John McCain: "Failure Is Not An Option: It's Essential."

Washington D.C.: Flanked by Senators Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Arizona Republican John McCain convened a press conference to announce his hiring of disgraced "Syria analyst" Elizabeth O'Bagy, recently fired from the Institute for Study of War after revelations she had falsely claimed a Ph.D., as a top-level legislative assistant.

John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte

"In her brief career before joining my Senate team, Elizabeth O'Bagy has impressed me with her astute analysis of the situation on the ground in a volatile part of the world, the depth of her knowledge and scholarship, and her ability to work with the media," McCain told reporters. "But I wouldn't have taken her on based on those qualifications alone. No, what impressed me most was Ms. O'Bagy's willingness and ability to demonstrate a great moral lesson for her fellow Americans: that in order to succeed, one must be prepared to fail."

"Throughout my career, in the United States Navy as well as in politics, I have demonstrated that the road to success is paved by failure. Elizabeth O'Bagy understands this truth as much as I do."

"I began my service to this nation as a proud pilot in the Naval Air Corps. Fresh from the Naval Academy, where I earned a graduate ranking of 894 in a class of 899, I immediately steeled myself for failure. And fail I did: crashing five expensive jets through foolish hot-dogging, and managing to place myself at the center of a catastrophic fire that nearly destroyed the U.S.S. Forrestal, before going on to serve my country in Vietnam. I have no doubt that in Vietnam I would have gone on to ever greater failure had my career not been cut short by enemy missile fire," McCain added.

"But I didn't let that setback stop me. On my return to the United States, I immediately set myself to fail my beloved wife, who had suffered injuries far more grievous than any I sustained. And fail her I did, throwing her over in favor of a richer, prettier beer heiress, one who hadn't been maimed in a car accident, whose money and connections fueled my way to the United States Senate, where I have gone on to fail the voters of Arizona, spectacularly, for 26 years."

At this point in McCain's address, Senator Lindsay Graham interjected, "If I may speak out of turn Senator, I'd like to vouch for my distinguished colleague's record of failure in the Senate. No Senator during my tenure has failed his constituents as consistently, and with such determination, as John McCain. Why, just in this term, Senator McCain has broken his 2010 campaign promise that he had 'learned his lesson,' and would never again support an immigration amnesty bill, has led the United States into a pointless war in Libya that demonstrably harmed America's national security, led the charge for another meaningless war in Syria, and done as much as any Senator, bar none, to make America a domestic surveillance police state, where every phone call, email, and text is monitored by shadowy unaccountable spies. That's a record of failure that I do my best to live up to every day, whether I fail the citizens of South Carolina by lying to them through my teeth or by wasting precious time with my reckless diplomatic showboating."

"Thank you, Lindsay," the senior Senator from Arizona replied. "Of course, my greatest failure, the John McCain presidential campaign of 2008, speaks for itself. It's no ordinary failure to take a record of character and experience like my own, with the advantage of a sympathetic media and a public eager to hear the 'straight talk' for which I'm justly famous, and squander it all against a state senator from Illinois whose middle name is Hussein. No, to fail on that scale I had to put my nose to the grindstone, with innovations like choosing the mayor of an Alaskan mining village as my running mate, suspending my campaign to deal with a crisis as though I'd already been elected President, and making my unqualified daughter, herself one of the deepest and most treasured failures of my life, the centerpiece of my campaign's public outreach."

"What lessons can we learn from the spectacular failure of my campaign? The most important is that in Washington, failure can never be punished. It can only be rewarded, as I have been rewarded for my failures. That's the American way."

McCain concluded his address: "When I reached out to Ms. O'Bagy to offer her this important position, where she will help in guiding our great nation to a war in Syria that is long overdue, I knew that she had the most important qualification for the job: the ability to succeed through failure. I look forward to working with her in the years to come. God bless America."

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. a_random_guy says

    Money quote: "The most important is that in Washington, failure…can only be rewarded."

    Really, I am not quite sure how to interpret this. Perhaps "one you have been accepted as one of the elite, well, we take care of our own."

    Or, alternatively "what ordinary Americans interpret as 'failure', dishonesty and corruption, is what we reward in Washington."

    However you choose to interpret it, it clearly shows the unbridgeable gap between ordinary Americans and the elite who would rule us.

