The Elitist

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The Washington Post has a pretty thorough article today on John McCain's early life. I was grateful to see this rarely expressed (though true) statement:

At its start, McCain's professional life was shaped for him by a family whose Washington-centric base, with its insider connections to high-ranking military officials and powerful politicians, belied the Washington-outsider persona for which he became celebrated as his political career soared.

His father Jack, the article suggests, was much more of a "political admiral" than his son John has ever admitted on paper, and at any rate was a Beltway fixture all through McCain's formative adolescent years:

He was a submarine commander during World War II, before coming back, in 1950, for a decade-long stint in the city of his youth. He went to work in the office of the chief of naval operations, known as the CNO, before becoming chief of the Navy's legislative affairs office.

The post meant serving as the Navy's top liaison to Congress, a job for which Jack McCain was ideally suited, having established connections with congressmen and senators who determined the size and shape of the Navy's budget.

With his wife and their three children, he lived on Capitol Hill, virtually kitty-corner from the Cannon House Office Building. The McCains' home on First Street SE quickly became a political salon for key lawmakers, who had standing invitations on most workdays to drop by, make themselves at home, have a drink and chat with their colleagues. Roberta McCain, who regularly mingled with legislators and their spouses in the House and Senate galleries, came to be recognized as Jack McCain's charming political partner, a garrulous ally who entertained frequently and sometimes cooked breakfast for politicos crucial to her husband's success, including House Armed Services Chairman Carl Vinson of Georgia. Richard Russell Jr., a powerful senator from Georgia, was an occasional visitor, as was Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois, who, a friend remembers, had sometimes given his attention to the eldest McCain boy, whom he'd enjoyed bouncing on his knee years before, during then-Capt. McCain's days in the CNO office.

Jack McCain was by then a veteran Washington insider, another player in an insular world where politics was a round-the-clock exercise, and a young liaison's political friendships were his lifeblood.

John would go on to take Jack's old job as liaison in the late 1970s, which was (along with his marriage to young billionaire heiress Cindy Hensley) the main springboard to his political career. To state an obvious if under-observed fact, John McCain has been marinating in Washington D.C. political life for most of the past 58 years.

You can read about the impact such a definitionally elite upbringing had on McCain in my book (now out in paperback), in a chapter entitled "The Elitist." It's not about arugula, sadly, but rather both the good and the bad political philosophies that stem from living a top-down life.

Also, my curated list of 10 good non-reason articles written about McCain can be found here.

NEXT: Dateline: Minneapolis

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  1. By Matt Welch.

  2. “( ) | August 31, 2008, 8:42pm | #

    By Matt Welch.”

    You made a vagina???

  3. Democracy keeps giving us unsuitable candidates.

    Interesting.

  4. Elitism and politics have always gone hand in hand, since the beginning of civilization.

    Royalty, aristocracy, oligarchy, . . . why would representative democracy be any different?

    Really. Why do we act so surprised? The world revolves on credentials that are for the most part meaningless, and our method for choosing leaders is no different.

    If someone is seeking a position at Reason Magazine to be a writer, would they even be considered for the position if they didn’t have a degree in journalism/english/political science or the academic equivalent to those strict disciplines, underwater basket weaving?

    Does a business degree make a better business-man?

    And so our leaders come from a moneyed elite where their supposed credentials are burnished for looks, and not so much function, and we obey accordingly.

  5. Bush the Lesser figured out the formula:

    1. Make yourself seem like a guy you could have a beer with
    2. Never use big words
    3. Never, EVER, mention that you went to a good school
    4. ????
    5. Profit!

    You basically need to be elite to be within striking distance of the presidency. The trick is to fool those who are not that you are not.

  6. Does a business degree make a better business-man?

    Excellent point. Some of the wealthiest people I know never went to college much less acquired an MBA.

    Our culture is stymmed on credentials, the problem is that nothing has changed. A star studded credential may or may not mean squat.

    You pay your money and you take your chances.

    Just as it ever was regards,

    TWC

  7. Bush the Lesser figured out the formula

    Elemenope,

    Good list. Having a “folksy” accent and that down-home religion doesn’t hurt either.

    Prefacing every sentence with “my friends”? Proving less effective, I think.

  8. If someone is seeking a position at Reason Magazine to be a writer, would they even be considered for the position if they didn’t have a degree in journalism/english/political science or the academic equivalent to those strict disciplines, underwater basket weaving?

    Yes.

  9. If someone is seeking a position at Reason Magazine to be a writer, would they even be considered for the position if they didn’t have a degree in journalism/english/political science or the academic equivalent to those strict disciplines, underwater basket weaving?

    Finally, my degree in underwater basket weaving can pay off!

  10. I’ve always found it amusing that anyone would ever try to portray the son of a 4-star admiral who was himself the son of a 4-star admiral as an government “outsider.” Top military brass shaft DC penis.

    Also reminded me of Mann Coulter’s ridiculous argument that since Bush got bad grades at ZOMG HARVARD that he is a more profound intellectual than someone who graduates from a state school.

