Age and John McCain – Part 1
Age and John McCain: Judgment

Age and John McCain - Part 2

(Age and John McCain - Part 1 is here)

category_bug_politics.gif Yesterday we walked through an overview of some potential debilities associated with being old and took a look at what is known of Senator John McCain’s health in relation to his age.

Today, we will discuss some of his mistakes, misstatements and flip-flops to see if we think they should be of concern in man who may sit in the most powerful (though diminished over the past eight years) office in the western world.

With mainstream media and everyone online concentrated this week on Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Senator McCain's past and ongoing errors - deliberate and/or unintentional - may seem like old news. But a constant problem in politics (and elsewhere in the culture) is that everyone seems to have the memory of a gnat; politicians hope for it, promote it, depend on it.

It is our job as responsible voters and citizens to weigh the words of candidates, compare them to facts, ferret out inconsistencies, assess their capability and, allowing a degree forbearance for human fallibility, evaluate their judgment and decide on their suitability for the highest position of leadership in the land. In those respects, this is not old news.

The primary season for the 2008 election was the longest in history. Day after day for 18 months, candidates of both parties criss-crossed the country often hitting several cities a day where they were required to be energetic, sharp, on message and make clear, compelling arguments for their positions while ingratiating themselves with voters to convince us they are the right man or woman for the job.

The pace is grueling at any age and on that alone, a certain number of minor mistakes is inevitable and understandable. If a candidate says “Iran” when he means “Iraq,” it’s not important – once or twice – particularly if it happens in a list of issues and not in a sustained speech or interview about the countries.

On numerous occasions during the campaign, even after the error was pointed out to him, Senator McCain has referred to Czechoslovakia, a country that has not existed since 1993. No one in a position to vote on legislation involving foreign nations should misspeak in the same way so frequently. Still, it’s worth giving him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

In July, when asked about Afghanistan, Senator McCain told Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America,

"I think it's serious…It's a serious situation, but there's a lot of things we need to do. We have a lot of work to do and I'm afraid it's a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border."

Unless the entire country of Iran is considered the border between Iraq and Pakistan, this is not a misstatement a man who considers himself a Middle East expert should make, especially when discussing Afghanistan. Even so, I could be persuaded that it was a slip of the tongue.

But there are other kinds of errors Senator McCain makes that are more problematic.

In March 2008, during a Middle East visit, Senator McCain twice said – in a radio interview and later in a news conference – that Iran is training al Qaeda members in Iraq, confusing Shiite Iran with Sunni al Qaeda. When a reporter questioned his assertion, McCain repeated it:

“Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media,” said McCain, “that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.”

He would have stuck with it had not Senator Joe Lieberman stepped in to whisper the correction in his ear. With the specificity of his remarks, it is difficult to believe this was a misstatement by a tired campaigner, who claims expertise on the Middle East. It is, instead, ignorance or an inability to remember who the players are in the Iraq war. Either one is frightening in a U.S. senator, let alone a head of state who approves or rejects diplomatic and military plans based on his knowledge of the issue.

In July, attacking Senator Obama’s position on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Senator McCain made an error that that I find impossible to dismiss.

“This is the same organization,” he said, “that I voted to condemn as a terrorist organization when [the Kyl-Lieberman] amendment was on the floor of the United States Senate [in September 2007]. Senator Obama refused to vote.”

The problem in this case is that Senator McCain was not in Washington when that vote was taken; he was in New York. (Senator Obama was in New Hampshire, as CNN reported, so either they were both busy elsewhere or both “refused" to vote.)

Any reason that could be given for this “mistake” is hard to accept. Even granting that no candidate can reasonably be expected to recall what state he was in on a given campaign day months before, certainly any senator can remember if he was in the chamber to vote for a bill as widely discussed as Kyl-Lieberman was at the time. Plus, Senator McCain has voted so infrequently during the 18-month primary campaign, he should be able to remember which few he did vote for. So either Senator McCain believes he can lie and the press won’t notice or he believes he voted for the amendment. The first is foolish; the second may be age catching up with him.

It is impossible and not necessary to document all Senator McCain’s many factual mistakes, but one more bears mention. On 7 July, at a town hall meeting in Denver in answer to a question from a young woman about Social Security, John McCain said:

"Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed."

Similar to his Kyl-Lieberman mistake, either John McCain is ignorant of how Social Security is designed to work or he has forgotten. The first calls into question his knowledge of the most successful social program in history. The second makes it impossible to seriously consider his argument for privatizing Social Security – or not privatizing it, depending on which day he is speaking; he has claimed both. So his answer to the young woman is not credible as a simple misstatement.

As I have written here in the past, I do not object to flip-flops on their face. Any leader should be expected to change his position when presented with new facts and/or events that make a previous position untenable. The problem with almost all issue flip-flops, however, is that politicians do not explain what brought them to a new conclusion, so they appear to be pandering and untrustworthy.

