Does John McCain Suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Mad as hell…
I’m gonna get you, sucka: John McCain flashes those pearly whites

It’s such an obvious question that it seems bizarre few in the media have asked it:

Does John McCain, the Republican nominee for president, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

And, outrageously, did he refer to his wife with the evil “C-word,” during an outburst?

I raised the former issue during a recent appearance on NPR journalist Farai Chideya’s News and Notes‘s “Blogger’s Roundtable.” But I started thinking about this subject while listening to the March 26 edition of Democracy Now. In an interview with host Amy Goodman, investigative reporter Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation) has this exchange about his latest piece:

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Dreyfuss, you got your title, “Hothead McCain,” from a Republican senator. You’re quoting Republican Senator Thad Cochran, who said, “The thought of his being President sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper, and he worries me.”

ROBERT DREYFUSS: Yes, I use that quote, and it says immediately after that that shortly after saying that, Thad Cochran endorsed McCain. So it’s clear that the Republicans are gathering around their leader, despite the fact that many senators, not just Cochran, but many Republican senators view McCain with alarm and not because he’s some sort of closet liberal—it’s true that on some domestic issues he lined up with some Senate liberals—but on foreign policy, they’re are scared of him. And on a personal level, McCain has had a tendency over the years—this is so well known on Capitol Hill—to erupt, to explode, to scream and yell at his colleagues in the Republican caucus, in closed-door meetings behind the scenes, and sometimes even in public. So he has scared a lot of his colleagues, who I’m sure are supporting him, like Cochran did, out of party loyalty, but who’ve said, as Cochran did, that they’re extremely concerned about his temper and his apparent willingness to explode.

And I’ve met McCain up close. I rode around the bus with him nine years ago when he was campaigning in New Hampshire. I found him scary up close. I think when you see him two feet away, he looks like somebody whose head could explode. He’s got a very barely controlled anger underneath his sort of calm demeanor that he seems to almost grit his teeth to keep inside. And I found him very scary personally. And I’m always shocked, I’m always stunned, when media who cover McCain don’t bring that across. He’s not a jolly fellow. He’s not somebody who you want to sit down and have beers with, where I could see people think that about President Bush—he’s kind of an amiable dunce, as someone said about an earlier president. McCain is not somebody I want to have a beer with. I think he’s a really scary guy.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), “irritability or outbursts of anger” is one of primary signs of PTSD.

The condition can occur when

The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following were present:

(1) the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others

(2) the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Note: In children, this may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behavior.

McCain, post-rescueJohn McCain, a Navy aviator during the Vietnam War, was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, injured in the accident, captured by North Vietnamese soldiers, and held as a prisoner of war for five-and-a-half years, during which time he was repeatedly tortured.

McCain was released in 1973 and retired from the Navy in 1981. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Arizona, in 1982. After two terms, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, and has served as a member since then.

Clearly, McCain is a talented and adaptable person, known for many outstanding qualities, an admirable independent streak being one of them. Dreyfuss notes this.

But just as clearly, McCain’s experiences seemed to mark him as highly eligible for the disorder. Certainly, many war veterans who never experienced torture—not to mention half-a-decade-plus of brutal captivity—suffer from the after-effects of their service.

But McCain’s temper is on another level. For example:

• “In a front page article and separate editorial Sunday, The Arizona Republic said it wanted the nation to know about the ‘volcanic’ temper McCain has unleashed on several top state officials.”—“McCain’s Temper May Become an Issue,” Associated Press, October 31, 1999

• From “McCain, Cornyn Engage in Heated Exchange,” The Washington Post, May 18, 2007, during a debate on immigration, the following exchange took place:

[Expletive] you! I know more about this than anyone else in the room,” shouted McCain at Cornyn. McCain helped craft a bill in 2006 that passed the Senate but couldn’t be compromised with a House bill that was much tougher on illegal immigrants.

Cornyn’s office declined to comment on the incident. McCain’s camp specifically denied that the senator ever claimed to know more about the immigration issue than other senators, but acknowledged that the two Republicans had quite a disagreement.

“These negotiations can be very tense, and there was a spirited exchange. That’s it,” said Brian Jones, spokesman for McCain’s presidential campaign.

• In 1992, at a meeting of the Senate Special Committee on POW/MIA Affair, McCain got into a yelling match with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. According to, the other senators related this tempestuous encounter between the two men:

The pair got so close to one another that the senator who tells me the story — aware that because of war injuries, McCain’s arms don’t fully extend — was convinced McCain “was going to drive the top of his head into Grassley’s nose. I was convinced that bone fragments were going to go into Chuck’s brain, and I was sitting there and was about to witness a murder.”

McCain suddenly stood up. But instead of a head-butting homicide, he delivered a crushing blow of words.

“You know, senator,” McCain said, seething, “I thought your problem was that you don’t listen. But that’s not it at all. Your problem is that you’re a f-cking jerk.”

• McCain clearly still bears anger against his North Vietnamese tormentors. In 2000, McCain spoke of them, saying, “I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live… I was referring to my prison guards and I will continue to refer to them in language that might offend.” He later apologized for his use of the epithet.

