During the course of the presidential campaign, I read both books the Democratic nominee had written and three the Republican nominee had written (I had read another, Faith of My Fathers, during the 2000 campaign).
When, particularly during the late summer and early fall (i.e., prior to the financial meltdown), I read John McCain’s books, I became convinced he would be president.Â In his works, mostly appreciations of a variety of individuals from all walks of life, he showed a keen appreciation for the struggles of the various people he portrays as well as a respect for the values which sustained them in difficult times.
He even wrote movingly of John Lewis’s leadership of the march from Selma to Montgomery at the height of the Civil Rights’ Movement:
I’ve seen courage in action on many occasions. I can’t say I’ve seen anyone posses more of it, and use it for any better purpose and to any greater effect, than John Lewis.
During the presidential campaign, Lewis would accuse McCain of promoting racist violence.
What struck me as presidential about McCain’s works was his ability to see beyond political differences to get at the quality of an individual.Â About the Gipper he wrote:
What was . . . it [about] Ronald Reagan that let him see the future, a future few others believed was imminent or possible at all?Â What gave him the strength to make such hard decisions, to accept disappointment so manfully, to bear criticism so lightly, to confront opposition so confidently?Â I think it was one thing, one conviction more than any other, a conviction born of his own success.Â He believed in his country and its values, and he never doubted that America was on the right side of history.
As I go back over McCain’s books, after his defeat, I see the qualities presented there a little differently than I did when I was a partisan advocating for his election.Â Then, it was easy to see his strengths, but I missed one thing which certainly contributed to his defeat last fall.
While he showed great appreciation for men and women from all walks of life, he did not articulate a political philosophy, did not outline a set of principles which would establish how he intended to govern.Â He heralded qualities of character which marked these individuals, persistence, courage, determination, resolve and patriotism, but as his praise of the Gipper showed, he focused more on such broad (and noble) qualities and less on particular policies.
To be sure, appreciation of those qualities would have served his well as president, but would not have helped him determine a particular political course.Â And his failure to clearly define that course in his campaign is one reason his opponent will take office just one week from today.