d already planned to re-tell the story of his “suspended” campaign later as his working hard behind the scenes to stop the Big Money-Democrat-Bush bailout.
    The reality on the ground — both the widespread anger and the legitimate reasons for it — will keep any bailout from promoting “healing” or “unity” or whatever other benefit Obama hopes his stand will give him. He is now surrounded by advisers like Robert Rubin who helped Bill Clinton create the structure being patched up, people who are out of touch with the street that matters most now. Obama needs to open his eyes, and go with his own gut, his own integrity, on this one. (I HOPE his gut is still with us!) There are plenty of economists around besides Paulson and Rubin who can help him on this. Nobel prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz is just one of many who come to mind. See “Stiglitz: Bailouts a Raw Deal for Taxpayers,”
    http://moneynews.newsmax.com/streettalk/bailouts/2008/08/07/119915.html
    McCain’s meta-strategy as the underdog is to take risks. Obama’s, as the over-dog, is not to. But what appears risky to the Rubin-Paulson status quo may be plain old common sense to, say, Stiglitz and other equally smart people. At this point the anger is a huge wave that Obama is observing while sitting on a dock in the bay. McCain will try to ride it by the simple expedient of a NO vote at the end. That’s why he’s smirking. That’s why all those McCain advisers in Wednesday’s picture are yucking it up.
    Reports say Congress is hearing a lot of this anger. We can add our voices, waves of us, floods of us, with unambiguous messages like:
    JUST SAY NO!
    DELIBERATE! THINK IT THROUGH! FOR OUR SAKE, AND OUR CHILDREN’S!
    DON’T PASS BUSH’S WAR RESOLUTION AGAINST MAIN STREET!
    HASTE MAKES WASTE!
    The crisis took well more than a week to create, and you, Congress, owe it to us, the U.S., to take more than a week to fix it. If you want to steady the markets, just do what Ben Bernanke does: SAY something. Make a promise to take a long close look at this over the next month, the next two months, a lame duck session, whatever. (Maybe McCain will suspend his campaign until after the election!) MAKE WALL STREET TRUST YOU, not the other way around. MAKE WALL STREET TRUST US, THE PEOPLE. If it can’t make any money doing that, well, it’ll be good that we find out BEFORE we give them the mother of all welfare checks.
    Yikes! It’s not far-fetched: what Obama does about this could mean we’ll be looking at Pres. Palin’s re-election campaign 4 years from now, after dear old what’s his name dies content, in office, still smirking.

  • desertwind

    GW Bush Redux.

  • mudkitty

    I’m sick of this hero stuff re: McCain. For crikey’s sake, he crashed five planes, and finally got shot down. Who knows who got killed because of him. Getting shot down is not a military objective. It’s the opposite.
    Also, McCain was all set and ready to be released from the pow prison camp, his father, the Admiral had the deal in place, when, guess who, Henry Kissinger put the kabosh on any and all prisoner releases. Years later, it was reported that when McCain met Kissinger at a Washington DC cocktail party, he went up to him and thanked him for “saving my honor.”
    If character counts, McCain is not fit to be president of the Dog Catcher’s Union, much less president United States of America.

  • dave

    I truly believe that McCain, given his psychological status, would lead this country to total ruin and possibly annihilation. I have read more than a few psychological assessments of the man. Some of his behavior is psychopathic and not only self destructive, but if demonstrated during an international or national crisis could lead to devastating results for all of us.

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