This is as true of Senator McCain as other politicians, but McCain has also claimed, sometimes, that his flip-flops are not new positions or that he never said what he did say before. There are a lot of videos on YouTube documenting his self-contradictions – too many to dismiss them all as memory lapses due to a busy campaign schedule.

The number of McCain flip-flops is astounding, so it's more efficient for me and you to let MSNBC’s Keith Olberman recount some of them. This was broadcast on 30 June 2008, and runs 3:31 minutes.

Until I undertook the research for this series, I didn’t realize how many inconsistencies there are in Senator McCain’s record and campaign. The question for voters is what they mean and what they say about the man, his capabilities and his judgment. Are McCain’s mistakes, misstatements and flip-flops understandable in an exhausting, hard-fought campaign or do they indicate that common debilities of age are diminishing his cognitive capacity?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Gullible considers some personal photographs in Focused on Distance (A Love Story).]


Thank you for your research on this subject. When you see them all together in one post it's hard to dismiss them as minor errors or slips of the tongue. Either he is beginning to suffer the memory loss most of us endure, or he is a liar. Take your pick. Either one is inexcusable.

After listening to Palin's speech and reading this post this morning, it is hard, so very hard, to understand why the McCain/Palin pedestal doesn't topple. The scenario is just too scary to contemplate if they get elected. Same old same old. They are without an iota of global perspective needed to make changes that will both serve Americans without causing detriment to the rest of the world. McCain does strike me as someone who can't wander from the script, and Palin's ability to over simplify, be belligerent and belittling, reminds me of Bush.

You know, I don't think it is age. Rather McCain demonstrates a kind of mental decay, a willingness to warp reality to the speaker's preferred storyline, that one sees when frustrated ambition sours the intellect.

Good post. McCain is a loose cannon. I don't think it's just age. It sounds to me like he's always been that way. He graduated bottom of his class like Bush. He got a walk because of his family like Bush whenever he got in trouble. Sylvia at Over the Hill had a good video with another former POW discussing McCain when he knew him in the years before being POWs and then what he has seen as the result physically of going through such an experience for himself.

I think McCain will be a disaster as a president but I have already heard the right going on and on about how wonderful Palin is. Of course, this is McCain's base talking right now and it's hard to say how her choice will impact the votes from the 20% in the middle.

My belief is that Senator McSame has what I have always referred to as a "convenient" memory. He remembers things as he would like to remember them (I had a husband like that). That, on top of what age does to blur your memory and your thinking processes, is a potentially disastrous situation for America. With someone like me in everyday life, I can laugh it off as a "senior moment" or joke about my "hard drive" being full and my "search engine" having slowed down. But with the President of the United States who must deal with being head of the Executive Branch of our country every day, 24/7, this is not funny and cannot be laughed off! We cannot allow our country to fall into the hands of the man who possesses this mind, or a woman who, during a major, or even a minor disaster, lacks even a smidgeon of the experience and knowledge to know what choices to make for the country. I don't want the futures of my children and grandchildren in their hands!


We may joke about our "search engines" slowing down or our "hard drives being full" but John McCain never will. He's computer illiterate and proud of it, remember!

After listening to the RNC for awhile last night, it seems to me that we really *are* two countries, not one. What makes perfect sense to the true believers in the Republican/conservative camp makes no sense to me. We don't share values or beliefs or goals or priorities.

Ronni's post is sensible and thoughtful; I imagine a sensible and thoughtful post pointing out Obama's weakness is possible. (In fact, a 9/1 Newsweek essay by Sean Wilentz does just that.)

However, from MoveOn to Rush Limbaugh, "sensible" and "thoughtful" don't seem to have much to do with our system of government. There doesn't seem to me to be enough consensus among America's citizens about what America should be, and what its role in the world should be.

I'm very sad.

I agree with Janinsanfran to a point.

However, because I have been involved with my own mother's mental decline (she is 77 and I am around a lot of elders in assisted living situations), it has occurred to me that McCain exhibits a common symptom of early dementia - inappropriate anger levels.

Now, some might argue that McCain has always had a temper and that the anger issue is nothing new.

However, add in all the apparent mental confusion, and I see a man struggling to stay on top of his game.

The bigger issue here is if senility is not the root problem, then McCain is a lying, self-serving, power-hungry, erratic, over-the-top egotist and dangerous man.

Either way spells disaster for the US if this man is elected.

I find this discussion very interesting, indeed. What worries me about McCain/Palin isn't his age, so much (although it probably ought to concern me if even SOME of his self-contradictory statements are the result of age and not general character) as it is his arrogance, and Palin's arrogance, which I find offensive as well as tremendously divisive. Fankly, she comes across as pretty bitchy; we've all known a few well-to-do suburban moms who act the same way. The TIME interview with McCain was indicative, I think, of how he feels about the general populace of this country - that he doesn't "owe" us any answers or explanations. We're supposed to just listen to whatever he's saying at the moment and allow him to bask in the radiance of his war record - anything beyond that is apparently none of our business? Palin can misspeak - Obama hasn't written any legislation (oops - those speechwriters really ought to do their homework) - and viciously attack, and behave like someone most of us wouldn't even WANT to know, and they tout that as "strength" and "intellect". I think Mary is quite right. In my case, I simply can't fathom WHO, in their right mind would see things the way the Republicans seem to see them, and no doubt they look at me, and people who believe as I do, as subhuman and stupid to boot. Bush is out there talking about how wonderful McCain is - seems to me that his endorsement ought to be enough to keep McCain OUT of office, but it might not. I'm a little discouraged right about now, I'm afraid.

