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Thursday, January 10, 2008

McCain, Left for Dead by Esquire, Now Way Less Dead

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2008 at 9:00 AM

In its December issue, Esquire magazine ran a sprawling feature story on John McCain’s wandering presidential campaign. The message of “One of Us,” writer Chris Jones' second installment of a series, was pretty clear: McCain’s a great man — he was a POW, he’s gruff and principled, and he lets reporters get some sweet access on his campaign bus. But his chances at the presidency are as dead as the Vatican clubbing scene. Jones conveys this artfully, presenting example after example of McCain’s waning campaign. His team of handlers has shrunk to a fraction of its former size. He’s out of money. He’s cantankerous. He scolds his aides for spending too much money on donuts for the bus. His bus, by the way, is shitty. His suit’s too wrinkled to wear. He doesn’t eat right. ... As his bus approaches an airport, Jones writes, a “wind sock hangs limp in the distance.” You get the feeling that if that wind sock was fluttering virely in a strong gust, Jones would have kept scanning the landscape until he spotted a dead gopher or the like. Mostly, McCain is portrayed as an old, honest man trying to succeed at a young, lecherous (wo)man’s game:
Just like that, the man whose greatest political gift was his ability to be all things to all people had pulled a nearly impossible trick: He had given everybody a reason to hate him. To the Left and Center, he was a Bush flunky and a war pig. To the Right, he was a lover of Mexicans and Kennedys. Very few politicians can make a run based on today. They’re running either on their histories or on our futures. But when his Straight Talk Express finally eased up a narrow lane into Prescott Park and the bus doors opened, John McCain found himself confronted with banjo-and-brass music and an unflattering present. Wearing his blue sweater, he walked to the stage with his wife, Cindy, who was dressed in pink, and stumbled into his announcement speech. It had been written days earlier by Mark Salter, his Senate chief of staff and the man most responsible for McCain’s public voice: a Lincoln-esque brand of rhetoric packed with adverbs and echoes. This time, McCain tripped over the refrain -- ”That’s not good enough for America, and when I’m president, it won’t be good enough for me” -- because the teleprompter that loomed behind the crowd was nearly impossible to read from the stage. It was washed out by the spotlights. That, plus the acrimonious finance-committee meeting (it was decided that the money would eventually come in, so the money would keep going out), plus a nagging cold, plus the darkening skies, as well as McCain’s growing feeling that he couldn’t get a straight answer about anything from anybody -- all of it left him in one of those sour moods that had saddled him with a reputation for temper. So many goddamn people around him, and no one thought to keep his jacket pressed. When he surrendered to a media scrum beside the bus, the last of his optimism looked squeezed out by the crush. The opening questions were about Iraq and immigration, the issues that closed in on him like the halves of a vise. He answered them as he had been prepared to answer them, interrupted twice by the ringing of a cell phone on the belt of a cameraman kneeling beside him. Then someone shouted out the start of another line of questioning: “How do you get connected -- ” “I’m already connected,” McCain cut him off. “I’m already connected.” “But there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for your candidacy. . . .” “I haven’t detected that myself. Congratulations.” And then the cameraman’s phone rang for a third time -- ”Shall we sing along?” said McCain, looking down at him -- and then the phone rang again. McCain measured his words. “That’s your last chance,” he said, and though he managed to follow the threat with a smile, it was the sort of smile that stops watches.
But limp wind sock or no, the cantankerous old pilot — and author of the best-selling memoir Five Fuckin’ Years in Hanoi and All I Got was This Damn Purple Broach — clearly had something left in the tank Jones didn’t detect. You know, winning the New Hampshire primary and all. Even if the guys that came in second and third place do believe in Planet Kolob and evil talking snakes, respectively. Nevertheless, Jones’ article is excellently crafted, and worth a read. -- Gus Garcia-Roberts

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