Palinmccainrobynbeckgetty

If, like me, you're trying to absorb what has happened to John McCain in this campaign, and wonder whether you were wrong about him for all those years, or simply hadn't examined him closely enough, read this much-talked-about Tim Dickinson piece in Rolling Stone. It's about as brutal as any profile I've ever read. But it also has many critical figures on the record, and carries with it a real whiff of truth and insight. The character Dickinson describes makes sense of both McCains - the contrite rogue committed to country and the preening, reckless narcissist who gave us Britney Spears ads and the farce of Sarah Palin. Some of his fellow Vietnam vets are the toughest on him. John Dramesi was an Air Force lieutenant colonel who was imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam and a peer of McCain's.

Dramesi attempted daring escapes twice and was brutally tortured and never cracked under the pressure. McCain himself called Dramesi "one of the toughest guys I've ever met." Dramesi also went on to become chief war planner for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and commander of a wing of the Strategic Air Command. I'm not sure how you get to be a bigger hero than that but like most real heroes and unlike McCain, Dramesi didn't spend his life writing five memoirs commemmorating his own heroism or running every single political campaign partly on the basis of being a POW. And here's what Dramesi now says about McCain:

"McCain says his life changed while he was in Vietnam, and he is now a different man. But he's still the undisciplined, spoiled brat that he was when he went in."

I would have dismissed that as bitterness six weeks ago. No longer. Go read the whole essay. Trust me. It's eye-opening.

(Photo: Robyn Beck/Getty.)

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.