McCain Tackles Temper and Education

John McCain went back to his roots this week, unleashing a new campaign ad spotlighting his childhood and delivering a speech yesterday at his alma mater, Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia.

He tackled head on a personality issue rarely mentioned publicly this campaign season – his temper. Sometimes dubbed “Senator Hothead” in the past, fellow government leaders have often expressed concern over McCain’s easily instigated anger. Googling “McCain” and “temper” pulls up a flurry of articles over the past 10 years regarding the issue but it has never seemed to pose a valid alarm to voters. 

McCain assured the crowd yesterday that although he has “been known to forget occasionally the discretion expected of a person of my years…self-improvement should be a work in progress in all our lives…”

He also raised the issue yesterday during an interview with CNN, saying that “I have a better and more impressive record of bipartisanship and working across the aisle in legislative solutions and leadership than anybody that’s running against me by far…and those leadership qualities required an even temper.”

But McCain did justify some of his famous temper when it comes to corruption in government.

“I am confident that [people will] look at my record and my vision, and that’s — 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,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash. “Because I won’t stand for corruption, and I won’t stand for waste of their tax dollars, and I will demand that people serve their country first and the special interests second.”

Back in Alexandria, he spoke of rebellious schooldays at Episcopal High School, calling the school “home.” He referenced Episcopal’s honor code — “I will not lie, I will not cheat, I will not steal” — the basis of one campaign commercial. As Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have both come under fire recently for lying about various events (Clinton on her Bosnia trip, Obama on the Rezko scandal), its obvious McCain is attempting to bolster his character credibility.

He said the honor code at the school was “much the same as the code my parents had taught and which would govern my behavior at Annapolis and in the Navy.”

McCain spoke poignantly of one of his teachers, Mr. Ravenal, whose influence he said was, “more important and more benevolent than that of any person outside my family.”

As for education today, McCain advocated school choice for families and merit pay for teachers.

“Parents should be able to send their children to the school that best suits their needs… whether it is a public, private or parochial school,” he said. “The result will not be the demise of the public school system in America, but competition that will help make public schools accountable and as successful as they should be in a country as great and prosperous as ours.”

McCain said teachers are “underpaid” for their work and those “who have lost their focus on the children they teach to find another line of work.”

He emphasized a competitive environment for dedicated teachers who can be rewarded for their efforts. Some of those teachers, McCain said, should be military veterans. He encouraged veterans to join the teaching profession with the Troops to Teachers Act, persuading those with military discipline to bring their skills to the classroom.

“There is no reason on earth that this great country should not possess the best education system in the world. We have let fear of uncertainty, and a view that education’s primary purpose is to protect jobs for teachers and administrators degrade our sense of the possible in America. There is no excuse for it,” said McCain.

The stop yesterday was day two in a six-day series that began in Meridian, Mississippi, where McCain has family ties. The “Service to America Tour” will showcase McCain in many of the places memorable in his past, generating a physically documented “biography” of his life in places “that have played a significant role in shaping who I am today," he said of the tour.