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McCain: Inside McCain's mind

Not many politicians allow an aide to admit so publicly that he/she writes in the candidate's voice.  Asked about one particular observation McCain makes about himself in one of his books, his alter ego, Mark Salter explains. "'It's his voice, but I'm going inside his head to speak some psychological truth about him. I'm drawing a conclusion based on my observation of him. I always show him: "This is what I've written. This is what I think about you. Is this fair?"' No one is closer to McCain than Salter, who has been with him since 1989. Their associates describe a 'mind meld' that has created an extraordinarily close partnership. But even Salter sometimes has to guess what McCain might be thinking, particularly on sensitive subjects. 'Things go on inside McCain's head that rarely or never come out,' Salter explained."

This Washington Post piece goes deeper to figure out just how McCain thinks. "[M]uch of what goes on inside McCain's head is neither mysterious nor hidden. There is an elaborate record of the principles and beliefs that govern McCain's thinking about politics and policy in the five books he and Salter have written, scores of speeches they have collaborated on over nearly two decades, and countless interviews, including one last week for this article."

"That record reveals a complicated man whose approach to the world cannot be summed up in an aphorism or two. He is a striver and a combatant, often at war with himself, who has conducted a lifelong struggle 'to prove to myself that I was the man I had always wanted to be,' as he has written. Multiple influences have shaped his thinking, from his famous grandfather and father, both four-star Navy admirals, to his travels and his extensive reading of history and literature."

"On many points, the thinking is clear and consistent. For example, McCain believes in a muscular mission for America. As he has put it: 'Our nation has a unique place in the world. We are the greatest force for good on earth. We chart history's course. Yes, we must be involved in the destiny of other nations.' His favorite president is Theodore Roosevelt, reformer at home, activist wielder of a big stick abroad. He has read Edward Gibbon's six-volume 'History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' -- twice. But his favorite book is Ernest Hemingway's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls,' whose protagonist, Robert Jordan, has been McCain's hero since he was 13."

Here's a fun anecdote: McCain has NOT read Obama's books but is watching DVDs of him in debates. "McCain has offered little analysis of the electorate's reaction to him or the path he hopes to follow to victory in November. Although he hammers Obama in public appearances, he also has respectful words for his opponent. In the interview last week, he said, 'I'm surprised that I am as close in the polls as I am right now. When you look at the fantastic campaign that Senator Obama has waged, it really is quite remarkable.'"

"Two books that McCain has not read are the bestsellers written by Obama. Isn't he curious about his opponent? 'Well, I've been watching DVDs of his debates,' McCain replied, 'and I pay attention to his speeches.'"

"Does this combination of respect for Obama's campaign and apparent indifference to his books suggest another example of McCain's romantic fatalism? Salter, the alter ego, emphatically rejected that idea. 'I can tell you right now," he said of McCain, 'he can't stand losing. . . . And sometimes when he's losing, it's not all romantic and glorious. He gets pretty tough. . . . He's as resilient a human being as I've ever encountered. There are no permanent defeats for him.'"

McCain mocked Obama for suggesting Americans should make sure their tires are inflated and get regular tune-ups to save energy. "Yesterday, he suggested we put air in our tires to save on gas," McCain said. "My friends, let's do that, but do you think that's enough to break our dependence on Middle Eastern oil? I don't think so." Of course, Obama never claimed inflated tires was a panacea, as also he mentioned broader aspects of his energy plan and has done so consistently.