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I ask that question in all seriousness and not just because John McCain actually owes the start of his political career to a Walter Mitty sort of guy, Darrow "Duke" Tully, the publisher of Arizona's largest newspaper when McCain arrived in Phoenix.  A profile in the Arizona Republic outlines the particulars:

Upon meeting McCain, Tully regaled him with stories of his own military service as an Air Force pilot in Korea and Vietnam. The two men quickly hit it off and soon were spending a lot of time together. Cindy McCain and Tully's second wife, Pat, also got along well. Both were far younger than their husbands.
Tully helped McCain in his first bid for congress and groomed him for higher office. Shover characterized Tully as McCain's PR man, hosting dinners to introduce him to the Valley's movers and shakers. McCain wrote guest columns for The Republic. In one of them, McCain gave a sentimental account of Christmas in Hanoi. Tully became godfather to one of McCain's children.

But then, in 1985, after McCain had gotten elected to two terms in the House and was looking to replace Barry Goldwater in the Senate, Tully had a mental collapse.

Everyone knew that Tully wanted McCain to win.

"(Tully) was really pushing John," Shover said. "He liked him. (McCain) was probably the guy Duke wanted to be. Duke was this 'Walter Mitty' type."

Walter Mitty to be sure. All of Tully's war stories were pure fiction. McCain, like everyone else, had been fooled.

Tully invented his military history to live up to the expectations of his father, whose other son had been killed in a military training accident.

In late 1985, the pressure of living the lie was building up inside Tully, causing him to drink and alienate his wife, Pat. After she filed for divorce, Tully, in his own words, "was beginning to crack up."
Tully's reign was over.

One of the early press calls was to McCain.

"His response was kind of like, 'Yeah, I have heard of Duke Tully. I'm sorry about what happened to him. Any other questions?'" Shover said.

McCain not only washed his hands of Tully, but his explanation in his 2002 book

"'Tully's lies rang true to combat flier McCain' ran the headline. Well, they also rang true to the reporters and editors of The Republic, people whose job it is to distinguish truth from falsehood. That story marked the first, but sadly not the last, episode in what can be fairly characterized as my antagonistic relationship with Arizona's leading newspaper."

is revealing on two fronts.  First, there's the assertion that it's the job of the press to distinguish between truth and falsehood.  Then there's the implied conclusion that, if they fail to out the liar, it's not his fault. And that's an attitude that apparently persists, though it's hidden, on occasion, in the reality that somebody else is always responsible for what John McCain does or fails to do.

In any case,, what reminded me of Walter Mitty and made me think that perhaps John McCain had more in common with "Duke" Tully than he was prepared to admit were two comments he made while being interviewed by the DesMoines Register editorial board.

While some people have been taken with his bland assertion that he's always aspired to being a dictator (to be found in this video),since it seems to reprise the similar George W. Bush juvenile ambition, albeit without any intimation of humor, I was actually more struck by the sudden surfacing of the astronaut reference, which I'd first noted in the Spanish psychologist's interview of McCain in Hanoi that was released in a packet of papers by the CIA.

In response to a question about McCain's schooling, the psychologist reports the following:

"I went to the Naval Academy. I took two university majors, electrical engineering and naval architecture. The courses were very difficult; 1,200 of us began and only 400 graduated. Discipline was very strict also. I was also in the Spanish Naval Academy. It was there that I met Prince Carlos, as I said before. When I finished I had two choices: to be naval officer or a pilot...I chose to be a pilot. I had to study another year and a half and I graduated in 1958. I trained intensively. I flew many hours in training to become a jet pilot."


"Yes, 4,000. They really only demand 200 but I flew 4,000 hours."

?? [as published]

"I wanted to become a test pilot. It is fascinating to test the new models."

[End page 4]

At any rate the difference between 200 and 4,000 appears to be great.

"Well, look, it was because I wanted to be a astronaut. That is why I also engaged in a great deal of sports; boxing, wrestling, swimming, camping, and so forth."

And what happened?

"I had to come to Vietnam."

Clearly, this report by a Spaniard who'd been residing in Cuba before he decided to investigate what made these pilots click may be entirely fraudulent.  Also clearly, McCain had every incentive to lie and, in fact, we know that he didn't have to come to Vietnam.  Soon after his daughter was born he volunteered.  But, what incentive would the interviewer have to report that McCain wanted to be an astronaut, if that's not what he said?

