McCain’s history of slime & defend

When a military man pointed out that John Tower was a dangerous drunk, John McCain got the man’s psychiatric records and read them out on the floor of the Senate.

A reader reminds me that John McCain’s tendency to lash out uncontrollably, demonstrated in his unjustified personal attack on Barack Obama, is nothing new:

Go back to the nomination of John Tower for SecDef. One of the people who spoke out about him was a former (if memory serves) airman who spoke out about seeing Tower arrive for an inspection visit at an aribase being drunk. McCain managed to get the guy’s confidential medical records (which included psychiatric info), went to the floor of the Senate and read them into the record.

So let’s note — McCain did an action that, were he not on the floor of the Senate, could have gotten him sued and possibly proscuted for violations of confidentiality of medical records, because he was angry that his buddy Tower had been exposed. And let’s be real – most of the Senate knew about Tower’s alcoholism, since it was not unknown for him to show up on the floor soused, to put it mildly. Like JFK’s womanizing, this was an open secret in DC, but one to which the voters and general public had not been made privy.

One reason I never got excited about the so-called “straight talk express” during the runup to 2000 is that I remembered this incident.

The story is told here (without much detail), and referenced to Rothfeder’s Privacy for Sale.

If any reader can confirm or disconfirm either the story itself or the attribution to Rothfeder, please let me know. [Confirmed: see below.]

I’ve often wondered why McCain was so forgiving about the Bush/Rove/Reed slime attack that killed him in South Carolina in 2000; perhaps the explanation is that he tends to behave the same way himself.

One reason I tend to discount “character” as a political issue is that, with rare exceptions, my knowledge of candidates’ character comes from the press, and reporters seem to be execrable judges of character. McCain and Nader, two media-made secular saints, are exhibits A and B.

Update Yes indeed. McCain obtained, and read into the Record, a distorted version of the psychiatric records of a certain Sgt. Jackson. Only McCain’s immunity under the Speech & Debate clause kept his actions from being criminal.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: