Is it safe to say we've read enough about Campaign 2008's appeals to our vaginas? I think that's safe to say. I think it's safe to say we don't need to read another story about gender and the presidency until someone decides to pick up my proposal to subsidize the heating-pad industry. Dudes, let us not forget, are the other half of the electorate, and the one candidate who is most full unquestionably keyed into the "dude" psychographic is John McCain; I know because I just read about his very manly quest for the presidency in a February Esquire story. See, McCain has a son in Iraq and has thought for a long time that more people's sons ought to go join him there, and recent events have actually rendered this position a not totally unpopular position. But just months ago, it looked like McCain was headed for a failure of almost incomprehensible proportions, and Esquire was on hand to capture all that for a typically manipulatively man-fetishizing (Sample line: "They're restorative, these flights, like the water tables in a marathon." Oh christ) story that aims straight for the creaky pacemakers of every dude's inner Greatest Generation member.
Five months ago he let go of a few strategists when his campaign was so bankrupt it was beginning to look like someone involved had a serious gambling debt. But McCain stood fast! Like a hero in a movie for dudes:
Even Bill Clinton was awed enough to weigh in: "John McCain was not well served by the people working for him," the former president said.
In response, McCain obeyed his nature and picked up a chair. "My first answer is, I did not know that President Clinton was well connected with my campaign. I had no idea that he was so intimately familiar with my campaign. My second answer is, It's my responsibility and nobody else's."
Here's him and his son Jimmy, the one in Iraq, hanging out in Vegas with Will Ferrell and various other Heroes To All Dudekind:
On the way, they ran into boxers Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins, business partners of De La Hoya's. McCain, his face lit up in a way it rarely is anymore by celebrity, introduced them to Jimmy like school friends. "When you're mediocre at something, you really admire the people who can do it well," he said later, referring to his own inglorious military boxing career. Now, nearing the light and sound of the arena bowl at the end of one last length of tunnel, he looked suddenly boyish. John McCain always walks fast, and Jimmy does, too, in the same perpetual hurry. That night, there really was no holding them back.
Along with the rest of the crowd, they stood and cheered when the boxers climbed up through the ropes and rolled their shoulders, and they stayed standing for the anthem and through the introductions, the electricity building, the pressure mounting, John McCain smiling at Jimmy — "Didn't I tell you?" — and Jimmy smiling back, both of them clapping and cheering, lost in the moment, anxious for the sound of the bell and the start of the fight.
On immigration, or how his essential humanism nearly lost him the race:
Just like that, the man whose greatest political gift was his ability to be all things to all people had pulled a nearly impossible trick: He had given everybody a reason to hate him. To the Left and Center, he was a Bush flunky and a war pig. To the Right, he was a lover of Mexicans and Kennedys.
And finally, the war:
"I think it's pretty obvious the American people ran out of patience," he says, referring to the first of his wars. "And we did pay a price for our failure. We're friends with the Vietnamese now, but we shouldn't forget that thousands were executed, hundreds of thousands were put in reeducation camps, I don't know how many fled on boats, died at sea. And in Cambodia, there was a genocide of incredible consequences. We have a tendency to forget that. But the Vietnamese never said we're going to follow them home. They had no radical extremist cause that they thought was part of the struggle between them and us. That's the difference.... I want us out, too, but I want us out with honor. And as terrible as the consequences of failure in Vietnam were, I don't think they are as consequential as failure in Iraq."
Whenever he talks like this, McCain almost always looks down at his right wrist, not because it's partially frozen by the wounds that war inflicted on him but because around it is a bracelet, about as thick as a ruler, with a photograph of a young soldier on it. Next to it is written:
SPC Matthew J. Stanley.
Wolfeboro Falls, NH.
The date is the day Stanley, twenty-two and newly married, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. McCain was given the bracelet by Stanley's shaken mother, Lynn Savage, who took it off her wrist at a New Hampshire campaign stop a few months ago and put it on his. Today, she has joined him on the bus, and it's her turn to tell a war story, her voice trembling only a little.
"I thought maybe, if I just offered the bracelet, he might take it and remember the reason why we need to finish what we're doing and not let my son die in vain and not let thousands of others die in vain.... I just wanted it to be a gesture, to connect with him, so that he would understand. I'm sure he had friends who were killed during the war and he might know what their parents went through. And I thought maybe it would just be a connection, and it really was — he was very emotional when I gave it to him. That wasn't my intention. But as long as it remains a reminder for him to honor my son and all the other soldiers who have fallen, it's a wonderful thing. Never let the memories die, that's so important."
And then she will stop and smile a thin, sad smile.
McCain Focuses On Terror Fight [Des Moines Register]