Friday, June 27, 2008


Near the end of a column in which she bemoans the seeming listlessness of John McCain's presidential campaign, Peggy Noonan says this:

...there is a sense about his campaign that ... John McCain has already got what he wanted, he got what he needed, which was to be top dog in the Republican Party.... He doesn't need the presidency. He got what he wanted. So now he can coast. This is, in the deepest way, unserious. JFK had to have the presidency -- he wanted that thing. Nixon had to have it too, and Reagan had to have it to institute his new way. Clinton had to have it -- it was his destiny, the thing he'd wanted since he was a teenager.

The last person I can think of who gave off the vibe that he didn't have to have it was Bob Dole. Who didn't get it. And who had a similar lack of engagement in terms of policy, and philosophy, and meaning....

Er ... George W. Bush? Wasn't a central part of the master narrative in 2000 that Bush -- gratifyingly -- didn't have a lot of ambition, in contrast to that appallingly ambitious Al Gore? Wasn't that what every journalist believed about him?

Here's a 2007 recollection by the king of conventional wisdom, Mark Halperin, as quoted by Bob Somerby:

When George W. Bush ran in 2000, many voters liked his straightforward, uncomplicated mean-what-I-say-and-say-what-I-mean certainty. He came across as a man of principle who did not lust for the White House....

Here's a bit of hagiography that appears on the Web site of the city of Midland, Texas:

...Bush showed a quiet confidence as a candidate for President in 2000. It was only his fourth run for office, so in some ways he was still a political rookie. But the presidency was simply another goal, not his life's ambition....

Hell, this was considered such an effective card to play that Bush even put it in his speech at the 2000 Republican convention:

...For me, gaining this office is not the ambition of a lifetime, but it is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I will make the most of it....


Somerby reminds us that McCain's ambition hasn't always been so hard to discern. He cites a 2000 Nicholas Kristof column:

Mr. McCain let the scope of his ambitions slip out again in fall 1970, when he was in Vietnam and four of the prisoners of war were put together in a cell. They spent a couple of weeks talking nonstop, and the conversation soon touched on their dreams...

"We asked John what he wanted to be -- chief of naval operations?" recalled Richard A. Stratton, one of those present. "He said, no, the best job in the Navy is commander in chief of the Pacific forces, because then you're chief warrior. But he said that what he really wanted to be was president.

"With him, it's no flash in the pan, no sudden dream," Mr. Stratton said. "He's been thinking of this for a long time."

Maybe Peggy can't see the ongoing ambition because he doesn't invite her to the barbecues.

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