In this Nov. 3, 2008, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, died Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018. He was 81. Picture: Carolyn Kaster/ AP Photo.
There’s a great line on people who pretend to be what they’re not: “Big hat - no cattle”.

So, the challenge: how to distinguish the kings of spin, from the real deals?

David Foster Wallace, in Rolling Stone, in the year 2000, told a story:

“No generation of Young Voters has ever cared less about politics and politicians than yours such is the enormous shuddering yawn that the Political Process evokes in us now”

This was “an era when politicians’ statements of principle or vision are understood as self-serving ad copy and judged not for their sincerity or ability to inspire - but for their tactical shrewdness, their marketability”.

Then came a presidential candidate named McCain, who claimed: “I run for president not to Be Somebody, but to Do Something.”

His goal: “To inspire young Americans to devote themselves to causes greater than their own self-interest.”

Was this just more “carefully scripted bull****”?

No. McCain offered “something riveting and unSpinnable and true: the five-plus years in a North Vietnamese prison, mostly in solitary, in a box, getting tortured and starved. And the unbelievable honour and balls he showed there”.

In 1967 McCain was vying his 23rd Vietnam combat mission and his A-4 Skyhawk plane got shot down.

“McCain got bayoneted in the groin; a soldier broke his shoulder apart with a rifle butt. He finally got tossed on a jeep and taken to the infamous Hoa Lo prison - a.k.a. the “Hanoi Hilton”... He was delirious with pain for weeks the other POWs were sure he would die...”

After a few months like that, the prison commandant suddenly offered to let him go.

They’d found out McCain’s father and grandfather were both US Navy admirals, and the North Vietnamese wanted the PR coup of mercifully releasing the son.

But McCain, just 45kg and barely able to stand, refused to leave. Not without his fellow-POWs. And so he spent four more years in Hoa Lo - “in a dark box, alone rather than violate a Code”.

Irrefutable proof McCain was capable of devotion to something more than self-interest.

In his last speech to fellow US senators, 46 years later, McCain showed his killer strength was not only holding political opponents to account. But his own people too, including President Trump.

“Whether or not we are from the same party, we are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equal” - he demanded.

Across the world’s political theatres of war and peace, are plenty of pretenders.

Political polygraphs should be ready and charged.

* Murray Williams’ “Shooting from the Lip” column appears in the Cape Argus every Monday.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus