Tell the real John McCain story and you indict the entire political system. It is not a pretty story. No one really wants to know. I truly believe that if you spelled it out so people could really understand the McCain phenomenon, few would thank you. Instead, they would probably be inclined to hate you for the information and discount anything you had to say on any other matter in the future. There is, after all, validity to the legend about shooting the messenger.
Voters have been comfortable in supporting McCain because he is the mirror image of everything this superficial Sun Belt culture teaches us to admire. On the surface, he is the war hero with an earnest, pleasing personality. He is a family man and friend to Mr. Average Man, to the downtrodden, to the Native Americans and the poor. He loves Sun City residents, too, as well as the blacks, although few can recall having ever seen him in the presence of a black person.
McCain is the son and grandson of Navy admirals, an Annapolis graduate, Navy pilot and former Pentagon lobbyist. It was while in the Pentagon that McCain curried favor with John Tower, the powerful Senator John Tower of Texas who believed there was never a weapons system too costly to be purchased. It was Tower who tipped McCain off to the career opportunity of moving to Tempe, Arizona, so that he could run for the seat in Arizona's First Congressional District being vacated after 30 years by John Rhodes. Barely here long enough to qualify for a driver's license, McCain won a four-way Republican primary in 1982 with a mere 32 percent of the vote.
He became a formidable vote-getter by the simple habit of wrapping himself in the American flag, a most convenient way of reminding voters that he had been a prisoner of war for six years in Vietnam.
Any time McCain feels threatened, he makes a well-publicized trip back to Vietnam to search for missing prisoners of war. Friends say McCain undergoes a knee-jerk reaction each time he hears about Claire Sargent's growing strength in the current senatorial campaign. McCain grabs a telephone, calls his campaign manager and orders that more time be purchased on all TV stations around the state to run the commercial about his being a prisoner. Ever since his involvement with Charlie Keating came to light, McCain has become a virtual commuter to the Far East. There are no constituents out there. But the mere fact of his flying across the ocean wins votes in Arizona.
His success stems from the fact that too many Arizonans are impressed by surface patriotism.
This state is packed with wowsers who served a year at the lowest rank in some branch of the armed forces. They moved here because of job opportunities and the weather and now march around boasting of their stature as "veterans."
Arizona is also a haven for retired officers who moved to Sun City so they might take advantage of the discounts at the PX on the local military bases.
This military mindset, as well as a know-nothing conservatism rivaling that of Orange County, California, has made this state a natural for McCain.
Another reason for McCain's success in Arizona, which surpasses even Mississippi as the most backward state in the Union, is the cretinous nature of so many of this state's native inhabitants. Most Arizonans, even college graduates, have inadequate educations. The school system is so abominable that even a degree from its largest institution, Arizona State University, does not necessarily mean that its bearer can read beyond a grade-school level.
This is not fantasy. Several years ago, people were shocked to learn that Mr. Turtle Lane, a distinguished former football star at ASU, could neither read nor write.
Most Arizonans are too ignorant and afraid to consider change. Can you, for example, think of any other state that would consider Evan Mecham a serious candidate for anything other than Saturday Night Live?
But the secret to McCain's success to date is that he worships the one true God worshiped by the established churches: money. I leave out the Mormons not with any intent to offend them. It is just that the Mormons are not a church, but a secret society that happens to love money to a greater degree than the established churches.
McCain is the perfect example of evil masquerading as good. He made an advantageous marriage to the daughter of state beer baron Jim Hensley, the Budweiser distributor. This made him an instant millionaire.
Hensley is a man who understands loyalty. In his earlier days, he and his brother took falls for his then-boss Kemper Marley. Hensley and his brother were convicted. Their rewards were exclusive distributor territories in Phoenix and Tucson. Since then they have become inordinately wealthy.
Marley, now deceased, was one of the state's richest men. His name surfaced as the power behind the 1976 car-bomb murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles.
At Marley's funeral, Frank Sinatra's signature tune "My Way" was played by the organist over the objections of the church's pastor. The man responsible for this unusual tribute was Max Dunlap, whose trial for Bolles' murder is scheduled to begin next month.
It is no longer fashionable in local journalistic circles to mention McCain's close friendship with Charlie Keating. It's a shame they had a falling out. They seemed to have so much in common and enjoyed each other's company so much.
They met in 1981 when McCain moved to Arizona. Keating was a World War II pilot. McCain made nine vacation trips to Keating's home in the Bahamas from 1984 to 1986. The trips were made free of charge on jets provided by Keating.
Because the ethical violation was so obvious, McCain was eventually forced to pay $13,433 for the flights to Keating's company, American Continental Corporation.
He escaped ethical censure because the trips were made while he was a member of the House of Representatives and the trips didn't come to light until he was a member of the Senate, which conveniently declared it had no jurisdiction.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The House couldn't act, either, for the same reason.
Keating contributed $112,000 to McCain's 1982 and 1984 House campaigns and his 1986 Senate run. McCain's father-in-law and his wife also took advantage of the chance to make a lucrative shopping-center investment with Keating.
McCain was also a great friend of then-Arizona Republic publisher Duke Tully, who was thought to be a former Marine pilot. The two men used to go over to Luke Air Force Base and fly jet planes together. Tully became the godfather to McCain's child.
When it turned out that Tully never served in the Marines, it provoked a delightful local scandal.
Tully went into exile and McCain had nothing further to do with him. When it became apparent Keating was about to fall, McCain quickly cut ties with him, too.