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Asides

McCain near bottom of the class

 The New York Times

 Ideas & Trends

When the Times Make the Man

 By SAM TANENHAUS

Published: April 27, 2008

The paradox of Mr. McCain is that while he is among the oldest presidential candidates in history he remains in some ways the youthful rebel of the 1950s. The question is whether he has at last found a cause.

In his book “John McCain: An American Odyssey,” Robert Timberg reports that when Mr. McCain recalls his youth he “describes himself as a rebel without a cause, a James Dean type, though it’s just as easy to imagine him as Holden Caulfield.” And he cultivated the part, “clad in blue jeans, motorcycle boots and his overcoat, and smoking a cigarette that dangled from his lips,” as Paul Alexander writes in his book “Man of the People: The Life of John McCain.”

He roughened his image further at the Naval Academy, where he piled up demerits and finished near the bottom of his class. And he approached his Vietnam service much as 1950s men approached the Korean War, less with a sense of patriotism than of fatalism — the same fatalism that young people felt back then when many thought the cold war might end in apocalypse but quietly went about their lives.

Mr. McCain seems to combine the two strains of the decade in which he grew up; he is skeptical toward the very expectations he stoically fulfills. This explains his sardonic mockery of campaign rituals.

But Mr. McCain lacks one component of his generation’s makeup: its respect for organization and collaboration. He may need them in the months ahead when voters will judge his command of the issues, from the mortgage crisis to health care to managing the war in Iraq.

Mr. McCain’s current tour of what he terms America’s “forgotten places” has made for impressive theater. Yet when he visited the Ninth Ward in New Orleans he seemed more intent on faulting Mr. Bush than on offering proposals to improve conditions there.

 Link to complete New York Times article.

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