  2. says

    I've been in Arizona for the last 20ish years (back off, I got my reasons). I've witnessed McCain's slide from 5-star* politician to worthless garbage.

    It took longer than most people understand. It was uglier than most people understand. The final product is not hard to understand, however.

    *: Politicians are rated on a five-star scale similar to Internet service providers. The highest rank that can be attained is "Sucks", which is awarded at five stars. Lower ranks typically are defined by titles such as "15% Packet Loss on a Good Day" or "Craven Flip-flopper Sellout Douchebag Deceiver".

  3. Basil Forthrightly says

    I'll take minor exception on the 5 planes/Forrestal thing. Flight operations were being filmed when the Forrestal fire started, and its abundantly clear he neither caused the fire nor otherwise screwed up during it. McCain lost 3 planes to foolishness/hotdogging/incompetence, had one blown up under him on deck during the Forrestal fire (bad luck), and then got his ass shot down over Vietnam (enemy action).

    Considering how abundant his failings are, I see no point in the exaggeration; it makes a too-easy handle for his defenders to discredit the piece. The unstretched truth is damning enough.

  4. Shane says

    Amen Patrick.

    That saddest thing for me was watching him when I was in AZ, and he was running for president. All he could say to refute Obama was, yes yes we have a socialist program just like that too.

  5. says

    Considering how abundant his failings are, I see no point in the exaggeration; it makes a too-easy handle for his defenders to discredit the piece.

    That the piece is written as a summary of a press conference that never took place doesn't discredit it entirely?

  6. ChrisTS says

    I wonder if he really has lost his mind. This woman lied, repeatedly, about her qualifications. But… whatever.

  7. nlp says

    I got as far as his failing his wife before I realized what Patrick was doing. But I'm sorry he elected to omit Ms Ayotte's failings from the post.

    Of course, it's possible that he thinks we already know them too well, but I still would have liked to read his take on them.

  8. Flip says

    It could be that I stayed up all night, but I got to "beer heiress" before I remembered that it was Patrick writing.

  9. says

    @nlp • Sep 28, 2013 @1:10 pm: "But I'm sorry he elected to omit Ms Ayotte's failings from the post."

    Kelly had no comments at the press conference. She was waiting for an email from the RNC telling her what to think, but it didn't arrive until the conference was over.

  10. Trebuchet says

    Just wait. McCain, Graham, and more than 500 other senators and congressman are about to fail the country in most spectacular fashion ever. Twice. And with a good deal of help from the executive branch as well.

    I will agree that about the only thing McCain failed at in the Forrestal disaster was dying.

  11. Stephen H says

    That really is an impressively bad record. He keeps costing his country money, lives and international goodwill, and it keeps coming back for more.

  12. says


    I feel like there's some point being made here, but for the life of me I can't put my finger on it.

    It's like everyone at Popehat has gone elliptical this week.

  13. Hazard says

    Quite the baffling phenomenon out there in politiland. When Dems fail(or get failed by political maneuvering), they tend to get kicked by the side. When Repubs fail, they fail up.

  14. Sami says

    I think it's a product of the current right-wing hostility to "experts". Once you decide that knowing what you're talking about is in some manner a liability, somehow, then the obvious next conclusion is that if someone is a blatant, colossal fuckup at something, then obviously that's the person you promote to be in charge of everything to do with the thing they're terrible at.

  15. Brad Hutchings (@BradHutchings) says

    Speaking of failure… You've failed to address the most salient question of the whole O'Bagy Affair: is she hot or not? I would definitely go with "hotter than Monica Lewinsky", but I can't in good conscience give her anything above a very solid 6.5.

  16. TomB says

    Quite the baffling phenomenon out there in politiland. When Dems fail(or get failed by political maneuvering), they tend to get kicked by the side. When Repubs fail, they fail up.


  17. Tarrou says

    Depending on who you believe, I actually don't think what O'Bagy did was necessarily as bad as it was made out to be. She is young and inexperienced, and her sudden propulsion to the top of the news during the political knife fight over the Syria strike made her a target. I disagree with her, and her boss, but she claims to have successfully defended her dissertation, and she's just missing the actual paperwork, which is taking a while. Given the nature of bureaucracy, I find that plausible. Should she have been clearer about the situation when she applied to the job? Perhaps. But it's not as if she's a GED recipient claiming this level of expertise. She actually did the work. I may think it's ridiculous for a senior senator to hire a fresh PHD with no experience as a top adviser, but that's not against any rules I know of.

