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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Reading List:

What if All These Fantasies Come Flailing Around?

In October 2006 The New Republic's John Judis wrote the single best magazine piece I have read about John McCain's foreign policy. The article's meat − 5,700 words detailing McCain's late-'90s conversion from Vietnam Syndrome pol to Neoconservative poster boy − provided good reportorial material I used in my own book. What made it all the more interesting, on some level, was that this point-by-point indictment was sandwiched between an intro about what a charmingly accessible guy McCain is, and this almost pathetically hope-despite-the-times conclusion:

If McCain is willing to reconsider his most basic belief about Vietnam, he could still change his mind about Iraq. It's true that little he said to me suggests he will adjust his worldview in the near future, but McCain has surprised his critics before. Perhaps he will do so again.

Well, now Judis has finally lost his religion.

All of which reminds me of something I've intended to do since reading this month-old post by Jay Rosen about an experiment in "crowdsourcing" a list of quality campaign coverage: Namely, provide a rough Top 10 of online-findable pieces of journalism about John McCain, whether pro or con or indifferent. Note: There'd be a bunch of quality pro-McCain Weekly Standard stuff in here, if only their archives weren't so horrible. Here goes:

1) The Life Story of Arizona's Maverick Senator McCain, by the Arizona Republic, Oct. 3, 1999 (updated March 1, 2007). A monster, novella-length bio.

2) Neo-McCain: The Making of an ├╝berhawk, by John Judis, The New Republic, Oct. 9, 2006. A one-stop shop for analysis of McCain's foreign policy evolution.

3) Prisoner of Conscience, by Todd Purdum, Vanity Fair, February 2007. Snapshot of the tensions nagging at McCain's conscience, the compromises he makes on the campaign trail, and the limits to the phrase "we cannot fail."

4) P.O.W. to Power Broker, a Chapter Most Telling, by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, Feb. 27, 2000. Chronicles the messy edges of McCain's life between returning from Vietnam and entering Congress, with an emphasis on his wife-replacement process.

5) The Subversive: A Question of Honor, by Michael Lewis, New York Times Magazine, May 25, 1997. Go ahead − try not to like the guy after reading this!

6) I Liked a Pol, by Michael Lewis, New York Times Magazine, Nov. 21, 1999. In which one of our finest journalists chronicles and defends a man-crush so deep that A) McCain invited Lewis to come live with him, and B) at long last (and after scores of thousands of words) Lewis finally recused himself from covering his good friend.

7) Race Against Himself: Is John McCain Trying to Lose? by David Grann, The New Republic, March 13, 2000. A shrewd bit of psychoanalysis that rises far beyond the usual campaign-coverage guesswork.

8) The War Secrets Sen. John McCain Hides: Former POW Fights Public Access to POW/MIA Files, by Sydney Schanberg, APBnews.com, sometime in 2000. A startling tale of McCain's little-reported antics before, during and after the POW/MIA hearings in Congress.

9) Opiate for the Mrs.: When Laws Are Broken, Somebody's Got to Be Punished. In the Case of Cindy McCain, That Somebody is Tom Gosinski, by Amy Silverman, Phoenix New Times, Sept. 8, 1994. Hit the refresh button on this one any time you hear a happy post-facto spin either on Cindy McCain's drug habit/thievery, or John's harmless little anger problem.

10) McCain Pressed FCC in Case Involving Major Contributor, by Walter Robinson, Boston Globe, Jan. 5, 2000. Little-remembered fact: Back when his "transcendent issue" was the "iron triangle" between corporate fatcats, lobbyists, and pols, McCain was busted several times (and usually by Walter Robinson first) for having a campaign full of lobbyists, and a record of intervening on behalf of campaign contributors.

This is by no means definitive, etc., and I hope you list some other good pieces in the comments!

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