Magazine article The New Yorker

ESCAPISM EXPRESS; on the Stump

Magazine article The New Yorker

ESCAPISM EXPRESS; on the Stump

Article excerpt

"Politics is all sports metaphors," John McCain said the other day. "It's unfortunately overwhelmed with cliches from sports. It's sickening, almost." Nonetheless, he was in the mood to talk athletics, and he speculated that his campaign for President--by all accounts foundering--was facing the equivalent of second down and twenty yards to go. He did not seem willing, exactly, to concede that it was time (as some commentators have suggested) to throw a Hail Mary, but he spoke with regret about "the inexorable movement of earlier and earlier primaries," coupled with the compressed schedule of primary season. "You could never have a Hart-Mondale race anymore, where Hart won the early primaries and Mondale came back to defeat him," he said.

McCain was in New York to promote his new book, "Hard Call: Great Decisions and the Extraordinary People Who Made Them," which he saw as "a nice change from the usual campaign stuff"--the relentless town-hall meetings and V.F.W. assemblies. ("You've got to be able to recognize that state senator who endorsed you and you haven't seen him in six months," he explained.) McCain, who turns seventy-one on Wednesday, looked relaxed, under the circumstances, as he picked at a plate of cantaloupe in his publisher's offices, on Park Avenue. He had recently visited the Carnegie Deli, where, he said, the many Bangladeshi waiters had flocked to have their pictures taken with him. (McCain has an adopted teen-age daughter from Bangladesh.) "I love a place like that," he said. "That's why you come to New York City." Pause. "Because everyone in that place was not from New York City." Wink. "I even had my picture taken next to the pickle."

The hard calls discussed in McCain's book are an eclectic and decidedly historical bunch: Solzhenitsyn's decision to publish "The Gulag Archipelago," Gertrude Ederle's determination to swim the English Channel, Reinhold Niebuhr's conversion from pacifism. Still, an obvious contemporary issue came to mind. "Is Iraq a hard call?" he said. "I think it's not that hard, because I have had no doubt. It hasn't been a struggle within me."

He identified Pervez Musharraf ("My distinct impression of him is he's basically a humble, modest man who lives a fairly Spartan life") and Nicolas Sarkozy (whose name he pronounced "Secorsi") as leaders who could, in time, merit inclusion in a sequel. President Bush's commuting of Scooter Libby's sentence, he said, amounted to dodging a tough decision: "I'm very reluctant to second-guess, but I have to say I would have pardoned him or not pardoned him. …

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