As we near the end of another presidential campaign, it is useful to ask ourselves what we have learned about the candidates that we did not know before. When you reflect back on all the rallies, the speeches, the ads and the debates, what insights have we gained about their goals, their methods, their characters? I will turn to Barack Obama next. Todays subject is John McCain.
We knew a great deal about him. We knew he was a product of the military elite, the son and grandson of admirals, imbued with the patriotic impulses and sense of duty to country that is his family tradition. We also knew he had the capacity and willpower to endure and resist the terrible abuse he suffered in a North Vietnamese prison camp.
We knew he had the backbone to set his own course a rebel defying authority and that he carried that trait into politics, often challenging leaders of his party and wishes of fellow Republicans. We also knew he had a temper, redeemed by a self-mocking sense of humor, and a capacity for building genuine friendships across party lines.
We suspected, and soon confirmed, that he had limited interest in organization and management of large enterprises. His first effort at building a structure for the 2008 presidential race collapsed in near-bankruptcy, costing him the service of many longtime aides. The campaign that followed has been plagued by internal feuds and by McCains inability to resolve them.
The shortcoming was intellectual as well as bureaucratic. Like Jimmy Carter, the only Naval Academy graduate to reach the Oval Office, McCain had an engineers approach to policymaking. He had no large principles that he could apply to specific problems; each fresh question set off a search for a "practical" solution. He instinctively looked back to Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive era, with its high-mindedness and disdain for the politics of doling out favors to interest …