In any case, it caught my attention that in the Register interview McCain answered a question about his health care provider during most of his adult life with the following at the 1:18 mark

or, as CNN reports:

"You know that's an interesting statement, isn’t it?" he responded. "And I have never been an astronaut, but I think I know the challenges of space. And I have never done a lot of things in my life that I think I am familiar with."

I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that, as we've so often noticed with George W. Bush, the instinct-directed person, whose speech is often on automatic if talking points haven't been implanted and memorized, is not infrequently undermined by a brain which blurts out the truth, when it hasn't been properly prepared.  I would further suggest that the reason this problem doesn't surface more often than it does, is because these individuals have learned a number of tricks to protect themselves from being exposed as not really knowing what they are talking about.

The main trick, of course, is to monopolize the discourse and not provide an opportunity for contradictions to intrude.  Another is to deflect troublesome topics with "humor" or personal references which throw the interlocutor off the track.  I suppose that these tactics are not very different from those that are employed by an illiterate person who's determined to hide that fact.  (How was it possible for McCain not to have read the three page memo from Hank Paulson two days after it was delivered?)  Indeed, it might be useful to remember that an illiterate person may well acquire the skill of deciphering letters and recognizing words without comprehending what they actually mean.

Last night we watched the documentary, "Crawford," again and I was struck, as I was the first time, by the archival footage of George W. Bush addressing the 2000 graduating class at the high school.  What caught my attention was that he had a portfolio that he set on the lectern and, as he delivered some totally innocuous remarks that anyone with an ounce of sense and stage presence could have memorized or delivered off the cuff, he flipped the pages in his portfolio, as if he were reading.  In other words, I think he was pretending to read because that's what his handlers were getting him used to doing.

Now that I think about it, it also caught my attention when George W. Bush held that supposedly impromptu news conference in the Booker Elementary School Library.  Indeed, in my own mind I had explained the gap in time between the impact of the second plane on the towers and George W. Bush issuing a statement on the need to prepare a statement for him to read to the assembled news media--a written statement that I knew he had because I saw him leave the podium and then go back to collect the pages and put them in his pocket.  But, while the time required to compose the statement explains the delay in Bush leaving the classroom, it doesn't explain the delay in starting the press availability.  That might well be accounted for by the need to read Bush the statement so he'd be able to deliver it from memory.

It's estimated that 40 million American adults are functionally illiterate.  No question, they are entitled to be represented.  But, should they be represented by one of their own, especially if the reason they're illiterate is because their brains can't compute cause and effect?  The assertion that a million Iraqis were killed by U.S. bombs, missiles and troops shooting because Saddam Hussein was a tyrant might not strike people who can't connect cause and effect as strange.  Nevertheless, that's no way to manage the human population in the twenty-first century.  In the nuclear age, we simply can't afford to select leaders who can't identify the reasons for mankind's potential demise.

More than his health, somebody needs to review McCain's literacy skills.  It probably wouldn't hurt to review Palin's either.  If illiteracy is a consequence of the inability to relate cause and effect and, since children as young as three are able to perform this mental function, then the disability is either congenital or the consequence of trauma in infancy.  And, if that's the case,  then the only logical response would seem to be to insure that individuals who exhibit this disability are not selected to hold important positions with responsibilities for the lives of lots of other people.

It may be ironic, but Walter Mitty, the fictional character, was an editor of pulp fiction.  He achieved success when he was promoted to Associate Editor.  If you've got the time, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has been posted on YouTube in 12 parts by Huilifoj.  

Originally posted to hannah on Wed Oct 01, 2008 at 11:28 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for literacy as a prerequisite for (17+ / 0-)

    holding public office.

    How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

    by hannah on Wed Oct 01, 2008 at 11:30:01 AM PDT

  •  he needs a topaka topaka topaka (5+ / 0-)

    machine before he can be walter mitty.

    i absolutely agree with your literacy skills analysis!

    Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information. -- Edward R. Murrow

    by labwitchy on Wed Oct 01, 2008 at 11:37:40 AM PDT

    •  Clearly, if there are 40 million (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      labwitchy, trashablanca, kktlaw

      illiterate Americans, how many more are there on the rest of the globe?  We tend to forget that until the invention of the printing press, those who could/had anything to read were a very small minority.  

      Most people are probably aurally, rather than visually, directed.  After all, we perceive sound even when we sleep.  That's why I think this ad is very effective.

