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Excerpts from Books by and about 2008 candidates
Sen. John McCain (R, AZ)
Why Courage Matters
Sen. Barack Obama(D, IL)
Dreams From My Father
Sen. Joe Biden (D, DE)
Promises to Keep
Gov. Sarah Palin (R, AK)
New Energy for Alaska
Rep. Bob Barr (L)
The Meaning of IS
Rep. Cynthia McKinney (G)
Green Party Debate
Ralph Nader (I)
The Good Fight
Alan Keyes (NAIP)
Our Character, Our Future

Sen. Hillary Clinton
It Takes A Village
Mayor Rudy Giuliani
Leadership
Gov. Mike Huckabee
Character Makes A Difference
Amb. Alan Keyes
Our Character, Our Future
Rep. Ron Paul
Freedom Under Siege
Gov. Mitt Romney
Turnaround

(click a book cover for excerpts and a review or other books by or about the presidency from Amazon.com)

McCain
The Myth of a Maverick,

by Matt Welch, published Oct. 2007



(Click for Amazon book review)

BOOK REVIEW by OnTheIssues.org:

This book is more an indictment of the mainstream media than an indictment of John McCain. Although it does a pretty good job indicting John McCain too. The book focuses on the "Myth" part of the title -- how the mainstream media were derelict in their duty about reporting on the facts behind McCain's public persona -- as much as on the "Maverick" part -- whether the story behind the myth was true.

We all accept that McCain is a "maverick." The point of this book is that, in fact, he is not. McCain's "maverick" persona is a carefully-cultivated image, which the media willfully bought into. A sample of the indictment of the media from the introduction:

    "Neither the straight-talking maverick of 1999-2000 nor the fallen saint of 2007 was a very revealing caricature to begin with. Both are functions of an intriguing and little-understood paradox of modern politics: that John McCain, both in spite of and because of his overexposure in the media, is one of the most journalistically under-examined major candidates running for president.

    "We all know the dazzling highlights from his larger-than-life biography--the torture in Vietnam, the Straight-Talk insurgency, the campaign finance reform, maybe even some traces from the Keating Five scandal and the 1990s tobacco wars. But how might these experiences translate into future performance as president (or as a key player in another candidate's administration)?

    "With such an epic bio to convey, and the happy, anecdote-generating distraction of constant success, there wasn't much time or space to analyze McCain's actual political philosophy and track record. So journalists either pretended he didn't have any (an easy dodge, given his military disdain for partnership and evident disinterest in ideological theory), or suggested his beliefs were unformed but promising, ready to be molded either by sage counselors or a new citizen army. Understandably, the candidate did nothing to discourage these notions.

    "As a direct result [of the media's lack of analysis of McCain's epic bio], much of what we think we know about John McCain is wrong. He does not, for instance, talk particularly straight. Nor is McCain much of a reformer, hard as that might be to accept."

The author's primary reason for this book, it seems, is to critique McCain's pro-military stance. The author says McCain would be another Teddy Roosevelt -- in the "speak softly and carry a big stick" sense of American imperialism -- the author says that McCain would be the most militaristic president since T.R, at least. And that he'd be a bad choice for president as a result. The author claims McCain is "a leading member of the 'imperial class'" -- his father and grandfather were admirals; he expresses fondness for expansion of the navy and US control of all sea-lanes; ad inf.

To fully understand this critique, one must understand the author, Matt Welch. Welch is a prolific writer who now writes a lot about McCain. Welch is freelance writer and associate editor at Reason magazine (and its founding editor-in-chief), and an assistant editor of the editorial pages of The L.A. Times.

Reason magazine calls itself the journal of "free minds and free markets". Reason is a thoughtful libertarian journal, and Welch is a leading libertarian thinker. One might describe this book as the libertarian critique of John McCain. As such, it's potentially pretty important for the 2008 election.

Everyone has become familiar with the neocon critique and the evangelical critique of McCain -- as personified by Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee, both of whom claim that McCain is not conservative enough. There is another wing of the Republican party -- one which used to be dominant, but is personified in this presidential race only by Ron Paul. Now, with Ron Paul raising $30 million in one quarter, the libertarian wing may regain some of its former dominance. Matt Welch's view will then be at the forefront.

