Native son

Native son

As newly minted Republican presidential nominee John McCain surged his way across America last week with his “C’mon, Give a Guy a Break” bus tour, vainly attempting to break through the wall of cable-saturation coverage surrounding the interminable Clinton/Obama slugfest, late-night somnambulists and small-town newspaper aficionados learned all sorts of new things about America’s feistiest senator. Like the fact that he was once a flight instructor at a Mississippi airfield named after his own grandfather (we’re guessing the office pranks were impressively mild). Or that his full name is, somewhat incongruously, John Sidney McCain III. Or how his hardscrabble childhood in Alexandria, Virginia, sowed the seeds of his slow-blossoming greatness like a patient Joad sows a long row of cotton.

Friendly visit or political event?: Some students weren’t too pleased that attendance was compulsory for John McCain’s speech at his old stomping ground, Alexandria’s Episcopal High School.

Hold on—say what with who now? McCain spent part of his childhood in Virginia? Why hasn’t anyone told us this before? We could have sworn, from our careful study of multiple episodes of “Hardball,” that Senator McCain has spent his life in exactly three places: Arizona, the Hanoi Hilton, and perched amidst a celestial brigade of warrior angels.

But no! There was actually a young whippersnapper named li’l Johnny McCain who existed in a stretch of the 20th century when the phrase “Mekong Delta” was largely unknown to the American populace. And yes, dear reader, he spent a chunk of that time going to high school in our delightful little Commonwealth.

And not just any high school, either. The dashing, young soon-to-be flyboy spent his formative years at Alexandria’s preparatory best, Episcopal High School, an honest-to-goodness “boarding school” from a time before Holden Caulfield made that seem like a bad thing. So it made a certain amount of sense that McCain would kick off the second day of his bad-ass bio tour at his old Northern Virginia stomping ground, regaling Episcopal’s current crop of fresh-scrubbed scholars with vaguely squirm-inducing stories about the sepia-toned time in his life when he was still “captive to the unruly passions of youth.”

Unfortunately, Senator McCain forgot that EHS calls its first-year students “rats” for a reason. After finishing his inspirational musings—which mixed warm remembrances of his alma mater with pro-school-voucher boilerplate (“parents should be able to send their children to the school that best suits their needs,” he insisted, “whether it is a public, private or parochial school,” conveniently sidestepping the fact that his own voucher plan would cover barely one-20th of Episcopal’s $38,200-a-year price tag)—McCain opened the floor to questions.

Things went smoothly, for a while, but then a cheeky young thing named Katelyn Halldorson stood up to ask what, exactly, Senator Grandpa Simpson was doing at her school.

“Judging by the amount of press representatives here, and also by the integration of your previous political endorsements in your earlier personal narrative, we can see that…political motivation isn’t completely absent,” she noted. “Yet we were told that this isn’t a political event. So what exactly is your purpose in being here?”

Oh, snap! Out of the mouth of babes, eh Senator? McCain, as is his wont, initially responded with a biting jibe. (“I knew I should have cut this thing off,” he moaned. “This meeting is over.”) But then, trying to save face, he launched into a long, rambling defense of his biography tour, and then offered a half-hearted mea culpa for employing Episcopal’s student body as campaign props: “I hope that attendance here was not compulsory…I apologize if you were unwillingly in attendance here.”

As it turns out, attendance was compulsory, and apparently a few of the dewy-eyed prepsters were none-too-pleased about it.

Well, it just goes to show ya, Senator (as Thomas Wolfe so trenchantly put it), you really can’t go home again—at least not without catching some flack for blatant political opportunism. But hey, we wouldn’t worry about it too much—we’re pretty sure that C-SPAN 8 cut away from the end of your speech to show that Barack Obama bowling clip for the 12-millionth time, anyway.