      How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

      by hannah on Wed Oct 01, 2008 at 11:47:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  i see this is close to your heart as it is (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        to mine.  i wasn't trying to be flippant, just silly.

        i have tutored adults in literacy for years.  it is a huge problem here alone and around the globe it must be amazing.

        fyi, when i click on your youtube embed i get "We're sorry, this video is no longer available". however, i'm pretty sure i saw it in another diary yesterday and i thought it was a great ad.

        Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information. -- Edward R. Murrow

        by labwitchy on Wed Oct 01, 2008 at 12:59:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It played for me (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          labwitchy, trashablanca

          this is the URL

          For some reason, sometimes you have to paste the address into the browser.  Of course, it's possible that on my computer the excerpt is still in cache.  
          It may have been deleted from the system.  The Register has a proprietary video program, so they may have objected to a YouTube.

          How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

          by hannah on Wed Oct 01, 2008 at 01:45:19 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  if the ad you're referencing (0+ / 0-)

            is this one:


            posted by pvtjarhead for his friend i thought it was great!  the reason i asked is because i recalled the photo of the voting booths.

            youtube still tells me it isn't available whether i cut and paste or not.

            Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information. -- Edward R. Murrow

            by labwitchy on Wed Oct 01, 2008 at 02:20:24 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  i believe it was reported that Palin attended (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    snakelass, SciVo, kktlaw

    at least six different colleges don't know if this was driven my academic reasons or other...

    •  Yes, and several were junior colleges. She (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      doesn't read any newspapers and can't name any Supreme Court decisions. I'm from Iowa, and by the fifth grade knew a lot more about government (civics) than she appears to know now in her adult life. It seems she was very poorly educated, or is just plain "dull." Probably a combination of both!

      The definition of evil is "militant ignorance."--M. Scott Peck

  •  I guess that's why they don't (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    read a newspaper.

    McCain/Palin: Lie Traffickers

    by ccmask on Wed Oct 01, 2008 at 08:43:58 PM PDT

  •  I'm glad this diary was 'rescued'. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pattisigh, snakelass, ybruti, ER Doc, EmmaKY

    Great analysis and analogy.

    We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

    by BigVegan on Wed Oct 01, 2008 at 08:58:53 PM PDT

    •  Agreed. This diary is a keeper. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ER Doc, BigVegan

      Very interesting yet frightening premise and as I followed along I found myself shaking my head yes.  It all seems to fit together perfectly like a puzzle.  And I also think you are correct about Palin but her responses/conversations are so much more illogical and disturbing.  It's almost as if her brain functions as a very limited computer program that just loops certain words together without the benefit of even completing a sentence.

      Very disturbing to be sure.

      John McCain: Prisoner Of W

      by pattisigh on Wed Oct 01, 2008 at 10:30:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Your concept of "instinct driven" people (7+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pattisigh, snakelass, ybruti, kurt, SciVo, kktlaw, bedwyr

    (though I don't have any academic understanding of it) really resonates with me.

    I've said many times that John McCain seems to answer the question he is asked.  He appears to want to please the questioner and "do good".  

    That's not necessarily a bad thing, but his answers often show no sense of any philosophy or overarching thought process.  He doesn't seem to know that he's a.) being inconsistent or illogical or b.) that this is even a problem.  

    He seems to have his few talking points (earmarks = bad, townhalls = good) but when faced with "odd" questions (viagra vs birthcontrol funding) he is completely derailed.  He's just got nothing from which to draw.

    His off-the-cuff/from the hip inconsistency in interviews on issues he's supposed to understand (but is more slightly more comfortable with) have struck me as just bizarre but your lens really helps/validates my take.

    McCain's recent adversarial stance towards the media has really drawn scrutiny when once the media compensated for him.  

    My husband has screamed at the TV/radio media for years over Bush because he felt they were explaining what he "meant" vs what he actually "said".  It appears we have witnessing this with McCain as well.  

    Literate people trying to make sense of the nonsensical end up aiding/abetting the advancement of incompetents with their efforts.  Fascinating.

  •  Great, just what we need... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    another President who’s a permanent guest on Fantasy Island. I guess that makes Sarah Palin his Tattoo. Look Boss, the plane, the plane!

    This is a wonderful diary, fascinating, but I really wish I could find some way to sleep from now until November. This is all so nerve wracking. Here I was stupidly assuming that the GOP couldn't possibly find a candidate worse than Bush. Ha, ha, ha!!! Oh, what a naive bumpkin I am.

