McCain gets testy

In an interview with the Des Moines Register, McCain shows flashes of his famous temper.

Published October 1, 2008 6:00PM (EDT)

John McCain has long been notorious for his temper. In the past, he gained national attention for dropping the "F" bomb on a colleague, and in a 1999 editorial, his home-state newspaper, the Arizona Republic, declared:

If McCain is truly a serious contender for the presidency, it is time the rest of the nation learned about the John McCain we know in Arizona. There is also reason to seriously question whether he has the temperament, and the political approach and skills, we want in the next president of the United States.

There was even media speculation during the lead-up to the first presidential debate Sept. 26 that Barack Obama would try to goad McCain into losing his temper.

Tuesday, during a question-and-answer session with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register in Iowa, that infamous McCain temperament seemed to surface. The entire interview is fascinating, with McCain appearing far less restrained and carefully managed than he has for much of the campaign.

McCain became testy when asked about whether Sarah Palin had enough experience to assume the role of president if necessary, answering, "So, with due respect, I strongly disagree with your premise that she doesn't have experience and knowledge and background." McCain added that Palin has "been a member of the PTA, been a governor, been a mayor." Then, seeming to realize that he'd lost his cool somewhat, McCain said, "I'll stop there." He went on anyway, however, concluding, "But you and I just have a fundamental disagreement and I'm so happy that the American people seem to be siding with me."

McCain became especially sarcastic when asked about backlash from some conservatives over his selection of Palin. "Really? I haven't detected that," he said. "Now if there's a Georgetown cocktail party person who quote calls himself a conservative and doesn't like her, good luck."

And adding to the confrontational nature of the interview, McCain challenged a questioner who asked whether the Straight Talk Express had been derailed by less-than-truthful attacks on Obama. Saying that he "always had 100 percent truth" in his political career, McCain supported the claims made in one of his campaign ads that Obama supports comprehensive sex education for children in kindergarten. Many news organizations have judged that a perversion of Obama's actual policy stance on the issue.

Perhaps McCain's reaction to his Iowan inquisitors came from the fact that he seems to have little chance of winning the state. Polling results consistently show Obama firmly in the lead there.

A clip from the interview is posted below. The entire series of videos can be found on the Des Moines Register's Web site. (While you're there, you can also check out the paper's footage of the Iowa Oktoberfest events, which included keg rolling and beer balance beam competitions, assuming you can watch that sort of thing without being jealous because you're stuck at a computer.)

Update: Over at Time's Swampland blog, Mike Murphy, a GOP consultant and senior strategist for McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, offered some particularly sharp criticism of McCain's Des Moines Register interview. Murphy writes:

What the Hell was McCain even doing there in the first place?

1.) Obama is going to win Iowa.

2.) Editorial board meetings are usually pure trouble to begin with and result only in newspaper endorsements that persuade very few voters beyond the immediate family members of the editorial board.

3.) Within the rarified [sic] category of newspaper editorial boards, the Des Moines Register is one of the most liberal in the country. I'm rather surprised that halfway through the McCain interview they failed to switch over to Esperanto, the peace-loving language of all nations.

So, 35 days left and McCain is in Iowa? Why put McCain in the wrong state, at the wrong place? No surprise the result is the wrong message and the wrong tone.

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

MORE FROM Vincent Rossmeier

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2008 Elections Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz. Sarah Palin