Who would you want to spend time with

Although I was still an unthinking Democrat back in 2000, and I cast my vote for Gore without blinking an eye, I was sufficiently objective to concede one fact:  Bush seemed like the much nicer guy.  Gore might hold forth on erudite subjects at a cocktail party, but Bush was the guy you’d want to have in your neighborhood:  friendly, helpful, easy-going, and not self-important.  You might respect Gore’s intellect for an hour or two at a time (you see, I thought he actually knew stuff in those days), but over the long haul Bush would be your man.

An AP story about Obama’s and McCain’s respective offices leaves precisely the same impression of this year’s batch of Democratic and Republican candidates:  One is a mensch, the other a product.  Obama’s office is immaculate and beautiful.  It is also devoid of substance, showy, self-involved and cold:

The decor is carefully choreographed. When an assistant shifted the location of one painting while Obama was away, the senator had it moved back.

“He’s tidy. It stays tidy,” Tate-Gilmore said.

Obama has a “wall of heroes” containing historic photos of those the senator admires. Abe Lincoln is there, as well as Gandhi with his spinning wheel, Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy. The arrangement includes a framed original program from the 1963 March on Washington where King delivered his “I have a dream” speech. There also is a framed copy of the Life magazine cover from 1965 showing civil rights marchers in Selma, Ala. It is signed by John Lewis, a protester who was bludgeoned at Selma and now is a member of Congress.

Another of Obama’s office walls displays a more personal collection of photos taken by his former personal assistant, David Katz, an amateur photographer. The photos, hung five tiers high, show Obama in various political settings, such as the Democratic National Convention and a Rainbow PUSH event, but also in more intimate encounters with his wife, Michelle, and daughters Sasha and Malia, and at home in Chicago.


Obama’s office is as notable for what’s missing as for what’s there.

The credenza behind his desk contains a handful of file folders in one drawer, but otherwise is completely empty.

McCain’s office on the other hand is functional, comfortable, and cluttered with stuff that speaks volumes about his values, his personality and his intelligence:

Family photos proliferate in haphazard abundance. Gifts from foreign leaders -an antique sword, an 18th century muzzleloader, a knife and sheath – are propped here and there, booty from overseas trips. Random stuffed animals are part of the scene, a dancing hamster in nautical attire among them. McCain, an avid reader, has books stacked seven- or eight-high along the length of a window sill. They include “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” his favorite.

The desktop is a repository for this and that: a Barry Goldwater bobblehead, a stuffed Teddy Roosevelt, foam dice, a mug full of bird feathers, a stuffed green witch with “Army” written on her hat, a bracelet bearing the name of a soldier killed in Iraq, various patches, rocks, coins, pins. A note scrawled by a young constituent reads, “Please call us or We’ll call you.” The desk itself oozes history: It once belonged to Goldwater, the Arizona senator much admired by McCain.

Many of the items in the office are trinkets that friends and visitors have handed the Republican senator.

“Some of them he finds really cute and he keeps them – and they stay, and stay and stay,” said Mark Buse, the senator’s chief of staff.

Could there one day be a dancing hamster and a Goldwater bobblehead in the Oval Office?

McCain, in an interview, laughed and told the AP: “There should be.” He added that he’d seen a McCain bobblehead recently. “Maybe we’d have to have that,” he said. “You’ve got to have a little humor.”


It’s also easy to miss a number of other items whose historical significance is belied by their unpretentious display.

In one corner, in a simple black frame, hangs a three-page telegram from 1968 that recounts McCain’s refusal to accept early release from detention as a Vietnam prisoner of war. The once-classified cable from Averell Harriman, then the chief U.S. negotiator to the Paris Peace Talks, tells about a discussion he had with the top negotiator for the North Vietnamese. It states: “At tea break Le Duc Tho mentioned that DRV had intended to release Admiral McCain’s son as one of the three pilots freed recently, but he had refused.”

On a nearby table sits a fist-sized chunk of reddish rock mounted on a base with the inscription “Hoa Lo – Hanoi Hilton.” It’s another small but powerful reminder of McCain’s five and a half years as a POW. In another corner, among family pictures, is a small framed photo showing the statue of McCain that the Vietnamese government erected in Hanoi to mark the spot where he was hauled out of a lake after he was shot down.

For all of the randomness, the office contents seem to fit together, with one jarring exception. There is only one glad-handing political photo in the office, and it is of McCain posing with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and Falwell’s wife, Macel, in 2006. The inscription to McCain from televangelist Falwell reads: “You are a great American, a national treasure and I am glad to say my good friend.” That would be the same Falwell to whom McCain referred as an “agent of intolerance” during his first presidential run in 2000. They reconciled.

If Obama’s office speaks the truth about the man, he is truly the post-modern candidate: all style and almost no substance. McCain is everyman — smart, loyal, deeply connected to people, and honorable.