  18. says

    Basil Forthrightly (Sep 28, 2013 @8:55 am) has a "minor exception" in that two of the five lost planes were not McCain's fault. The navy hired and trained him so that Not Losing Planes would be what he did. McCain had the job of performing his mission without losing his assets. He failed (again).

  19. nlp says

    I disagree with her, and her boss, but she claims to have successfully defended her dissertation, and she's just missing the actual paperwork, which is taking a while. Given the nature of bureaucracy, I find that plausible.

    Tarrou, unfortunately, that is yet another lie, and the truth is worse. All she has done is apply to enter the PhD program. She has not done the coursework, she has not written her dissertation, and she has not defended it.

  20. Tarrou says


    If true, that would pretty much do away with any sense of charity on my part. Google-fu gooooooooooooo!

    "“Ms. O’Bagy told me that she had successfully defended her dissertation in May 2013,” Kim Kagan, director of the ISW and former advisor to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, told TheDC. “But she hadn’t. She misrepresented that she had successfully defended it.”

    Kagan also says that O’Bagy told her she was in a joint Ph.D./M.A. program and that it “continued to be [her] understanding” that O’Bagy was in that program. She graduated from Georgetown’s master’s program in 2013."

    Seems you're correct, and I retract any sympathy for Ms. O'Bagy.

  21. EPWJ says

    Its interesting that we were told that Ms. O'Donnell had not paid her taxes, her house had been bought for her by a lover, that she was in foreclosure and too many other stories.

    I'm inclined to believe less when someone claims that she was told something over physical proof. Here a person took a stand that was contrary to the stand of the firm she worked for and then a story breaks about her credentials.

    I maybe wrong, but then again so could they.

    On the record I never was a fan of O'Donnell, but also the detractor who allegedly exposed O'Bagy in this case is someone who is a competitor, and perhaps we should take all this into consideration, since a military historian, would not have brought such charges without some concrete proof, like a statement or a document signed by O'Bagy. Did I miss the waived document in a press conference or was this a comment to a blogger that linked to another blogger and then it became a "fact".

    Like most of the "facts" in this article – pure rubbish is possibly too kind.

  22. Basil Forthrightly says


    Are you seriously arguing that a pilot sitting in his plane on the deck of an aircraft carrier is responsible for the loss of his plane when another plane on the deck fires a missile into it? There's literally no action he could've taken to prevent the loss.

    Under this sort of "logic", every murder victim is responsible for their own death, including the 9/11 victims.

    It also brands all of our military who have fallen in combat "failures", since the military have trained them and given the responsibility of keeping themselves alive.

    I find your "logic" or rhetoric despicable. (My contempt does not extend to the original post; as I said, "I take minor exception" since the essence of the point as written – McCain was unfit to be a Naval aviator – is something I believe to be true based on the loss of the first 3 planes.)

  23. Hazard says

    Didn't notice? Like the Dem officials who got caught in a fake controversy a few years ago, they got fired. O'Bagy here and Mark Sanford down South, they spectacularly fail and get promoted.

  24. Greg Hlatky says

    Some years ago a magazine had a periodic feature "America's House of Lords", for those who had consistently failed in every public office they occupied, yet continued to rise in the esteem of the media. Senator McCain would be an excellent entry.

  25. says

    I didn't catch on until the ex-wife stuff. I saw it again, we need to get a kickstarter going so you guys can quit your day jobs and post full time ;-)

  26. says

    @Hazard: So cherry picking three specific instances validates your point when the sample is far from random or representative? In Sanford's case, he was a Congressman, Governor and Chair of the Governor's Assc. Afterward, he won a special election for Congress. Failing sideways perhaps but hardly failing up. Additionally, he was extremely popular in each of his offices and his transgression is a joke. Whatever your opinions of Sanford are though, the examples you cite are pretty lame on both sides. One could play this game all day using, what happened to Bob Packwood compared to Teddy or Patrick Kennedy would result in the exact opposite conclusion from the one you drew. Marion Barry could be used as a data point, as could countless others. I'm not a Team Red or Team Blue cheerleader and I'd posit that both sides cover the wagons for their own – that members of both sides get treated much differently than your run of the mill citizen and that both sides have more falling upwards than you could shake a stick at. If you want to believe it's a R/D issue, knock yourself out but unless you rely on cherry picked datapoints, you won't fair well in any serious argument peddling your premise.

