Thursday, March 20, 2008

Whither McCain

Peg Noonan horsewhips the old stallion a bit.

One line that stood out:

The friend said he thought Mr. McCain is showing a certain "complacency" because he's already got what he wanted. "He's got Bush's people bowing, he's got the conservatives coming back, the establishment bowing. He's satisfied. He's finally got it!" But you have to want the presidency or the people won't give it to you. You have to fight for it. I asked if Mr. McCain really wanted it, really hungered. He shrugged. He didn't know

Reminds one of the knock on Fred!! Thompson, no?

Noonan's thesis is that McCain is a quipper, not a thinker--and that he may well be happy as a pig in mud being a "maverick," whether or not he ever gets elected President.

Everything the friend said pinged off things I've observed of the McCain campaign. I'd add this. One always wonders with Mr. McCain: What exactly does he feel passionately about, what great question? Or rather, what does he stand for, really? For he often shows passion, but he rarely speaks of meaning. The issues that summon his full engagement are issues on which he's been challenged by his party and others. McCain, to McCain, is defined by his maverickness. That's who he is. (It's the theme of his strikingly good memoir, "Worth the Fighting For.") He stands up to power. He faces them down. It's not only a self image, it's a self obsession.

But it has left him seeming passionate only about those issues on which he's been able to act out his maverickness, such as campaign finance and immigration. He's passionate about McCain-Feingold because . . . because people don't understand how right he is, and how wrong they are. He's passionate not about immigration itself but about how he got his head handed to him when he backed comprehensive reform, about which he was right by the way. He's passionate about Iraq because America can't cut and run, as it did in Vietnam, to the subsequent heartbreak of good people, and heroes. But this is not philosophy, it's autobiography.

Noonan also pointed out, indirectly, how McCain's "quip, don't think" persona has gotten him afoul of the Constitution and the vast majority of Americans on campaign finance and immigration (respectively.)

I don't know if I like the idea of a passionate non-thinker playing Commander-in-Chief.

In the most successful political careers there is a purpose, a guiding philosophy. Not an ideology—ideology is something imposed from above, something abstract dreamed up by an intellectual. Philosophy isn't imposed from above, it bubbles up from the ground, from life. And its expression is missing with Mr. McCain. Political staffs inevitably treat philosophy as the last thing, almost an indulgence. But it's the central fact from which all else flows. Staffs turn each day to scheduling, advance, fundraising, returning the billionaire's phone call. They're quick to hold the meeting to agree on the speech on the economy. But they don't, can't, give that speech meaning and depth. Only the candidate can, actually

Suppose that McPain will respond to that challenge? I doubt it. He thinks he's made his case, as Noonan writes in the essay--and that he simply deserves election based on.....whatever.

Even Fred!!, whose desire was questionable, had understanding.

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