John McCain Defends Strippers, Not For The First Time

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J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Arizona Sen. John McCain, 76, turned heads this week when The Hill reported he was hopeful that a proposal to eliminate the $1 dollar paper bill from circulation would help increase tips for the nation’s strippers. “Then I hope that they could obtain larger denominations,” he told the paper, in response to a question on the topic. Later, in a shout to the reporter, down the hall, he added, “Fives, tens, one hundreds!”

But it was hardly the first time McCain had expressed concern over the wellbeing of exotic dancers. McCain’s turns with strippers and youthful hijinks from his time in the Navy actually played a role in his 2008 presidential campaign — at least for a week during a introduction tour of Florida. “I enjoyed every single moment of my life here, from learning to fly to blowing my pay at Trader Jon’s,” he said in Pensacola, shortly after winning the Republican nomination. Trader Jon’s, during his time in the Navy, had been a bar often filled with dancing girls, some of whom he dated.

The 1996 book The Nightingale’s Song describes the scene: “He dated everyone from schoolteachers to the strippers at Trader John’s [sic], the fabled airdale raunch bar, often returning to base just in time to change clothes and drag himself out to the flightline,” Robert Timberg wrote.

In his own book, Faith Of My Fathers, McCain said the bar scene was the watering hole of “almost every unmarried aviator in Pensacola,” featuring at the back “local girls, trained as exotic dancers” who “entertained rowdy crowds of aviators.” One of them was the “Flame of Florida,” whose stage name was Marie. “She was a remarkably attractive girl with a great sense of humor,” McCain wrote, saying their dates were on Sunday nights when the bar was closed.

McCain recounted one night out with friends, when the Flame reached into her purse, popped open a switchblade and began to clean her fingernails, shocking some of those around her. Afterwards, McCain  wrote, he took the “worldly, lovely Flame of Florida to dinner.”

In the two books, McCain also described toga parties, a fling with a Brazilian model, and throwing the “most raucous and longest beach parties of any squadron in the Navy.” These stories have always been a part of the McCain “Maverick” narrative— carousing Naval aviator who cleaned himself up in the service of his country—and they have served the Senator well in his career. So it is no surprise that he would like to pay the profession back.