Hello Everyone,

Barack’s just-concluded overseas trip was revealing in several ways in addition to the
obvious ones.

He certainly did look presidential, completely capable of holding a series of rapid-fire
meetings with heads of state in a wide array of settings. Extraordinarily impressive.

Upon his return, Barack was greeted with an insightful column by Bob Herbert in which
he wrote, “The conventional wisdom in this radically unconventional presidential race is
that the voters have to get to know Barack Obama better…Maybe so. But what about the
other guy? How much do we really know about John McCain?” (See attachment.)

While Barack was away, we learned a little more about Sen. McCain – about the quality
of his thinking and the nature of his temperament.

Thinking

Touted as highly experienced in foreign affairs, we began to see that Sen. McCain
basically thinks as a militarist, not a statesman or a diplomat. By dint of his training
(Naval Academy – where, by the way, he graduated 5th from the bottom of his class –
790th out of 795), experience (Vietnam P.O.W.) and genealogy (son and grandson of
admirals), military solutions appear to dominate his approach to international relations.
Witness his apparent inability to comprehend the complexities of Iraq. He evidently
can’t see that Iraq has not been a conventional, bi-lateral war ever since Hussein’s army
was quickly dispatched. That there won’t, and can’t, be any clear “winner” in what we
mistakenly continue to call the “Iraq War.”

Last week, Sen. McCain seemed to have difficulty understanding that the currently less
violent conditions in Iraq are probably the result of multiple factors, including, but not
limited to, increasing U.S. troop levels – as well Sunnis confronting insurgents, and
Sadr’s army disengaging, the latter perhaps in part due to moves made by the Maliki
government. Historians will probably discover additional factors with the passage of
time.

All week, Sen. McCain persisted in claiming that the improved conditions were simply a
product of the military “surge.” He seems to be stuck in a largely military mindset.
That’s one thing we seem to be learning about Sen. McCain.

Contrast this with the complicated, nuanced thinking that Barack displayed even before
he became a national, or international, figure. In his October 2002 speech opposing the
invasion of Iraq, he said “I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a
U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined
consequences…Let us send a clear message to the president today. Let’s finish the fight
with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda [in Afghanistan.]”

A couple of weeks later, Barack was interviewed about that speech. With uncanny
prescience, he asked, “…How do we …make sure that this country doesn’t splinter into
factions between the Shia and the Kurds and the Sunnis?”

The world now believes invading Iraq was a mistake and Afghanistan should be our
focus. The Maliki government wants a 2010 timetable, and we are talking to Iran. All
positions Barack has long held.

Last December, the conservative commentator David Brooks wrote about Barack’s
unusual political prowess. “Obama…has powers of observation that may mitigate his
own inexperience and the isolating pressures of the White house. In his famous essay,
‘On Political Judgment,’ Isaiah Berlin writes that wise leaders don’t think abstractly.
They use powers of close observation to integrate the vast shifting amalgam of data that
constitute their own particular situation… [Brooks continued] Obama demonstrated those
powers in Dreams From My Father.”

The comparison between the two candidates as recently as last week was striking. A
warrior’s mind seemingly unable to “use powers of close observation to integrate the vast
shifting amalgam of data” contrasted with a wise mind which can deal with complication.

Sen. McCain finished near the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy, while Barack
was president of the Law Review at Harvard, was offered tenure during his 12-year
teaching career at the University of Chicago Law School where, according to the New
York Times
, “…as a professor, students say, Mr. Obama was in the business of
complication…” Quite a contrast. See today’s article in the Times about Barack’s teaching at the University of Chicago.

Temperament

Sen. McCain’s performance last week also seemed instructive about a second, and no less
important, characteristic of the man. His temperament. Or simply, his temper.

Herbert writes, “Part of the makeup of the man – apparently a significant part, according
to many close observers – is his outsized temper. Mr. McCain’s temperament has long
been a subject of fascination in Washington, and for some a matter of concern. He can be
a nasty piece of work… If the McCain gaffes seem endless, so do the tales about his
angry, profanity-laced eruptions.” Herbert goes on to quote two sitting Republican
senators who attest to these concerns. Then he continues, “Sen. McCain has
acknowledged on various occasions that he has a short fuse.”