    Tipped and recommended.

    America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand. - Harry Truman

    by AuroraDawn on Wed Oct 01, 2008 at 10:39:42 PM PDT

  •  Compare the educational levels: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ER Doc, Simply Agrestic, SciVo, kktlaw

    Barack Obama:
    Occidental College - Two years.
    Columbia University - B.A. Political Science, with a specialization in International Relations.
    Harvard - Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude; Law Review

    Joe Biden:
    University of Delaware - B.A. History and B.A. in Political Science.
    Syracuse University College of Law - Juris Doctor (J.D.)

    John McCain:
    United States Naval Academy – B.A. History Class, graduated #894 out of a class of 899

    Sarah Palin:
    Hawaii Pacific University - 1 semester
    North Idaho College - 2 semesters - General Studies
    University of Idaho - 2 semesters - Journalism
    Matanuska-Susitna College - 1 semester
    University of Idaho - 3 semesters - B.A. Journalism

  •  Thanks for the reads. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ER Doc, kktlaw

    My browser went funny last evening, so I just gave up.  Somebody said Youtube was doing "housekeeping" so that may have been the problem.

    Anyway, after sleeping on it, I decided to send this 'round to my email list.  That both Barbara Bush and Laura made literacy their issue of interest may also be telling.

    There was also that clip where Katie asked Sarah what newspapers she reads and she said "all of them" and then went into a spiel about how people think that Alaska isn't plugged in because it's so far away.  Her family supposedly provided a picture in which she's looking at clippings in a folder with literature from the John Birch Society.

    How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

    by hannah on Thu Oct 02, 2008 at 02:10:08 AM PDT

  •  This topic also brings up (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ER Doc

    the abysmal quality of modern US education. Schools are underfunded and teachers overworked to the point that US schools are little more than daycare centers. No wonder we lag behind every other developed country in the world. I also suspect US students do far worse than the statistics report, besed on my own experiences with "Americans".

    It seems to me about a quarter of Americans are fairly well educated, half are about 6-8th grade level, and the last quarter about 4-6th grade equivalent.

    "Of course it hurts - you're getting screwed by an elephant"

    by sean oliver on Thu Oct 02, 2008 at 03:31:58 AM PDT

    •  Yes, but if you've got a population (0+ / 0-)

      whose brains don't compute the relationship between cause and effect, then an educational system which assumes everyone's does is bound not to be a success and turn out a lot of frustrated individuals.

      What I'm suggesting is that illiteracy is a symptom, not a cause of educational failure.

      What really brought this possibility home to me was a documentary about Iraq, "The Blood of My Brother," in which the family on which it was focused spent every minute telling each other what to do.  It seems that the only member of the clan who acted independently was the oldest son who was shot dead outside a mosque he had gone to "protect" despite the family telling him to stay home.  In other words, the genetic information for independent action was effectively removed from that clan.

      How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

      by hannah on Thu Oct 02, 2008 at 03:39:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Fascinating. (0+ / 0-)

    This might be why their brains do not handle cause and effect, but whatever the reason, they do not.

    I keep reading that Palin is the product of Newt's "Candidate in a Can" that programs the candidate with talking points and sends them out to parry questions rather than answer them.

    This would short circuit any independent thinking they might have been capable of.

    Pootie fan? Me too! Check out my cat advice blog.
    The Way of Cats

    by WereBear on Thu Oct 02, 2008 at 05:09:08 AM PDT

    •  In a supportive environment, they function (0+ / 0-)

      well because they want to please and do what they are told.

      In a demanding environment, they become frustrated and frustrating.  When that frustration morphs into punitive behavior, they become violent--protecting themselves from being attacked.

      The fear of being attacked is well known to them.  They understand retaliation.  What they don't need to (can't) understand, apparently, is that retaliation that's misdirected does no good.  In the case of Iraq, it's just not a failure to know where the place is; it's an inability to appreciate that Iraq was attacked for no good reason.

      Or, perhaps more correctly, there's an absence of shock that innocent people were attacked because, for most of them, that's a familiar experience.  They get attacked all the time and have no idea why.

      How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

      by hannah on Thu Oct 02, 2008 at 05:36:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Ummmm - no one challenged this: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simply Agrestic, SciVo

    1,200 of us began and only 400 graduated.

