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Vengeance is Ours, Sayeth McCain-Palin
by Win McCormack,
Author of You Don't Know Me: A Citizen's Guide to Republican Family Values

As related by Serge F. Kovalski in an Oct. 10 article in the New York Times, during the summer of 2007, just before the opening of the Alaska State Fair, Walt Monegan, Alaska's public safety commissioner, received a call from the director of Gov. Sarah Palin's Anchorage office regarding state trooper Michael Wooten. It was the latest in a long series of calls he had received on the subject from members of Gov. Palin's official and unofficial entourages. The import of these calls was that the governor wanted Trooper Wooten removed from his job.

This time the caller said the governor had heard Wooten was going to be on duty at the fair, and she did not want him around when she was there. Wooten had volunteered to be in costume at the fair as the "Safety Bear," the state troopers' mascot. Monegan and his top aides thought this fair episode "was yet another example of a fixation that the governor and her husband, Todd, had with Trooper Wooten and the most granular details of his life." Wooten, of course, had gone through a nasty divorce with Palin's sister two years previously.

Not long after this incident, Palin fired Wooten from his job. A 260-page report issued Oct. 11 by a bipartisan panel of the state legislature concluded that Palin had abused her office by pressuring subordinates to get her former brother-in-law fired and by allowing her husband to use the resources of her office for that purpose.

In the early 1990s, Karen Johnson applied for a job at the Maricopa County of Arizona Board of Supervisors in the office of the chairman, Tom Freestone. Johnson previously worked as a secretary for ex-Republican Governor of Arizona Evan Meacham, who had been impeached for violations of state campaign finance laws. One day Chairman Freestone received a call from United States Senator from Arizona John McCain. According to the account by Michael Leahy in his Washington Post article of April 20, "McCain: A Question of Temperament," based on two sources in Freestone's office, McCain advised Freestone not to hire Johnson because "the applicant's past associations left her carrying unflattering baggage."

As Leahy put it, "The pair of Freestone staffers thought it odd that a U.S. Senator would even know that Johnson had applied for a job in their office, let alone that he had taken time out of his day to pick up a phone and weigh in on a staffing matter so removed from the locus of Washington power." The explanation? Johnson had once sat in on a meeting between Meacham and McCain in which McCain had said to the governor, "You never should have been elected. You're an embarrassment to the party." At which point Johnson said to the Senator: "How dare you? You're the embarrassment to the party."

How in the world McCain had managed to keep track of a low-level political secretary so carefully that he would know about her job application to Freestone's office? That is a mystery. Chairman Freestone went ahead and hired Johnson anyway.

According to David Brock in his book Free Ride: John McCain and the Media, how John Sidney McCain III—whose high school classmates abbreviated his distinguished name to "McNasty"—once tried to get fellow Arizona Senator Dennis Deconcini, a Democrat, to fire an aide of his. The aide, Judy Leiby, had corrected a statement of McCain's regarding Deconcini?s position on a certain issue during a meeting with Arizona veterans and was critical of the way McCain's office handled veterans' affairs generally. Deconcini refused to fire her. At Deconcini's retirement party, McCain went up to Leiby and said, "I'm so happy you are out of a job, and I'll see to it that you never work again."

McCain tried to intimidate Barbara Barrett, wife of Intel Chief Executive Craig Barrett, from running for governor of Arizona against sitting governor Fife Symington, whose administration was under investigation for corruption. He threatened to destroy her and also threatened to destroy Maricopa County Schools Superintendant Sandra Dowling if she didn?t drop her support of Barrett's candidacy.

There is an unmistakable similarity between McCain's temperament and approach to politics and that of the woman he chose for his running mate, Sarah Palin. "She is regarded by political opponents as vindictive and petty," the Sept. 15 issue of Newsweek reported. In the neoconservative magazine The Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes wrote (admiringly), "Political analysts in Alaska refer to the 'body count' of Palin?s rivals." Dave Dittman, a local pollster, had told Barnes, "The landscape is littered with the bodies of those who crossed Sarah."

Indeed, when she took office as mayor of Wasilla, among her first actions were the firings of department heads considered loyal to her predecessor, including the chief of police, the head librarian (whom she was more or less forced to rehire), and the director of the local museum. The librarian had additionally run afoul of her by objecting to Palin?s plan to remove books from the shelves she disapproved of, and the police chief was at loggerheads with the NRA over concealed weapons.

"There are two McCains visible in the media," David Brock wrote. "One is a straight-talking maverick...The other is...a vindictive, petty man who lashes out with uncontrolled fury at anyone who questions or opposes him."

Though few are aware of it, John McCain is, culturally and psychologically, a product of the deep South, specifically Mississippi, where his Scotch-Irish ancestors operated a slave plantation before their descendants branched off into military careers. He is the inheritor of the South's so-called "Culture of Honor," originally derived from Scotc-Irish culture, with its ethic of "cross me and I'll punish you."

There has been much speculation as to why exactly John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. It seems plausible that he chose her, among other reasons, because her mentality of vengeance exactly matches his. Is this a mentality we want to dominate the next administration?

Win McCormack is the publisher and editor in chief of Tin House magazine and a political activist in the Democratic Party. He has written for Oregon magazine, the Oregonian, Oregon Humanities magazine, Tin House, and the Nation and was the winner of a William Allen White commendation for his investigative coverage of the Rajneesh cult. He resides in Portland, Oregon. His book, You Don't Know Me: A Citizen's Guide to Republican Family Values is available now from Tin House Books.