Sadly, I agree wholeheartedly with Mary J. and Cowtown P.Thanks Ronni for another well-written article. I'll share these widely.

Pray for peace...looks like another civil war is a'comin...and after a nasty dose of McCain tonight, catch Michael Moore on Larry King tomorrow night for an antidote! Chuckling with Jon Stewart of the Daily Show is another way to keep an (ironic) perspective, imo.

Maybe the Independents have a view next week on THE ISSUES which are so badly buried in all this devisive tv diatribe. What about horrendous drug and food prices, home foreclosures, high gas prices, health care and education??! Sheesh....

I agree with Mary, C Pattie, Zoe. I'm sad and discouraged and fearful by the current state of this country, and by the tone I heard in some of the speeches from the RNC last night - especially Palin's. It all sounded so smug, sarcastic, hurtful, and just plain wrong about some things that are check-able facts.

I get it that both conventions are little more than huge pep rallies for their respective supporters. But I think I heard much more substance from the Dems, and I certainly heard kinder people speaking. wow.

So, how can the numbers be so close?

Ronni, Congrats on these last three posts, especially. And hurray for all the thoughtful comments. After an evening with the RNC (or as much of it as I could take) I appreciate coming here to share thoughts with people I can understand.

I'm no McCain fan. Obama is no better.

I think the liberals who populate this site, as well as few centrists and conservatives, might want to ask why it is that for yet another election we have a pair of losers to vote for.

Why is that that we do not get stronger, better qualified candidates? Is it because they are disqualifed if they had a legal misstep at 17, or said something about abortion 25 years ago?

Or is it the apathy of the voters, who keep picking the lesser of evils?

Vote Libertarian and send a message.

I have been an Obama supporter from the beginning and agree with much of this analysis of McCain and the place that age plays. And, as a group which cares about ageism, I am also interested to know if you Ronni, or any of your readers, have ideas or information on how McCain's age might be a positive in a presidency?

Thank you, Ronni, for this thoughtful series.

I am very concerned about a pattern I see emerging: McCain is allowing himself to be guided to an unacceptable degree by his advisors, speechwriters and toadies rather than rely on his own judgment, such as it is.

His every word is scripted by them. He makes mistakes and misstatements when he strays from the script or forgets it. His choice for vice president was overridden by the cynical choice of Palin, who was chosen for her appeal to Republican voters rather than for her ability to lead. His advisors have him flip-flopping and lying to garner votes, depending on the American public's ignorance and forgetfulness.

I'm afraid that these same advisors and speechwriters will follow him to the White House, and in the increasing deterioration of his mental facilities, will determine policy and actions, performing as a shadow government. Add that to McCain's volatile temper and tendency to make rash decisions and you have a witches' brew made for disaster.

This pattern should concern every voter, whatever their party. Should he win the election, he will inevitably decline over the next four years. We don't want the Vice President and the President's advisors running the country again, especially McCain's advisors and Vice Presidential pick!


There could be a tremendous positive side to having an older candidate; attributes that have been well examined here at TT:

Wisdom comes with age (if we cultivate it, )

Patience (much more preferred than flying by the seat of one's pants)

Ability to see more than one side and yet not lose sight of the Big Picture

Better able to control emotions

Experience - goes without saying, more years = more exposure to all things

Better at reflective thinking

Forgiveness and gratitude are well-honed.

All these things could be great qualities for an older candidate; positive aging can be achieved and reap big rewards if America would embrace it.

Age in and of itself does not guarantee such positives, it takes that semi-rare individual(blessed with pretty darned lucky good health) to epitomize the best concepts of wisdom.

Thus, McCain is no Yoda.


Not "TT". Should be "TGB".

Excuse my McCain moment...

See, some of us "old people" can laugh at ourselves ;-)

No groans allowed.

Thanks, Ronni for another in depth and perceptive read. The Rovians in the Republican Party have given the media Palin to have a feeding frenzy about and meanwhile no one is trying to deal with any serious issue. At least a few of us have been researching and blogging about the real issues in this campaign.

Cowtown Pattie contributed the following list of qualities which might make an elder a good President. DOES McCAIN HAVE THEM?

Patience (much more preferred than flying by the seat of one's pants) OBVIOUSLY NOT.

Ability to see more than one side and yet not lose sight of the Big Picture SOMETIMES

Better able to control emotions

Experience - goes without saying, more years = more exposure to all things YES

Better at reflective thinking

Forgiveness and gratitude are well-honed. SOMETIMES

I wonder if Senator McCain could be experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease. His factual mistatements and testiness could possibly fit.

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