From an interesting article in National Journal Magazine, "I count his time as the liaison among the seminal experiences of his life," says Mark Salter, McCain's longtime chief of staff." "Adds Robert Timberg, who has written two biographies of McCain, "The Senate liaison job opened up a whole fresh new world for him." In an interview with National Journal, McCain sums it up simply: "A great opportunity -to travel, meet people, and to learn."
This is an article about the three years of John McCain's life often overlooked and it explains a lot of who the man is today in traditional politics. No, McCain is not a traditional politician. Those crying for 'change' should find him very appealing come November. Today's polling of toss-ups between McCain and Obama or McCain and Clinton have McCain leading in all categories of most importance to the average American voter. In some categories he leads either Democrat candidate by up to 10 points. That is good news for Republicans. If Obama is the candidate, several categories like national security, taxes, 'trust' issues, and of course, experience, are strong winners for the Republicans. Independent voters are moving towards McCain, not Obama. The longer Obama is the front runner, the more he is shown to be just another far left Democrat. Also good news for Republicans.
This article tells the story of how John McCain transitioned from the military into a political career. The year was 1977. John McCain was 40 years old. He was back from spending 5 1/2 years as a prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton. His rehab was long and painful yet he was still hoping to return to flying for the Navy. As it became clear that this was not an option for him, he was placed commanding a squadron in Jacksonville, Florida. He was credited with successfully bringing several "broken-down" jets back into service.
Next, the higher-ups sent McCain to Washington to be a Navy liaison to the Senate. McCain called himself "the Navy's lobbyist", though the Navy isn't technically allowed to lobby. The job was demanding and often demeaning, described by William Bader the then staff director for the Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as "a glorified concierge and bag carrier, and soother of senatorial egos and demands." His primary responsibility was to manage travel logistics and handle senators' military constituents having problems with pay or pensions.
His three years in the Senate were a turning point for him. He was eager to learn and during his first year home from the war, he went to the National War College and immersed himself in the study of Vietnam, including the policies that led the U.S. to fight then pull out. Three years later he was watching policy being made. Pete Lakeland, Republican staff director for the Foreign Relations Committee at the time, said,"He was very interested in learning as much as he could about substance and foreign policy."
Former Senator Gary Hart, D-CO, said,"McCain was just a fascinating character. He had a great sense of humor. He was smart and funny to be around." Lakeland said, "McCain had been in solitary confinement for two years, and he really wanted to catch up on life. He didn't like to be alone. He wanted to sit around and talk." Still does today, doesn't he? His bus tours where everyone gets to climb aboard and talk to the candidate prove that.
"Senior senators began asking the Navy to detail McCain to their committees for trips to China, the Soviet Union, South Korea, Oman, Israel, and other destinations. His job was to hand logistics: organize transportation, make sure the luggage was handled properly, and manage the needs and demands of senators' spouses. McCain carried out his duties with good cheer, according to those who worked with him. He did not complain about menial tasks, Lakeland says. "He was very conscious of protocol and rank." I don't think anyone heard him whine about getting to eat his waffle.
"He formed a bond with some of the senators. Bader believes that many were drawn to the former POW because they hoped he could help them work through their own feelings about the Vietnam War. He recalls the scene aboard one charter flight to China, when he watched several senators approach McCain, who was sitting quietly in the last row. "One after one, for hours, they came back to the back of the plane, one at a time, to make their peace with John McCain. Many of the senators had opposed the Vietnam War. But here was someone who was the epitome of the symbol of what is valiant and patriotic. It was clear these politicians, as politicians and Americans, wanted to make their peace with this man." "They did not treat him as a concierge. They treated him with respect."
McCain was particularly impressed with the late Senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson, D-Wash, whom McCain described as "one of the country's leading hawks" at a time when most Democrats were anti-war. McCain devoted several pages of his autobiography, Worth the Fighting For, to Jackson, who, he wrote, "suffered the disdain of elites who mistook fashion for wisdom." "Thank God for Scoop Jackson, for his willingness to stand apart from the new conventions of his party." McCain told National Journal, "Political courage in practice is the resolve to do what's right whatever the personal consequences one must suffer." Today McCain is known to say he'd rather win the war in Iraq than another election. The senator walks the walk. We also see his convictions in his close friendship with Senator Joe Lieberman, another who puts doing the right thing for his country above party politics. You'll notice the people of his state responded to real courage by re-electing Lieberman as an Independent to the Senate.
All elections are about change. The rhetoric must meet the goals, though. Empty suits delivering pretty speeches read off teleprompters will be popular for awhile. Then character and substance, along with personal judgement takes over.
More from the National Journal: "As he traveled, attended Senate hearings, and joined in after-hours bull sessions, McCain absorbed lessons of foreign policy." "He cites a lesson he learned on a trip to South Korea with a Senate delegation in 1979. President Carter was determined to fulfill his pledge to begin withdrawing American troops from the country. But Democrats Sam Nunn of Georgia, John Glenn of Ohio, and Hart, along with the GOP's Cohen (former Sen.Wm.Cohen - ed.), came away from their trip convinced that removing the troops would threaten South Korea's security. They pressured Carter to back away from his plan, which he eventually did. "What did I learn from that?"McCain wonders aloud. "There are policies that presidents can impose, but there are also times when the Congress, and especially members of their own party, can override a president's ambitions or policy wishes."
"Cohen also credits McCain with giving senators important advice as they tried to sort through the views of the White House, the Pentagon, and the service branches. "I would turn to John and say, 'Give us the straight talk'. We put a lot of faith in his judgement on military matters." Ah, the origin of the Straight Talk Express.
When McCain married Cindy, Cohen was his best man and Hart was a groomsman.
In 1982, McCain won the 1st District near Phoenix, putting him in the House of Representatives. Then, four years later won the Senate seat of retiring Senator Barry Goldwater.
The rest is history.