For Sale: One War Hero

You're John McCain, who put yourself up for sale from the first moment you were elected to Congress. You were sent there to represent Arizona, but you had larger plans and they included only yourself.

Inside, in the place where a man keeps the trophies of his life, you can reflect on the days you were held as a prisoner of war. Those were hard times, and you behaved with honor.

But you are not the first war hero to turn venal and selfish. Something inside you changed once those klieg lights hit your eyes as you walked off the airplane. Those lights transformed you into a celebrity. You began to look out only for No. 1.

Before becoming the center of attention, you were regarded as an arrogant Navy brat who finished at the bottom of your Annapolis class. They laughed when you tried to throw your weight around. All you had was arrogance and a quick temper.

Your sudden status as a war hero got you a coveted assignment as the Navy's liaison to the U.S. Senate. You met Senator John Tower of Texas. You became his student. Tower was a notorious boozer and wencher. He spent his most creative hours in a Washington, D.C., watering hole called the Monocle, where he regularly chased after women 30 years younger than himself. Tower was your mentor. He taught you that the road to success and gold in Washington was paved for members of Congress by lobbyists for the political action committees.

Tower advised you to take up residence in Tempe, so you could run for the seat in Congress then about to be vacated by John Rhodes.

Moving to Arizona was a financial bonanza for you, too. It made it possible for you to marry again. This time you married an heiress. Your new wife's father was Jim Hensley, who owned a beer-distributing company that had a monopoly on peddling Budweiser.

This single act of matrimony transformed you overnight into one of the many millionaire members of Congress.

It changed you forever. Millionaires think differently about money than people mired in middle incomes. Millionaires think about preserving their advantage for themselves and their class. You suddenly became concerned about whether poor people had a work ethic. You worried if they were willing to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. You're John McCain, who wonders why men carrying signs saying they will work for food aren't energetic enough to marry a beer baron's daughter.

There are things about yourself that remain imponderable, things that even you can't answer. How could you stand up to your captors in Vietnam and yet cave in at once when Charlie Keating smothered you in a blizzard of campaign money?

You have now served in Congress as a faithful lackey of political action committees for ten years--four in the House of Representatives and six in the United States Senate.

You look down your nose at Claire Sargent, who is running against you as a Democrat. To you she is laughable, because she doesn't even try to raise contributions from PACs.

You don't realize she has more class and sensitivity in her little finger than you could put together in your entire stock portfolio.

In a radio debate the other day with Sargent and Evan Mecham, you treated them both with contempt. You made it clear that you don't think they matter.

Over and over, you said, "The people don't care" when they tried to make your connection to Keating an issue.

You made it clear that the only issue you cared about was getting back to Washington for another six years.

To you the disgrace of your role in the savings-and-loan matter is forgotten.
You are the only one who has forgotten. You are the only one who keeps trying to duck it by heading back to Vietnam, where you were once a hero.

"The people want to forget," you say. But even you don't believe it. You hope desperately to make it back to the Senate on a wave of expensive television advertising paid for by your political action committees. You raised $1.9 million, a sum that makes voters roll their eyes in wonderment.

If your political advertising reflected where it came from, you would be forced to run footage of yourself dining with defense contractors. You would walk on beaches with Keating and lobbyists for the big pharmaceutical companies. You would ride horseback with medical lobbyists. You would walk through developments with the real estate flacks. There would be one grand shot of you and your family at poolside in Keating's place in the Bahamas, or disembarking from a free ride on Keating's jet airplane.

Sometimes, when alone, you must think it strange that after ten years in Congress, the biggest part of your television campaign must still be devoted to those old film clips of you coming back from Vietnam the first time.

You're John McCain, the hero who sold out.

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Tom Fitzpatrick