Sunday, April 13, 2008

Character matters

I think I got this from Bookworm, but I am not sure:



Back in 1996 and 1997, before John McCain was a presidential candidate or object of media fascination, Michael Lewis followed the Arizona senator around as he campaigned for Bob Dole and worked to reform campaign-finance laws. Lewis' pieces for the New Republic and the New York Times Magazine portrayed McCain as a passionate, cantankerous, astonishingly honest political character who frequently acted in ways that brought him no political gain. In the recent back-and-forth over whether McCain is a regular politician or a true outlier, we remembered a wonderful moment from Lewis' 1997 New York Times Magazine profile of McCain, "The Subversive." The passage below comes at the very end of Lewis' article.


By 7:30 we were on the road, and McCain was reminiscing about his early political career. When he was elected to the House in 1982, he said, he was "a freshman right-wing Nazi." But his visceral hostility toward Democrats generally was quickly tempered by his tendency to see people as individuals and judge them that way. He was taken in hand by Morris Udall, the Arizona congressman who was the liberal conscience of the Congress and a leading voice for reform. (Most famously—and disastrously for his own career—Udall took aim at the seniority system that kept young talent in its place at the end of the dais. "The longer you're here, the more you'll like it," he used to joke to incoming freshmen.)


"Mo reached out to me in 50 different ways," McCain recalled. "Right from the start, he'd say: 'I'm going to hold a press conference out in Phoenix. Why don't you join me?' All these journalists would show up to hear what Mo had to say. In the middle of it all, Mo would point to me and say, 'I'd like to hear John's views.' Well, hell, I didn't have any views. But I got up and learned and was introduced to the state." Four years later, when McCain ran for and won Barry Goldwater's Senate seat, he said he felt his greatest debt of gratitude not to Goldwater—who had shunned him—but to Udall. "There's no way Mo could have been more wonderful," he says, "and there was no reason for him to be that way."


For the past few years, Udall has lain ill with Parkinson's disease in a veterans hospital in Northeast Washington, which is where we were heading. Every few weeks, McCain drives over to pay his respects. These days the trip is a ceremony, like going to church, only less pleasant. Udall is seldom conscious, and even then he shows no sign of recognition. McCain brings with him a stack of newspaper clips on Udall's favorite subjects: local politics in Arizona, environmental legislation, Native American land disputes, subjects in which McCain initially had no particular interest himself. Now, when the Republican senator from Arizona takes the floor on behalf of Native Americans, or when he writes an op-ed piece arguing that the Republican Party embrace environmentalism, or when the polls show once again that he is Arizona's most popular politician, he remains aware of his debt to Arizona's most influential Democrat.



Read it all.  Character does matter.  This is why I respect and admire John McCain.  This is also why I voted for him in 2000 Primary.  And this is why I will vote for him in November with absolutely no hesitation, despite whatever political disagreements I might have with the man.


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1 comment:

Bookworm said...

I'd love to claim credit for this one, but I can't. I've definitely spoken well of McCain's character, but I didn't know about this one.