Anger Management Part I: John McCain’s Problem With Rage


Anger has become a major concern in this race, both with regards to McCain’s personal anger problems and with the manner in which he uses fear and anger to attempt to get  back into the race. The above video summarizes McCain’s anger problem. Michael Kinsley describes one specific example:

McCain’s game is craps. So is Jeff Dearth’s. Jeff was at the table when McCain showed up and happily made room for him. Apparently there is some kind of rule or tradition in craps that everyone’s hands are supposed to be above the table when the dice are about to be thrown. McCain—“very likely distracted by one of the many people who approached him that evening,” Jeff says charitably—apparently was violating this rule. A small middle-aged woman at the table, apparently a “regular,” reached out and pulled McCain’s arm away. I’ll let Jeff take over the story:

“McCain immediately turned to the woman and said between clenched teeth: ‘DON’T TOUCH ME.’ The woman started to explain…McCain interrupted her: ‘DON’T TOUCH ME,’ he repeated viciously. The woman again tried to explain. ‘DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU’RE TALKING TO?’ McCain continued, his voice rising and his hands now raised in the ‘bring it on’ position. He was red-faced. By this time all the action at the table had stopped. I was completely shocked. McCain had totally lost it, and in the space of about ten seconds. ‘Sir, you must be courteous to the other players at the table,’ the pit boss said to McCain. “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? ASK ANYBODY AROUND HERE WHO I AM.”

This being Puerto Rico, the pit boss might not have known McCain. But the senator continued in full fury—“DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU’RE TALKING TO? DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”—and crisis was avoided only when Jeff offered to change places and stand between McCain and the woman who had touched his arm.

What is bothersome about this story, if it’s true, is only partly the explosive anger. More, it’s the arrogance. At the craps table, who cares who he is? And there’s the recklessness of such a performance in a casino full of journalists (unless McCain absolutely couldn’t control himself, which is even scarier).

Joe Klein believes that McCain’s attempts to control his anger is one factor in his poor debate performances:

But there is also a pent-up anger to McCain. He seems to be concentrating so hard on trying to stay calm that he doesn’t have much energy left over to answer questions in a free and creative way. He is not the sort of person, in the end, that you want to invite into your living room for a four-to-eight-year stay.

Taegan Goddard writes, “a former senior Bush administration official told Political Wire of at least three occasions where he saw McCain fly into a fit of rage, including one time when he got physical and actually push the person annoying him.”


This anger has become part of the chess game the two campaigns are playing. Steve Benen points to an interview yesterday with Charlie Gibson (video above) as suggesting that Obama is hoping to provoke McCain to show his tempter. He begins by quoting an answer from Obama:

“Well, I am surprised that, you know, we’ve been seeing some pretty over-the-top attacks coming out of the McCain campaign over the last several days that he wasn’t willing to say it to my face,” Obama said. “But I guess we’ve got one last debate. So presumably, if he ends up feeling that he needs to, he will raise it during the debate.”

Obama, in this sense, is almost daring McCain to make these attacks directly. He’s practically questioning McCain’s fortitude, calling him out for using sleazy tactics behind Obama’s back, but not to his face.

I suspect Obama is baiting McCain for a reason — he wants McCain to lose his cool, make personal attacks, and try to change the subject away from the economy. Obama isn’t afraid of this scenario, he’d welcome this scenario.

The McCain campaign is using anger differently, in inciting anger against Obama based upon discredited smears. That will be the topic of Anger Management Part II.

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