Rich Tucker

Beware, voters. John McCain has an anger problem.

Just this week, The Washington Post reported -- on page one -- about a meeting in 1992 (yes, 1992). It was “an informal gathering of a select committee investigating lingering issues about Vietnam War prisoners and those missing in action, most notably whether any American servicemen were still being held by the Vietnamese,” the paper says.

McCain apparently became so angry with fellow Republican Senator Charles Grassley that “he mocked Grassley to his face and used a profanity to describe him.” Grassley told the paper “it was a very long period of time” before he spoke to McCain again. Not, presumably, as long as the Post has waited to run this story, but a long time nonetheless.

Notice what’s missing here: context. We’re assured McCain got angry, but not whether that anger might have been justified. The senators were reportedly discussing Vietnam MIAs, but it matters what, exactly, were they discussing.

Former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey was also at the controversial meeting, and adds the missing information. “The precise point of disagreement between the Senators was over a man name Robert Garwood,” Kerrey wrote on a blog hosted by New York’s New School. “Senator Grassley believed he was a hero whose reputation was destroyed by the Defense Intelligence Agency. Senator McCain believed him to a traitor who caused prisoners (like Senator McCain) to receive additional encounters with torture.”

Furthermore, Kerrey adds, “McCain won the argument. My experience is that his anger always has a purpose and in this case the purpose was to defeat Senator Grassley’s argument which he did decisively.”

So McCain’s anger was not only justified, but tactical. And far more successful than the mainstream media’s repeated attempts to paint McCain as a cheating (see The New York Times, Feb. 21) loose cannon are likely to be.

If the senator wants to get angry, he ought to do so over the idea that the presidential race will somehow turn negative only when Republicans spend the autumn launching attacks on the eventual Democratic nominee. After all, it’s difficult to imagine what the GOP could say that hasn’t already been said by Sens. Clinton and Obama about each other.

Still, that’s the mainstream line, and the media are sticking to it. For example, “David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, tells NEWSWEEK that the Illinois senator won’t let himself be ‘Swift Boated’ like John Kerry in 2004,” the magazine wrote recently. “He’s not going to sit there and sing ‘Kumbaya’ as the missiles are raining in,” Axelrod added.

Missiles, eh? Such as the ones that a prominent Democratic senator recently accused McCain of using during his military career?

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for