John McCain

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.