  11. My sympathies to you, Matt, on your not getting the nod from McCain for the veep position. I would have figured you were on his short list.

  12. Who gives a shit if McCain comes from a rich family? I think that makes him even MORE qualified! The only thing that matters is that McCain hates gooks just like I do.

    And no, I’m not a racist. Go Gators!

  13. Hey, Marc, I totally agree. Those small-penised gooks suck.

    Oh, yeah, did I mention I’m gay? LOL.

  14. I still cannot believe that anyone with a single ounce of common sense would consider McBush or even believe a word out of his mouth.

    Jiff
    http://www.Ultimate-Anonymity.com

  15. John McCain’s maverick, outsider pose is so transparent it is at once comedic and tragic. This reality is reflected in McCain’s judgment and temperance. He is at war with himself and has been, it appears, most of his life.

    Football metaphor time: McCain is not the guy I would want under center down 6 with a minute and a half left in the 4th qtr. I would prefer a guy who is, as Stuart Scott is fond of saying, “as cool as the other side of the pillow.” That guy is not John McCain.

  16. John McCain’s maverick, outsider pose is so transparent it is at once comedic and tragic.

    Of course it is! These are politicians after all. I mean, does anyone really think Barack Obama will bring about change?

  17. Dude. Sarah Palin’s daughter is pregnant. That’s some funny shit.

  18. I mean, does anyone really think Barack Obama will bring about change?

    If Obama were elected, I do think there just might be some changes from the days of Bush the Lesser that cross the liminal threshold.

    Call me crazy.

  19. “Dude. Sarah Palin’s daughter is pregnant. That’s some funny shit.”

    Not sure about the relevance here. I give her high marks for being knocked up.

    The pro-life movement needs leadership that embraces life by not being anti-sex. It would be even better if they could get around being pro-birth control, but it’s a start.

  20. It would be even better if they could get around being pro-birth control, but it’s a start.

    What?! Sex for pleasure>? That’s EEEEEEVIL!

  21. What does this mean?

    ( ) | August 31, 2008, 8:42pm | #
    By Matt Welch.

    And what does this response to it mean?

    Delores | August 31, 2008, 10:38pm | #

    You made a vagina???

  22. The pro-life movement needs leadership that embraces life by not being anti-sex. It would be even better if they could get around being pro-birth control, but it’s a start.

    There’s a not insignificant chunk that considers birth control morally equivalent to abortion because it may (or may not) prevent implantation of a fertilized eggs. Of course, they ignore the fact that nothing has prevented more abortions than anything else.

  23. My sympathies to you, Matt, on your not getting the nod from McCain for the veep position. I would have figured you were on his short list.

    1. Welch is on McCain’s list.

    2. There’s a typo in the word “shot.”

  24. The entire debate about “elites” this political cycle has been a little off, because I think the pundits have misidentified the sort of “elite” that the public doesn’t trust.

    It really doesn’t have anything to do with money or access to political power. That’s why so many people shrug off McCain’s gigolo fortune and his family’s history of producing “political admirals”. Having a lot of money and having your family hang out on Capitol Hill with congressmen all day doesn’t make you elite.

    Attending a top tier school and demonstrating intellectual acumen and curiosity makes you elite.

    That’s why Obama, a black man and the product of a broken home, can be accused of being too “elite” for the Presidency, while McCain gets off scot-free.

    Although I’m being a little snarky about it, there’s a certain logic to this. You have to ask yourself, “What is the public’s beef with elites, anyway? Why don’t they trust them to govern?” It’s not simply a matter of class warfare. Personally, I think it’s a residual effect of the fact that for some decades our institutions of higher learning produced social engineers and collectivists who were then foisted on to the public. The public learned that anyone with too much Harvard in their manner was probably planning to unleash some quasiMarxist social experiment, with the public as the test subject. They learned the hard way not to trust such people.

    So Obama is accused of secret elitism because of his educational credentials and the fact that when he speaks you suspect that at some point along the line he read a book. McCain does not get accused of elitism because, like Bush, his manner suggests that he has absolutely no intellectual curiosity at all, and that if he ever read a book in his life it was only because they told him if he didn’t read it they wouldn’t let him play smahsup with the pretty airplanes.

  25. Just a point, but McCain’s family wasn’t rich. You don’t get rich on an admiral’s salary. You live really, really well and have connections out the wazoo, but you aren’t rich. There’s a BIG difference.

    Truly the issue with Obama, and most “ivy-league intellectuals”, is that they believe they know how to run your life better than you, cause they went to havahd. Or, in the case of Kerry, went to Yale and then could only get into Boston College for Law School. “Elitism” and “Washington insider” is a shorthand for something important. But Matt really, really hates McCain, and has a book to sell, so he;s going to pretend to not understand it and be appalled at people lying. Matt used to be smart, but that was before he was getting paid to write – kind of like his old friends from LA.

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