McCain discusses his legendary temper

John McCain's notoriously mercurial personality comes up in a speech and an interview.

By Alex Koppelman

Published April 1, 2008 9:19PM (EDT)

John McCain's temper is famous, and only becoming more so as he gets more time in the spotlight. In one example, as Salon's Mark Benjamin reported, conservative activist Grover Norquist says some people get what they refer to as "McCaingrams."

"He yells at you, and before you get back to your office you get the apology note, which is the equivalent of somebody who knows that this happens and is prepared for it," Norquist told Benjamin.

Lately, McCain has been confronting the issue head-on. In the beginning of a speech he gave at his old high school Tuesday, McCain said:

I arrived here a pretty rambunctious boy, with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. I was always the new kid, and was accustomed to proving myself quickly at each new school as someone not to be challenged lightly. As a young man, I would respond aggressively and sometimes irresponsibly to anyone whom I perceived to have questioned my sense of honor and self-respect. Those responses often got me in a fair amount of trouble earlier in life. In all candor, as an adult I've been known to forget occasionally the discretion expected of a person of my years and station when I believe I've been accorded a lack of respect I did not deserve. Self-improvement should be a work in progress all our lives, and I confess to needing it as much as anyone. But I believe if my detractors had known me at Episcopal they might marvel at the self-restraint and mellowness I developed as an adult. Or perhaps they wouldn't quite see it that way.

Then, in an interview with CNN, McCain tried to spin the issue of his temper in his favor. He and CNN's Dana Bash had this exchange:

Bash: OK. One last thing because you're talking about it here at Episcopal. You are making light, we're talking about humor, of your storied and the -- the temper that you say you have and in rereading some of your books to prepare for this bio tour, I noticed that it's a constant theme that you yourself talk about even from the time you were a toddler that you had a temper and that it's maybe been a lifelong struggle to try to figure out how to contain that.

A voter out there reads your books, listens to you, humor or not, talking about your temper and they say, Do I want this guy with his finger on the button? What do you say?

McCain: Well, I say that everyone's life is a work in progress. I have a better and more impressive record of bipartisanship and working across the aisle and legislative solutions and leadership than anybody that's running against me by far. And those leadership qualities required an even temper. And those abilities to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats for the good of my constituents and the country are clear indications that that's a very, very minor thing when it's compared to my record of accomplishment.

My record of accomplishment required even, mature and experienced judgment in order to achieve what I've achieved and I'm confident the American people will judge that as well and I am confident that they'll look at my record and my vision and that's -- and if they don't expect me to get angry when I see corruption in Washington, when I see wasting needlessly of their tax dollars, when I see people behaving badly, they expect me to get angry and I will get angry because I won't stand for corruption and I won't stand for waste of your tax dollars and I will demand that people serve their country first and the special interests second.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz.