Brooks on McCain and The Character Factor

Last week, David Brooks did a piece worth reading that addressed something I tried to capture in this column — that it’s hard to write about John McCain the way one does about other candidates, because the quality of his character lifts him so far above what we usually encounter in this business:

    About six months ago, I was having lunch with a political consultant and we were having a smart-alecky conversation about the presidential race. All of sudden, my friend interrupted the flow of gossip and said: “You know, there’s really only one great man running for president this year, and that’s McCain.”
    The comment cut through the way we pundits normally talk about presidential candidates. We tend to view them like products and base our verdicts on their market share at the moment. We don’t so much evaluate their character; we analyze how effectively they are manipulating their image to appeal to voters, and in this way we buy into the artificiality of modern campaigning.
    My friend’s remark pierced all that, and it had the added weight of truth.

Somehow, we never got around to running that last week in our limited op-ed space, so I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it. It seems a fitting antidote to the kind of superficial junk of the last few days. We should all remember that McCain is a guy who, after all is said and done, "still fights a daily battle against the soul-destroying forms of modern politics."

I like this part:

    He won’t tell you everything, but there will never be a moment as
the hours stretch by when you feel that he is spinning you, lying to
himself or insulting your intelligence.
    Telling the truth is a
skill. Those who don’t do it habitually lose the ability, but McCain is
well-practiced and has the capacity to face unpleasant truths. While
other conservatives failed to see how corporations were insinuating
themselves into their movement, McCain went after Boeing contracts.
While others failed to see the rising tide of corruption around them,
McCain led the charge against Jack Abramoff. While others ignored the
spending binge, McCain was among the fiscal hawks.

I like that part because it sounds like the John McCain I know.


13 thoughts on “Brooks on McCain and The Character Factor

  1. Gordon Hirsch

    When we look at presidential candidates and talk of The Character Factor, one has to wonder: What kind of person would want this job to the exclusion of all else that makes life peaceable, at least by comparison. What makes them tick, rings their bell, drives their ego, moves ’em to represent, bro.
    Let’s see … there’s Executive authority over the world’s only Superpower, supreme command of the globe’s mightiest military, and if none of that works, there’s a shot at starting your own little war somewhere. Then there’s hot babes on the side, money down the road a bit, armed security everywhere because people want you dead, as you board Air Force One for a ride to Marine One for a quiet weekend at Camp David, hoping the anti-missile systems are functional all the live-long day. … Now it’s Summit time, so you jet overseas, motorcade through jeering crowds, and accept membership in the Big Boys Club, where your country is not welcome, nor are you, but they’re afraid to tell you to go home because you’ve got so much #%@%$ money, so they smile and shake your hand. Then it’s back home, where the media berate your ignorance of global economics and your views of foreign policy; the public debates your competency, and approval ratings rule your decision-making, no matter what you may honestly believe, if you can still believe in anything. Then you’re on the campaign-compromise-fund-raising railroad again, because getting re-elected is really what it’s all about, that hard-earned second term. And, lo and behold, you win, but at what cost this time?
    So you go on living under the electron microscope of public opinion, measured and judged by polls showing this and that, while the world is treated to “live” reports of your dietary and exercise deficiencies. At the same time, you become a target of enemies from within, that coven of “intimates” and “close advisers” who scribble diaries on your dime, then bale to write bestsellers about your “management style.” In the end, you are alone, but never really. There is always the First Lady, wherever you may have left her, who may not actually be your First, but there she is in the White House with you anyway, planning her own campaign. … And God love your kids, and your pets, darlings of the Washington Press Corp, until they run off or get hit by cars, or speak their adolescent minds and wind up on the cover of People or Seventeen, with acne on their chins and tears in their eyes.
    … How does character qualify anyone for this job? What kind of person works their whole life to get it? What is wrong with them? And what is wrong with us for expecting them to survive and lead with “character” under these circumstances?

  2. bud

    McCain is the wrong man for the job for these reasons:
    1. He supports the imperialistic occupation of a harmless nation that is resulting in the needless deaths of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Given this is costing us $100 billion/year is hardly evidence of his being fiscally responsible.
    2. He has shown great affection for a man who slandered his family back in 2000. That speaks volumes about his character.
    3. He reacted callously and inappropriately to a woman who viscously slandered a United States senator. Another example of his character flaws.
    4. He is simply too old and frail to stand up to the rigors of the job.
    5. He has no logical plan for universal health insurance, a serious shortcoming on the issues.
    6. He’s a phony. McCain claims to be a straight-shooter but that’s just a fascade to cover his ambition to become president. That phoniness was quite evident in his ongoing contradictory statements on the Confederate flag issue.
    7. He’s a political hack. That was quite evident in his failure to vote against a man nominated for AG who refused to condemn waterboarding.
    8. His ethics are questionable. Just research his involvement in the Keating 5 incident.
    On ethics, partisanship, issues, physical capability and character McCain falls short of what we need for president.

  3. Phillip

    I couldn’t agree more about McCain, so again, how is it that he seems to have dropped off the face of the earth with regards to the GOP primary race? Now I don’t think he walks on water quite as much as you do, I have been disappointed by some of the slight “triangulation” he’s done on occasion, vis-a-vis the religious right, etc., but on a gut level I share the feeling Brooks was conveying.
    I believe there are two main reasons why McCain has faded from the race: 1) the radicalization of the GOP implemented by the Cheney-Bush years (yes, the reverse name order is intentional) that we see manifested, for example, by the GOP Prez hopefuls outdoing each other for the title of Torturer-in-Chief (acknowledgement to Frank Rich)…and 2) Age. Sad to say, but I’m afraid that plays into it in a big way.
    Relating to your “Bush-hatred” column of last Sunday, had McCain won in 2000 I seriously doubt we would have the degree of partisan divide we do today. Wouldn’t you agree with that, Brad? McCain would (then and now) view himself as the President of all the people, quite differently from what we ended up with. This is not a matter of partisan politics, it’s a matter of character: McCain is indeed a “great” man if that means being a man of substance and integrity, and the man who slimed him successfully in SC on his way to the White House turned out to be a very small and befuddled man way out of his depth who knew nothing of the larger world, only the cosseted world of comfort and privilege into which he was born.

  4. Brad Warthen

    bud, you forgot some reasons:
    — Because black is white.
    — Because up is down.
    — Because left is right.
    Saying things are so when they aren’t, when they are in fact insupportable, doesn’t constitute the basis of an argument.

  5. Doug Ross

    > Saying things are so when they aren’t, when
    > they are in fact insupportable, doesn’t
    > constitute the basis of an argument.
    Sort of like calling people who are opposed to illegal immigration racists?
    Which of Bud’s eight items do you have factual evidence to the contrary?
    McCain would be the oldest President in history.
    McCain never responded to the attacks against his family in 2000 in any way that would suggest defending them.
    McCain was involved in Keating Five.
    McCain hid from the Confederate Flag issue in order to improve his chances in the primary in 2000.
    McCain condemned waterboarding but voted for the Republican nominee for AG who couldn’t figure out if nearly drowning someone would constitute torture.
    There’s five factual arguments. Which of them are untrue?

  6. weldon VII

    “He reacted callously and inappropriately to a woman who viscously slandered a United States senator.”
    Viscously? The degree to which a fluid resists flow under an applied force seems irrelevant to me here, Bud. I couldn’t tell much about the woman’s viscosity from the video, but the comment itself obviously wasn’t as viscous as you think. It just keeps on flowing.
    “He’s a phony. McCain claims to be a straight-shooter but that’s just a fascade to cover his ambition to become president.”
    Bud, McCain is a saint by comparison to your candidate, Hillary Clinton. She and her husband — he by practice, she more or less by acquiescence — rewrote the rules for politics during his presidency. They made saying one thing in one place and the opposite in another, all in the same day, not just tolerable but fashionable. They aren’t just liars; they’re glib about it. To some extent they actually revel in it. Their kind of triangulation involves occupying both sides, the middle and every point in between all at the same time.
    Oncc upon a time, the failure of Hillary’s health-care plan to pass was blamed on her inexperience in getting legislation through Congress, when her husband was president., Now she’s running for president, and he’s stepped up to take the blame for the health-care failure.
    With them, EVERYTHING is a facade (note how that word is actually spelled) to cover their ambitions.

  7. Doug Ross

    Congrats, bud! You’ve reduced Brad to poking fun at a spelling error as his rebuttal to your argument.
    The McCain supporters these days utilize the “yeah, but” defense. Yeah, but he’s not Hilary. Yeah, but he was a POW. Yeah, but he should raising more money than Ron Paul (the REAL straight talker in the bunch).

  8. Brad Warthen

    Hey! Weldon started it! I was just riffing on it. Peer pressure!
    I’m sorry, bud. Hey, I respect people who can’t spell — such as my colleague Cindi Scoppe, who is one of the best journalists I’ve ever worked with, and can hardly spell her own name.
    But see now, Doug’s gonna say that was the REAL me laughing at the typos, and that I’m insincere about respecting folks who can’t spell. But he doesn’t realize how little my life would be worth working in this office if I didn’t really MEAN it about respecting Cindi.
    Think on this — is it possible to find typos funny, and STILL respect bud?

  9. Brad Warthen

    … and a South Carolina education’s no excuse. I was partly educated in S.C., and also partly in Louisiana, of all places (and New Jersey, and Virginia, and Florida, and Hawaii) — and in Guayaquil, Ecuador, which is actually a Third World country, rather than just being a state that acts like one.

    Actually, come to think of it, learning Spanish probably helped me be a better speller in English, because I found myself noticing more sharply the bizarrely irregular spelling of our language. Spanish is so simple, and logical. ¿Es verdad, Randy?

  10. weldon VII

    I have to admit, I value spelling. One, because I can. Two, because it’s what separates one word from another. Too, also. See, sea, si, Tennessee Tuxedo.

  11. Lee Muller

    John McCain ended his chances when he sold out America to the corrupt Mexican government and the businesses who want illegal labor at below-market wages.

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