  27. says


    Not being a McCain fan, I never really knew about most of this. You seem knowledgeable about the subject so may I ask – how do you lose even one plane (from what I just read, Lose means they were destroyed) due to hotdogging and get away with it? I have heard many say he got the kid glove treatment in the military b/c of who's son he was, but it would seem to me that you could get the benefit of the doubt on one incident. Three though seems pretty egregious as those things aren't cheap. Is it a case that "hotdogging' has an eye of the beholder element to it, or is it pretty much widely accepted (like speeding in a car – 5mph over the speed limit is one thing, 50 mph is clearly hotdogging)? Just for the record, I'm a big fan of the "There's enough real stuff to point out that there's no need to take cheap shots" approach – I don't know enough about McCain to say anything about it – but admire that perspective as a general note – not that my validation means anything ;-)

  28. says

    @Greg – Hear hear. Reading Hazards comments, calling a politician cheating on his wife or DC establishment bootlicker padding a resume, a spectacular failure seems a little naive. It's so bad I think such things are the rule more than the exception and in most cases, it only matters if the timing is really bad or you have stepped on the wrong toes. Failing upward is the order of the day. It's a shame, and it's sad how low the bar has been set, but it's still true. Do you remember the reference though – was it the post on Balloon Juice or a book by any chance? I'm trying to look for it as it sounds interesting – figured I'd ask before shelling out the money for the book (well, that and you mentioned a magazine so I figured I may have the wrong reference)

  29. AlphaCentauri says

    McCain seems like a pretty complicated person. He took massive personal risks to support fellow sailors, but was a douche not only to his first wife but also to all the other women he openly had affairs with.

    Is he showing loyalty to a person who has backed up his agenda in Syria? Is he trying to play the hero with another younger woman? Is he just out of touch and too old to care about re-election? Who knows.

  30. Basil Forthrightly says


    McCain's grandfather was a 4-star admiral who literally worked himself to death in WWII; McCain's father was a WWII submarine captain and minor war hero who also became a 4-star admiral and assumed command of all combined forces in the Pacific theater (CINCPAC), including Vietnam, in 1968, shortly after his son was captured.

    "Lost 3 planes to hotdogging" is a rhetorical flourish. He flew a trainer into the water (but claimed engine failure in the inquiry), clipped power lines but managed to land the wreck, and bailed out of a 3rd plane after its engine apparently stopped. In the 3rd case, he was landing to refuel and certain speculators (like me) think he ran it out of gas but have no evidence; the inquiry at first found no engine fault but the final report was changed after it was issued, to undetermined engine fault. McCain asserted the engine exploded. He would've needed to refuel somewhere on the trip, and the Naval Air Station at Norfolk where he was attempting to land was the logical choice.

    I think McCain's connections explain his career's survival, though he was also well liked, considered a good pilot, and the Vietnam war was underway and heating up, not to mention the Cold War.

  31. says

    Bravo, bravo!

    Only a bit of a nit to pick, but as it's near and dear to my heart, I felt I must.

    Wasilla, Alaska- It's not an overgrown mining village, and never was. The mining town is Knik, which is nearby. Wasilla is a town situated at the "forks in the road" but really just a bit away from the fork by the lake, because "isn't the view over here so much better?"

    It's the sixth largest city in Alaska, and yes, they've got a Wal*Mart and Walgreens to prove it.

    Eek, Alaska, on the gripping hand…

  32. Earle says

    Thanks Leif, I raised an eyebrow at the Wasilla reference too. I've heard it called a lot of things and none of them were 'mining town'.

  33. says

    My apologies to our friends in Alaska.

    In my defense, the closest I've ever been to Alaska (morally and metaphysically, not geographically) was a visit to Archangelsk, which is pretty far from Wasilla, but closer in some ways than Los Angeles.

  34. Ed says

    Let's not forget that McCain was the sole Republican in the Keating 5. Though his culpability was probably the least of the 5, he acknowledged his part in it was wrong.