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The Making of the President: John McCain
Comments () | Published February 1, 2007
Favorite ice cream.

“Blackberry.”

What kind of tree would you like to be?

“Cottonwood. They are really lovely. And when the wind goes through them, it makes a beautiful sound.”

Favorite music.

“Fifties and ’60s rock ’n’ roll.”

Favorite lazy-day activity.

“Going to a sporting event.”

First car.

“1958 Corvette.”

First job.

“Newspaper delivery boy.”

Favorite comic strip.

“Doonesbury.”

Favorite junk food.

“Doughnuts.”

Worst habit.

“Coffee.”

Favorite toothpaste.

“Listerine.”

Listerine makes toothpaste?

“Uh, Colgate.”

Mousse or gel?

“Spray.”

Favorite album.

“Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! by Frank Sinatra.”

Favorite song.

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

Favorite breakfast cereal.

“Raisin Bran.”

That’s George W. Bush’s favorite, too! a reporter said.

“Can I change to corn flakes?” McCain said, and the bus rocked with laughter.

Inevitably, somebody would bring up Vietnam, but, unless prompted, McCain would talk only about the lighter moments, the moments that kept them all sane, such as how, when imprisoned at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, he was the designated “movie teller” and had to describe the plots of about 100 movies to the other POWs over his 5½ years of captivity. “Of course, I didn’t know a hundred movies,” he said, “so I made a lot of them up.”

Few reporters realized how little he liked talking about Vietnam. He had shocked a reporter one day when he said he was “embarrassed” by and “bored” with the constant repetition of his Vietnam experience. “I mean, Jesus,” McCain said. “It can make your skin crawl.” Besides, he said, “it doesn’t take a lot of talent to get shot down. I was able to intercept an enemy missile with my own airplane.”

But to the public, Vietnam had made him a hero. Though Americans were still conflicted over the war, there was no conflict over the POWs. Many people had hated the war; nobody had hated the POWs. But as colleagues learned, if you wanted to stop a conversation, all you had to do was bring up Vietnam. “We lost,” McCain would say. “Let’s move on.”

His staff knew how powerful a political tool his story was, however. A story was not enough—John Glenn had a great story yet had never gotten to the White House. But used well, the Vietnam story was another arrow in McCain’s quiver. And it gave him the biggest applause line in every speech: “I fell in love with America,” he would say, “when I was deprived of her company.”

Some old soldiers neither die nor fade away. Some old soldiers run for president. As the 2008 campaign began, it had not looked, however, like a good time for old soldiers. The American public had tired of the Iraq war—the Democratic Congress had ended it in 2007 by refusing to fund it—and there was no greater defender of that war than John McCain.

“If we lose because of the war, then we lose,” Weaver had told the staff. There was no changing McCain on that one.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 02/01/2007 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles