Like the vast majority of our 300 million or so fellow citizens–but unlike most of the elite political reporters covering the presidential campaign–your authors have never had the pleasure of meeting Arizona Senator and Republican presidential nominee John McCain. We’ve never sat with him in a semicircle on the red velvet couches of the Straight Talk Express downing Dunkin’ Donuts and participating in endless bull sessions that long outlast our store of questions. We’ve never talked strategy openly with McCain and his advisers over drinks and dinner, or been fed information to use against his opponents. Perhaps even more regrettably, we have not enjoyed the pleasure of joining our media colleagues for a sunny afternoon, chez McCain, "swinging lazily back and forth on a tire swing strung up under a massive sycamore tree in a quiet Arizona canyon, the sound of a gushing stream nearby," as the candidate, according to Newsweek, "carefully monitor[ed] giant slabs of pork ribs on a smoking grill."
We’ve enjoyed him on The Daily Show, admired his courage in Vietnam and imagine we understand his appeal. Perhaps if we had all spent more time hanging, we would appreciate the senator’s company, his hospitality and his eagerness to speak his mind in our presence as so much of the MSM has. It is even possible that we would call him John when speaking with him. And let’s be honest, we cannot be certain that, were he still running against George W. Bush, we would not fall into the habit of referring to the McCain campaign as "we"–as in, "I hope we kill Bush"–which apparently happened with some frequency during McCain’s unsuccessful 2000 run.
But even though we might be taken with McCain personally, we would like to think that we would resist the urge to offer the sort of spontaneous testimonials to his character that have gushed from the pens of so many MSM journalists. These would include calling McCain "a cool dude" (Jake Tapper, Salon); "an original, imaginative, and at times inspiring candidate" (Jacob Weisberg, Slate); "a man of unshakable character, willing to stand up for his convictions" (the late R.W. Apple Jr., New York Times); "a man of intelligence, honor and enormous personal and political courage" (Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek); "blunt, unyielding, deploying his principles…. What he does do is what he’s always done, play it as straight as possible…. The maverick candidate still" (Terry Moran, ABC News’s Nightline); "worldly-wise and witty, determined to follow the facts to the exclusion of ideology…willing to defy his own party and forge compromise…pragmatic in the service of the national interest…rises to passion when he believes that America’s best values are at stake" (Michael Hirsch, Newsweek); "kind of like a Martin Luther" (Chris Matthews, MSNBC’s Hardball); "the perfect candidate to deal with what challenges we face as a country" (Mika Brzezinski, MSNBC’s Morning Joe); "rises above the pack…eloquent, as only a prisoner of war can be" (David Nyhan, Boston Globe); "the bravest candidate in the presidential race" (Dana Milbank, Washington Post); "an affable man of zealous, unbending beliefs" and "the hero [who] still does things his own way" (Richard Cohen, Washington Post); and who, in "an age of deep cynicism about politicians of both parties…is the rare exception who is not assumed to be willing to sacrifice personal credibility to prevail in any contest" (David Broder, Washington Post).