    The Naval Academy has never even had a washout rate of 50%, much less 75%.  Is McCain again exaggerating his own accomplishments?  After all, elsewhere it is reported he graduated 894 out 899.  

    do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

    by teacherken on Thu Oct 02, 2008 at 06:17:20 AM PDT

    •  That was in his interview with the (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Simply Agrestic, SciVo

      Spanish psychologist in a document distributed by the CIA.  Presumably, while he was detained by the Vietnamese, everything he told them was conceivably a lie on purpose.  So, that's to be discounted.

      I was just struck by the resurfacing of the astronaut reference, keeping in mind that the only other of the Keating Five, besides McCain who snitched on his colleagues, was John Glen, the former astronaut.  It's possible that McCain brought him in thinking he was doing him a favor.

      How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

      by hannah on Thu Oct 02, 2008 at 06:37:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I was really struck by his bizarre claim (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simply Agrestic the debate that Obama was showing a lack of understanding of the difference between tactics and strategy. It blew my mind, first because he was wrong, second because that means that he doesn't understand the difference, and finally because his voluntary display of dullness on the national stage means that he doesn't even know that he doesn't get it. I can't let go of this!

    Ever since, I've been wracking my brain, trying to come up with even just one example of a case where John McCain formulated and pursued a strategy (aside from "winning") to achieve a goal (aside from "winning") and then employed various tactics (aside from "impulse") as appropriate. I can't think of any! Help? Can someone actually succeed to his current level on pure impulse and ambition?!

    I want to live in a civilization.

    by SciVo on Thu Oct 02, 2008 at 07:35:05 AM PDT

  •  Shades of Meglamania... (0+ / 0-)

    can be seen in both Bush and McCain.In the book Bush on the Couchthe author explores Bush`s childhood.He finds several learning disabilities as well as what I consider horrendous abuse,neglect,and abandonment issues that Bush as a child had to try to manage.
    Childhood abuse,neglect,abandonment,and enmeshment issues set children up to be dysfunctional adults.Combined with learning disabilities a child endures a great deal of fear and shame.Imagine what Bush as a child with dyslexia and ADHD,an absent father, and a domineering,shaming mother felt at age seven when his parents took his younger sister to the East coast for treatment of leukemia about which they had not told him for the three years she was sick.They returned without her as she died during treatment.
    I`m not familiar with McCain`s
    childhood,but many of his behaviors are similar to Bush`s,using defending strategies for shame and fear,namely your "Walter Mitty Complex," lying,blaming,denial,contempt, rage,and scapegoating.
    I believe your thesis is worthy of continued study.It would be fantastic if we came up with a new DSM-IV diagnosis of "Walter Mitty Syndrome."It seems that you know a lot about literacy. I would refer you to the works of Alice Miller to help you observe how abuse of children can be devastating,even dangerous to society when they grow into adults.
    Interesting diary.

    Democracy is not dead;it merely smells funny

    by sully18 on Thu Oct 02, 2008 at 04:02:32 PM PDT

    •  I don't actually know anything about (0+ / 0-)

      literacy.  What I've done is observe someone read without comprehension of the subject matter.  I'm considering it as a symptom of an inability to relate cause and effect in the brain.  
      In turn, that inability may be the result of the brain's sequential memory function not working.  That is, the brain stores information in memory, but not the sequence in which the events occurred or the memories were stored.  This results in what is referred to as "confabulation" when the memories are called forth.  The memories are topically connected but the events may not have been experienced in the same order, by the same person, or even at all (it could be a "story" such as Ronald Reagan's memory of being in the war).  The brain can do this without any conscious awareness or monitoring.  Which means, of course, that the person is not lying.  There's no intention to deceive.  Indeed, there's no intention at all.

      How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

      by hannah on Fri Oct 03, 2008 at 12:12:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm rather confused by this. (0+ / 0-)

    Are you saying that McCain is suffering from some sort of perception disorder? The comments you used are rather confusing to me...

    And I'm majoring in psychology!

    •  No, I don't think it's a matter of perception. (0+ / 0-)

      It's a matter of processing.  The information goes in but where it is stored and how it is recalled is disordered.

      Such a brain is never confused because it has no awareness of its thought patterns.  I think a person with such a brain never "hears" herself think.  There's no conscious monitoring going on.  The limbic brain does monitor the environment and it directs instinctual (emotional) responses that aren't mediated by the frontal lobes.

      How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

      by hannah on Fri Oct 03, 2008 at 12:18:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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