John McCain and the temperament issue

Yesterday, the Washington Post ran a front-page story about John McCain’s temperament. It contained what, on its face, is substantial anecdotal evidence that McCain has a bad temper and a strong vindictive streak.

The reliability of this evidence has been placed in serious question. Mark Salter, McCain’s close confidant, acknowledges the legitimacy of the issue (“If one half of it were true, it would give me pause”), but claims the Post’s story is “99% fiction.” Salter then provides his rebuttal to a number of the anecdotes. He also asserts that “McCain’s temper is no greater than the average person’s” and concludes that “but for the infamous NYT story, I’d say it was the worst smear job on McCain I’d ever seen.”

Former Sen. Bob Smith, a victim of McCain’s temper and vindictiveness in the Post’s account, has also criticized the article. He told Carl Cameron of Fox News that reports of his clashes with McCain have been exaggerated and that events described by the Post never occurred. You can see Cameron’s report here:

It would come as no surprise if the Post’s reporting is inaccurate. However, I do not agree that McCain’s temper and vindictiveness are no greater than the average person’s. Quite apart from the anecdotes reported by the Post, I know several people — people I trust, some of whom still like the candidate — who have experienced the wrath of McCain. At Power Line, we also received a reliable contemporaneous account of McCain’s blow-up at Senator Cornyn during a conference on immigration reform legislation last summer. To suggest that there’s no problem here strikes me as foolish.

Fortunately, McCain does not take that approach. As the Post’s story makes clear, he has acknowledged that this an area where he needs to improve. Moreover, there’s evidence of improvement. Most of the anecdotes cited by the Post, as well as those that I know of, date back many years. His temperament on the campaign trail, particularly during the time when he was on the canvass, have far exceeded my expectations. But that’s not to say that the issue is extinct.

So does the Post’s story (or a more accurate version of it) pose a problem for McCain? The key is how McCain conducts himself going forward. The public will form its judgment of the candidate based on what it sees, not on old Washington anecdotes, many of which involve people who currently support McCain. But McCain has less margin for error than his opponent will have, partly because the MSM by-and-large wants him to lose and partly because of his track record.

JOHN adds: I doubt that this attack will get the Dems far, for a couple of reasons. One, McCain is 71 years old. If he had a serious character defect, one would expect it to be manifested by now. (As I recall, Ted Kennedy was 35 when he left Mary Jo Kopechne to die in Chappaquiddick Pond, tried to persuade his cousin to take the rap, and spent the rest of the night talking to his lawyers and trying to set up an alibi.)

Two, the stories the Dems have come up with–McCain yelled at another Senator!–are weak. Most voters probably think it’s a good thing for Senators to be yelled at now and then. For the attack to have legs, McCain would have to have a history of physical altercations, like Al Franken, or be suspected of beating his wife or something of the sort. As it is, I think most voters will agree with McCain that any confrontations he has had in the past are simply an indication of how passionately he cares about his country and about public policy.

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