Worth the Fighting for
John McCain
with Mark Salter
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Buy *Worth the Fighting for: A Memoir* online

Worth the Fighting for: A Memoir

John McCain with Mark Salter
Random House
396 pages
September 2002
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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The recent presidential candidate John McCain is on course to write three books. The first, published in 1999, was Faith of My Father. It related McCain’s Navy career, including five and a half heroic years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi. This second book covers his political career through the end of the 2000 presidential primaries and relates McCain’s struggle with political integrity. The third tome that he and his legislative assistant are now reputedly finishing is to be “about patriotism.” The first book grabbed me; this second one interested me; and I hope that the third, even without the quickening provided by two stellar careers, will be equally engrossing.

Much of Worth the Fighting For revolves around people who mentored McCain in his political career. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the Democratic Party hawk; Morris Udall, another Democrat, this time primarily an environmentalist; then Barry Goldwater, John Tower, and Bob Dole, all Republican politicians. In dealing with his post-Vietnam war involvement, McCain and his co-author also introduce the Vietnamese foreign minister, Nguyen Co Thach.

The authors refer extensively to Hemingway’s protagonist in For Whom the Bell Tolls, then to General Billy Mitchell, the great airpower maverick; to Emiliano Zapata as created by John Steinbeck and played by Marlon Brando in the movie Zapata; to the “Splendid Splinter,” Ted Williams;and finally, to Teddy Roosevelt--all personae he found inspirational.

McCain’s dealings with politicians we all remember make for fascinating reading, but the encomiums for literary and historical figures seem pretentious. Similarly, the author’s self-analysis, his dissection of motives for his “errors,” appears contrived. We fiction writers believe in “showing, not telling,” which is probably a useful motto for amateur psychologists, too.

Of course, modern politicians like McCain often feel it necessary to produce a “thoughtful” book or two, after John Kennedy’s example. A portentous dust jacket imparts intellectual cachet. Still, if the author had kept in mind that his readers are primarily political junkies and left out the occasional padding, the prestige motive would have been satisfied and readers happier.

At the beginning of Worth the Fighting For, we participate in McCain’s decision to leave the Navy and settle in Arizona, the home of his new wife. He works for his father-in-law until a Republican house seat opens. His personal contacts and resume bring him political support. He wins the primary and thus the subsequent election. “Mo” Udall charms him into supporting various environmental initiatives, and McCain works hard at learning other domestic issues important to Arizonians. Thus he is ready for the greater prize when Senator Goldwater retires. Subsequent to joining the Senate he’s wounded in the “Keating Five” scandal, accused of doing favors in return for financial support. He reacts by leading a national push for campaign reform. Throughout, we see the evolution of a politician with a single issue (national security) into a crusader against pork.

John McCain’s present political positions bring a strong whiff of nostalgia. The senator combines a post World War II Democratic Party’s belief in a strong president with a similarly dated Republican revulsion from red-necked religion and a dislike of fiscal improvidence. The combination leads McCain to strongly support the present administration’s national security policies, even its unilateralism, but to fight its subservience to the religious right and its fondness for electoral corruption. Those policies brought me, a lifelong Democrat, to contribute funds to McCain’s campaign, a confession of pro-author bias that probably should have been made at the beginning of this piece. I give the book four stars, while continuing, however, to award the author five.

© 2003 by Dean Warren for Curled Up With a Good Book

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