Here is a relevant quip:

    "Most of McCain's ideas for reform involve increasing federal power at the expense of civil libertie s"
    -- p. xix
That's about as hard-core libertarian as it gets. It's not likely a neocon would care about that -- they're all for increasing federal power for the FBI, the CIA, and the military. It's also not likely an evangelical would care about that -- they're all for increasing federal authority over moral decisions like abortion, movie ratings, marriage decisions, and so on. But certainly one could see Ron Paul making that same criticism.

Now let's return to the book's primary critique of McCain as "imperialist," in terms of libertarian philosophy about the military: that war is just another means of expanding government; that the Department of Defense, while justified contitutionally for defense, is more concerned with pork-barrel spending than actually defending America; and that wars like Iraq, with their concomitant appeals to patriotism, are brainwashing of the American people by the federal government. As Ron Paul fades from the race, we will forget that philosophy -- Welch certainly believes it as strongly as does Rep. Paul.

In that context, McCain is now the country's leading warmonger, and therefore all of his "reformer" policies are hypocritical, because REAL reform must begin with the military (because it accounts for such a large part of the federal budget). On issues of the military, McCain is with George W. Bush and the neoconservatives -- who believe that extending American military might is the best means, in the short run, of protecting America's safety; and in the long run, of bringing about worldwide democracy and prosperity. That neoconservative view of the military is diametrically opposed to the libertarian view of the military.

The book explores in detail McCain's other key issue stances as well. Even Welch has to acknowledge that McCain has pushed hard against pork-barrel spending -- his description of how McCain pushed for acknowledgement of pork in the 2002 defense appropriations bill (p. 110-111) is a study in excessivley limited praise: "John McCain went up to the podium with his list of 245 gratuitous pork projects totaling more than $3.5 million in wasteful spending. I gave this body motion like, 'Ok, what are you going to do now?' And his body motion response was, 'That's it. The Speech.' "

On McCain's signature issue of Campaign Finance Reform -- McCain's crowning achievement in the Senate -- Welch is critical, in detail. We leave out a lot on CFR because it is more fully critiqued in the book Citizen McCain -- a thorough review of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. In summary for this book, CFR to libertarians is an abomination of the first amendment. The libertarian view is that advertising (or spending money in general) is a form of free speech, and must be unregulated, under the Constitution. So Welch is highly critical of McCain-Feingold.

Other than the heavy libertarian bias, this book is a balanced journalistic study of McCain's record, from a solid critic. Welch provides numerous new insights into McCain's character -- elaborating on the "temper" issue at length, for example, and on how Vietnam affects McCain's policy choices.

So the key question of the title remains: Is McCain a maverick or not? I would say: unambiguously Yes. McCain is seen as a maverick because he does not fit into any of the Republican Party's three "wings": neoconservative, evangelical, nor libertarian. McCain agrees with some of the stances of each of those three wings, and disagrees with some -- which is why purist members of each wing have issues with McCain. McCain has succeeded, by winning the GOP nomination, in making those three wings come to an acceptable conclusion. If he wins in November, McCain's "maverick" position will redefine a new wing of the Republican Party.

My conclusion is exactly the opposite of what Welch suggests (and I'm not anti-Welch -- I agree with him on most philosophy and on most issues). While I disagree with Welch's conclusion, I certainly do agree with his analysis. But Welch SHOULD conclude that McCain is not a "libertarian maverick," which presumably Welch would like McCain to be.