Barack himself was the target of McCain’s public ire in 2006 when the Senate was
considering ethics reform.

We evidently got the first glimpse during this campaign of the mean-spirited Sen.
McCain last week. One commentator observed that while Barack was being
“presidential”, Sen. McCain was being “petty.”

Sen. McCain’s week-long temper tantrum reached its apex when he charged that Obama
would “lose a war in order to win a campaign.” While Barack was overseas, the
headlines endlessly characterized Sen. McCain as “ripping”, “slamming”, “hitting hard”,
and otherwise throwing a fit at Obama. Sen. McCain came off as nasty, frustrated and
desperate.

Upon witnessing this display, I asked someone involved in the process what to make of
it. I was surprised to learn that this person had experienced Sen. McCain’s temper first
hand and said it was, indeed, something to behold.

I can understand Sen. McCain’s frustration from being on the losing end of Iraqi
timetables, Iranian talks, and surging in Afghanistan amid a rival’s warm international
reception. All in about one week. As we all know, pent up frustration usually exposes a
person’s true colors. Has this process begun for Sen. McCain?

The true nature of Sen. McCain’s temperament may have started to come into fuller view
recently for another reason – the ascendency of “Sgt. Schmidt.” That is Sen. McCain’s
nickname for Steve Schmidt who he recently drafted to take over his campaign (his third
campaign chief; Barack has had only one.) According to the Wall Street Journal,
Schmidt is a sharp-tongued strategist and former aide to Vice President Cheney. “His
formula: a tightly controlled message delivered repeatedly and with almost military-like
precision.” One colleague on a previous campaign complained, “At some point you felt
like how many times can you say the same thing?” Watch carefully how ultra-repetitive
Sen. McCain is now becoming.

More to the point, the Journal continues, “Schmidt was also known for his sometimes
explosive temper… [something he] admits [to] in the heat of battle.” Other descriptors of
that temper: “volcanic” and “red-faced.”

So, I suspect that Sgt. Schmidt has been stirring up Sen. McCain’s innate anger rather
than leavening it.

As a result of these revelations, I would venture to say that Sen. McCain’s temperament
may prove his undoing in this campaign. If his second – and last, given his age – real
bite at the presidential apple continues to slip away, I suspect that his ever-rising
frustration level may further expose his inability to control his temper. We’ll see.

Now contrast Barack’s temperament with Sen. McCain’s. Cool, composed, eventempered,
poised. Everything I’ve learned about him in the five or so years I’ve known
him – and dozens of his family, friends and associates – confirms the public perception of
a man who has a high level of emotional intelligence. He is cool, not just stylistically,
but constitutionally.

Once again, Brooks’ insights last December are enlightening. “Obama is an innerdirected
man in a profession filled with insecure outer-directed ones…He has a core and
is able to maintain his equipoise…Obama does not ratchet up hostilities; he restrains
them. He does not lash out at perceived enemies, but is aloof from them. In the course of
his struggle to discover who he is, Obama clearly learned from the strain of pessimistic
optimism that stretches back from Martin Luther King Jr. to Abraham Lincoln. This is a
worldview that detests anger as a motivating force…Obama did not respond to his
fatherlessness or his racial predicament with anger and rage, but as questions for
investigation, conversation and synthesis. He approaches politics the same way…He still
retains the capacity, also rare in presidents, of being able to sympathize with and grasp
the motivations of his rivals. Even in his political memoir, The Audacity of Hope, he
astutely observes that candidates are driven less by the desire for victory than by the raw
fear of loss and humiliation.”

In Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin quotes the old Chicago Press and Tribune
observing that Lincoln had an “equable nature and … [a] mental constitution that is never
off its balance.”

Barack demonstrated many of his habits of mind and character traits once again on last
week’s international trip, which, unwittingly and simultaneously, may have offered us an
opportunity to learn more about Sen. McCain’s.

In the end, I think voters will opt for a supple mind and a cool head over a military mind
and a hot temper. We’ll see as we really get to know John McCain.

Please pass it on.

Chuck

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adobe pdf file Attachment: Getting to Know You

 

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