August 1, 2008


The Curious Mind of John McCain: Ambition and Emotion Color the Complex Intellect of the Candidate (Robert G. Kaiser, 8/01/08, Washington Post)

That record reveals a complicated man whose approach to the world cannot be summed up in an aphorism or two. He is a striver and a combatant, often at war with himself, who has conducted a lifelong struggle "to prove to myself that I was the man I had always wanted to be," as he has written. Multiple influences have shaped his thinking, from his famous grandfather and father, both four-star Navy admirals, to his travels and his extensive reading of history and literature.

On many points, the thinking is clear and consistent. For example, McCain believes in a muscular mission for America. As he has put it: "Our nation has a unique place in the world. We are the greatest force for good on earth. We chart history's course. Yes, we must be involved in the destiny of other nations." His favorite president is Theodore Roosevelt, reformer at home, activist wielder of a big stick abroad. He has read Edward Gibbon's six-volume "History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" -- twice. But his favorite book is Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls," whose protagonist, Robert Jordan, has been McCain's hero since he was 13.

In the novel, Jordan, an American volunteer on the anti-fascist side of the Spanish Civil War, finds love, then chooses death in service to a hopeless cause he believes in. In last week's interview, conducted in the leather-covered first-class seats of his campaign plane, McCain was asked if he, like Jordan, is a "romantic fatalist." McCain answered quickly and forcefully: "Yes, yes." Salter described his boss's fatalistic philosophy: "Life sucks, but it's worth doing something about anyway."

McCain is a figure from an old-fashioned America that is out of fashion in our most cosmopolitan precincts -- the America of "Gunsmoke" and Gary Cooper, not "The Daily Show" and George Clooney. For McCain, "Duty, Honor, Country" isn't patriotic pablum but a credo to live by. And he has worked out a way to apply the credo to politics. He summarized it in a commencement address at Johns Hopkins in 1999, when he gave the graduates this advice:

"Enter public life determined to tell the truth; to put problem-solving ahead of partisanship; to defend the public interest against the special interests; to risk your personal ambitions for the sake of the country and the ideals that make her great. Keep your promise to America, and you will keep your honor. You will know a happiness far more sublime than pleasure."

"That's what it's all about," McCain said in the interview.

There's a flurry of horrified articles on the Left, by folks who loved Maverick when he was the anti-Bush, wondering how he can be so anti-Obama, but just look at that description of "what it's all about" and stack Senator Obama up against it and you realize why Mr. McCain has such contempt for him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 1, 2008 9:23 AM
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