The Front-Runners: John McCain

Michael Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 13, 2007; 12:00 PM

"John McCain's life has always been framed by his legendary Navy forebears - the father and grandfather who were illustrious admirals; the tough, passionate men whose code and calling McCain was preordained to share. He is a product of almost 80 years of family service, which included his 5 1/2 years of torture and deprivation in North Vietnamese prison camps. Now, at 71, as he seeks the Republican nomination for the second time, the dutiful Navy son who was tempered in one war, has become father to sons who may be tempered in another."

Washington Post writer Michael Ruane was online Thursday, Dec. 13 at noon ET to discuss his article exploring John McCain, his relationship with his father, and his campaign for the presidency.

The transcript follows.


Michael Ruane: Good day folks. Mike Ruane here. Thanks for writing in. Let me see if can respond to some of your questions/observations.


Chicago: Assuming John McCain is not the next president, what are the odds that he serves in the next cabinet? Whether a Democrat or Republican wins, wouldn't he still be on any new president's short list for Secretary of Defense? Secretary of State? His record on the environment is pretty good, too ... couldn't a Dem make him Secretary of the Interior? Would any of these appeal to him?

Michael Ruane: This is a great question. I've wondered this myself. McCain prides himself on his grasp of national security issues. The job of Defense Secretary would seem logical. But he is a proud and already powerful legislator, and I think a cabinet post might be seen as a step down for him.


Phoenix: My impression of McCain is that, for most of his life, nobody who knew him regarded him as a potential president. Do you think he always harbored ambitions in that direction, or did the idea come to him relatively late in life?

Michael Ruane: Good question. My impression is that he was driven early in life to succeed, because of the success of his father and grandfather. He has written "I craved distinction." Then he went through his Vietnam ordeal, which added the "why was I spared?" element. He was successful in politics very quickly and I think he started thinking about the presidency a long time ago.


joy2: We now have a man in the white house whose family business is oil. Do we really need a president whose family business is war?

Michael Ruane: You've got a point. I would just say that despite his background McCain has taken some surprising stands. He still is quite sympathetic, for example, to the plight of illegal immigrants, which gets him in trouble. But a voter might well ponder your view.


New York: Re: Sen. McCain's future service to the country, don't you think he might jump at the chance to run the Defense Department if a weak president is elected? It has been made clear recently that Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld overpowered George Bush and ran the country for a long while. The president may have been the "decider," but an analogy could be made with two parents presenting an adolescent with options. They picked the choices.

Michael Ruane: As I told an earlier questioner, McCain would seem a natural for Defense Secretary. But not sure he'd step down from his lofty post in the Senate to take it.

This is assuming he's not in the White House and picking his own cabinet.


Seattle: I gave money to McCain's PAC in 2000 based on my dislike for Bush, McCain's support for campaign finance reform and his willingness to take on parts of the Republican establishment that were -- in my opinion -- harmful to America and our values, like the religious right. Was that the real McCain or is the McCain that's running in 2008 the real one, because he has changed considerably since 2000?

Michael Ruane: This is a good question re: the new vs. old McCain. The old one didn't get elected, refreshing as he was. I guess you've got to try something a little different, without losing too much of the old appeal. It's hard, and people like yourself notice the difference.


Laurel, Md.: It wouldn't be too uncommon for a 70-plus senator to take cabinet position (Les Aspin and Lloyd Bentsen left Congress that way.) But Arizona has a Democratic governor (who would select a replacement for McCain), so it ain't gonna happen.

Michael Ruane: Good observation from Laurel, Md.


Ft Lauderdale, Fla.: Do you think it would help McCain get votes if more people knew his son was serving in Iraq right now (as opposed to Mitt Romney's sons, none of whom chose to serve)?

Michael Ruane: McCain's very proud of his sons' service. He often tells people one-to-one that he has a son serving in the Marines in Iraq. But he worries about his son's safety, and I've not heard him mention it in speeches.


Michael Ruane: Well folks, my time is up. Thanks for reading and for writing in.


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