My conclusions: For libertarians in either the Republican or Democratic parties: Read this book because it details where McCain is libertarian and where he is not. For non-libertarians: Read this book because it explains the libertarian critique of McCain. In either case, read on! -- Jesse Gordon, jesse@OnTheIssues.org, Feb. 2008
Abortion
   John McCain: 1999: Repealing Roe forces dangerous illegal abortions.
Civil Rights
   John McCain: Praised immigrants who join army to advance citizenship.
   John McCain: Private ceremonies fine, but no gay marriage.
   Mitt Romney: Supported English-only laws but ran Spanish commercials.
   Tom Tancredo: Official English needed to hold us together.
Education
   John McCain: Endorses teaching intelligent design in schools.
Energy & Oil
   John McCain: Supports ethanol but opposes subsidies for it.
Foreign Policy
   Bill Clinton: Expanded US role to Somalian nation-building.
   George Bush Sr.: US troops to Somalia to alleviate starvation.
   John McCain: 1970s: Vietnam justified because of Domino Theory.
   John McCain: We need bigger army for more militaristic foreign policy.
   John McCain: Somalia: alleviating starvation OK; nation-building not.
Government Reform
   Hillary Clinton: McCain criticized 26 pork-barrel defense projects by Hillary.
   John McCain: Authored line-item veto law; struck down by Supreme Court.
   John McCain: Keating Five mea culpa established openness to press.
   John McCain: Skepticism in government can lead to chaos.
   John McCain: OpEd: McCain-Feingold chilled grassroots political speech.
   John McCain: As usual, responsible for none of 309 earmarks in 2007.
   Mitch McConnell: Disparaged campaign finance reform as Beltway issue.
Health Care
   Colin Powell: Encourage sexually active young people to use condoms.
   John McCain: Favorite cause: Cleft-palate surgery for children.
   John McCain: Stumped by whether contraceptives prevent spread of AIDS.
Homeland Security
   John McCain: His Military Commissions Act ended up denying habeas corpus.
   John McCain: 1973: Spokesperson for Operation Homecoming.
   John McCain: 1977:Appointed as Navy liaison to Congress.
   John McCain: Cited 245 pork projects, or $3.5M waste in defense bill.
   John McCain: Vietnam generation still haunted by specter of Vietnam.
   John McCain: 1970s: Communists negotiate when faced with force.
   John McCain: Casualty of Vietnam was loss of America’s faith in herself.
   John McCain: Worked with John Kerry on Vietnam POWs.
   John McCain: I admire TR's zest for combat & pugnacious vitality.
   John McCain: Leading proponent for drastically expanding National Service.
   John McCain: Boost standing army from 750,000 to 900,000.
   John McCain: Half of world's defense spending should be US as global cop.
   Ronald Reagan: Heal the wounds of Vietnam so we can lead the world again.
Immigration
   Joe Biden: 2007: Immigration reform failed because McCain absent.
   John Cornyn: 2007: Pushed to readily deport illegal immigrants.
   John Kyl: 2006: Authored enforcement-focused immigration bill.
   John McCain: Absences from negotiations hurt reform bill’s chances.
   Ted Kennedy: 2007: Held firm for Grand Bargain on immigration reform.
Principles & Values
   Dick Cheney: OpEd: Largest expansion of executive power since TR.
   John McCain: Considers his heroes as one of his qualifications to lead.
   John McCain: Op-Ed: Unexamined as both straight-talker and as maverick.
   John McCain: Philosophy of worthy sacrifice from For Whom the Bell Tolls.
   John McCain: 1983: Claiming Hanoi residency ended carpetbagger accusation.
   John McCain: Keating Five scandal converted him to champion of reform.
   John McCain: Focus on what America COULD do; not what gov't SHOULDN'T do.
   John McCain: Keating Five: investigated during 90s Savings & Loan scandal.
   John McCain: Spent 10 years “doing everything I can to control my temper”.
   John McCain: Emulates TR on vigor, nationalism, common good, intervention.
   John McCain: Praises Teddy Roosevelt's expansion of executive power.
   John McCain: Published 5 books over period of 8 years.
   Rudy Giuliani: Lists John McCain as one of his heroes.
Tax Reform
   John McCain: Opposed Bush tax cuts in 2001 & 2003; but now extend them.
Technology
   John McCain: Ban TV boxing; college football betting; & online gambling.
War & Peace
   George W. Bush: 2007 surge: 20,000 more troops with aggressive engagement.
   John McCain: Since 1998, championed policy of “rogue-state rollback”.
   John McCain: 1983: Questioned US military presence in Lebanon.
   John McCain: Consistent opponent of involving US in civil wars abroad.
   Richard Nixon: OpEd: Strength in Southeast Asia won Vietnam War.
   Ronald Reagan: 1983: Lebanon attack killed 241 Marines.


The above quotations are from McCain
The Myth of a Maverick,

by Matt Welch, published Oct. 2007.

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