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.