Account after account in the blogosphere and mainstream say the same thing: “Bob Dole Admits John McCain Has A Temper”; “John McCain’s Temper His Undoing!”; “Harkin: McCain’s temper is ‘scary'”; “Will McCain’s Temper Be a Liability?”; “Should John McCain’s temper be a campaign issue?”; “John McCain’s $#@%$#@ Temper.”

Perhaps most noxious of all, however, is an alleged exchange between McCain and his own wife, Cindy, in 1992. According to the The Raw Story web site, in an upcoming book, The Real McCain, author Cliff Schecter writes the following:

Three reporters from Arizona, on the condition of anonymity, also let me in on another incident involving McCain’s intemperateness. In his 1992 Senate bid, McCain was joined on the campaign trail by his wife, Cindy, as well as campaign aide Doug Cole and consultant Wes Gullett. At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain’s hair and said, “You’re getting a little thin up there.” McCain’s face reddened, and he responded, “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you c-nt.” McCain’s excuse was that it had been a long day. If elected president of the United States, McCain would have many long days.

Yet, still, no one is asking any substantial questions about McCain’s mental health, or his fitness for office.

Part of the reason, of course, is that mainstream media fear losing the one thing without which they can’t exist, and that politicians implicitly dangle over their heads: access. Act up, or don’t play along, and you might find yourself unable to get time with insiders, or find exclusives being tossed to your competitors.

However, because I don’t want access, I’m asking: Does John McCain suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder?

Well? Does he?



#1 Dr. G. Heath King on 04.27.08 at 11:29 pm

McCain has all six symptoms listed by DSM-IV-TR for Post Tramatic Stress Disorder, including incensed response to mild stimuli.

His meticulously muted voice evinces a pronounced effort to contain and choreograph his cholera – though his hyper-vigilance often fails him, whereupon his visage reveals itself as a hieroglyph of emotional havoc.

I suspect his strained focus in reading the TelePrompTer indicates a protocol for PTSD patients known as Eye Movement Desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

You will note that when he is unable to follow the TelePrompTer, his clumsy, sluggish mind is at a loss. This may be traced to a reduction in the size of the hippocampus, common among PTSD patients. In fact, one study showed that there is a 8% diminution in the hippocampus among Vietnam War veterans with PTSD.

It is also known that there is a high secretion of catecholamine in the urine of PTSD patients – but I will leave that for McCain’s political opponents to ascertain.

Dr. G. Heath King

#2 Brenda on 09.04.08 at 1:37 am

I have had PTSD for 3 years from an abusive marriage and believe that no one who has PTSD could ever function as president of the US or in any leadership position. Judgement is clearly affected as well as memory. Depression will often happen during bad spells such as panic attacks. It is difficult to focus when feeling anxious and leads to repetitive behavior to try and clear the mind. Anger is always there and needing justice against those who hurt you. After 5 years as a POW, how could McCain not have PTSD?

#3 Military brat on 09.26.08 at 12:29 pm

My father was a 20 year military officier and he loves John McCain. He never suffered from PTSD and normally I go to my father for lots of advice he is a very intelligent Electrical, Aeronatical engineer with an MBA.
Highly educated someone you would trust to make a good decision about the next president. Someone should get this information out to the American people. I was told that if you have PTSD you not aloud to carry a weapon? How could you be in charge of the worlds biggest army if that’s the case. This is truely scarey stuff.

#4 Robert on 10.09.08 at 3:03 pm

Mr. Allen, I’ve sent a message to Rachel Maddow suggesting she should open this in the context of McCain “pallen around” with the people who tortured him and killed some of his p.o.w. friends, but has been photographed warmly hugging them (i.e., pallen around). I sent her a link discussing that and PTSD: . Perhaps with your resources you could address this issue with her and get it “out.”

#5 paige on 10.09.08 at 3:10 pm

wow. john mccain is awesome but im doing research for a class and i do wonder if he is suffering from stress disorder. but if he is, then how can he handle this country! no offence!

#6 Linda on 10.10.08 at 5:25 am

I have been wondering if I was the only one who thinks John McCain has PTSD. It seems to be common knowledge that he has an erratic and explosive temperament. My father was in the South Pacific during World War II and I am convinced that he had PTSD for the rest of his life after that experience. I wonder why no one in the media ever even mentions the possibility that PTSD could afflict John McCain. A Comander in Chief of the United States with PTSD is a pretty scary picture indeed.

#7 John on 11.12.08 at 12:31 pm

If he didn’t have PTSD before the election, he probably does now

#8 phillyjoe on 11.27.14 at 3:27 pm

Victims of prolonged stress subsequently live in a kind of a bubble; they want vengeance on their Victimizers. They create substitute “enemies” whom they can destroy and thus feel “justice is served”. If McCain is elected president, he will continue to live in his POW Bubble and “seek justice”; he will make Russia his “enemy” and project upon them his personal need for vengeance. Unless reigned in, a President McCain would indeed without hesitation, start a shooting war with Russia. This is not a good thing for america or for the world.

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