What was also interesting about this article was that I got the feeling that the reporter, Nancy Benac, although she writes for AP, which routinely churns out articles hostile to conservatives, was charmed by, and admired, McCain and was put off by Obama’s chill self-involvement. Whether this was her feeling going into the story, or whether seeing the external signs of the internal men affected her viewpoint is anybody’s guess. As for me, I’d admire Obama’s office (“Isn’t it nice and neat?”), but I’d want to spend time in McCain’s.

Hat tip: The Anchoress

UPDATEJim Miller on Politics also caught that the AP story describes more than just decor.  As is often the case for me when I see someone else’s comments on an article, it casts things in a new light.  Reading Jim’s thoughts on Obama, a rather old-fashioned word popped into my mind.  Obama, in the old days, would have been an aesthete.  It’s straightforward definition means someone unusually sensitive to beauty, but Obama, in my mind, falls into the other category, the word’s pejorative use:  “One whose pursuit and admiration of beauty is regarded as excessive or affected.”  “a person who affects great love of art, music, poetry, etc., and indifference to practical matters.”  Obama is Oscar Wilde without the wit, brilliance, insight or charm.

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  • dagon

    hey book, long time no correcting your delusions.

    i actually work in the same building as obama’s headquarters in chicago. a lot of what you describe is simply a function of the architecture. it’s one of the classic Mies van der Rohe structures that populate the city.

    that said, the impression one gets from a visit is that of extreme professionalism and meta savviness. it’s a very young and motivated group.

    from what i’ve read about mccain’s operation, it seems very unlikely that anyone there even knows what web 2.0 is. the disparities between the 2 operations have been well documented and don’t come anywhere near the interpretation that you just made.

    and as for being a mensch, clearly you haven’t been doing as much due-diligence on mccain as you attempt (ahem!) to do with obama. he’s reportedly one the biggest bastards alive.

    as always book, i leave you with this; read a book.


  • Ymarsakar

    hey book, long time no correcting your delusions.

    Dagon only does that when he wants to pick a political fight.

    It’s the only thing he cares to comment about, for that is the primary issue he worries over.

    You can see much of a person’s priorities based upon long term analysis of their behaviors and choices.

  • Gringo

    and as for being a mensch, clearly you haven’t been doing as much due-diligence on mccain as you attempt (ahem!) to do with obama. he’s reportedly one the biggest bastards alive.
    As shown by the children he has adopted, for example.

  • Zhombre

    Better a bastard than an Empty Suit dealing with bastards like Putin and that huge collection of murderous Muslim bastards that populate the Middle East.

  • Zhombre

    Good point, gringo. In terms of the Oprahization of American culture, a bastard is anybody showing any masculine virtue, or tenacity, or toughness, or a temper. Maleness is defined downward as a form of pathology. I’m a Proud Bastard too and I’ll be watching The Wild Bunch DVD for the umpteenth time this weekend.

  • Ellie2

    The description of Sen. Obamba’s office comes across to me as a movie/stage set. And how perfectly apt!

  • pondering penguin

    McCain the biggest bastard? Really? He adopted the young sons of his first wife and one of them is now Comptroller for Cindy’s mega-business and the other is with the McCain campaign. Plus, the little baby girl from Mother Theresa’s orphanage that Cindy brought home for them to adopt?

    He’s my kind of bastard.

  • dagon

    no, i mean he’s this kind of bastard:

    {For nearly 30 years, Carol has maintained a dignified silence about the accident, McCain and their divorce. But last week at the bungalow where she now lives at Virginia Beach, a faded seaside resort 200 miles south of Washington, she told The Mail on Sunday how McCain divorced her in 1980 and married Cindy, 18 years his junior and the heir to an Arizona brewing fortune, just one month later.

    Carol insists she remains on good terms with her ex-husband, who agreed as part of their divorce settlement to pay her medical costs for life. ‘I have no bitterness,’

    she says. ‘My accident is well recorded. I had 23 operations, I am five inches shorter than I used to be and I was in hospital for six months. It was just awful, but it wasn’t the reason for my divorce.

    ‘My marriage ended because John McCain didn’t want to be 40, he wanted to be 25. You know that happens…it just does.’

    Some of McCain’s acquaintances are less forgiving, however. They portray the politician as a self-centred womaniser who effectively abandoned his crippled wife to ‘play the field’. They accuse him of finally settling on Cindy, a former rodeo beauty queen, for financial reasons.}


    ross perot on mccain:

    {The Texas billionaire, now 77, still has some scores to settle from the Vietnam era, and his timing is exquisite. Just days before the South Carolina GOP primary, he wants me to know that McCain “is the classic opportunist–he’s always reaching for attention and glory. Other POWs won’t even sit at the same table with him.”}


    and you’ll love this one book:

    {At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain’s hair and said, “You’re getting a little thin up there.” McCain’s face reddened, and he responded, “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.” McCain’s excuse was that it had been a long day.}



  • Ymarsakar

    As shown by the children he has adopted, for example.

    Only the government, lead by the [O]ne, is a valid display of greatness and compassion, Gringo. Those petty clinging personal acts of adopting and salvation are just illusions and trickery. They mean nothing in the greater sense of things, in the shaping of worlds and nations.

    People are good only when they are made to be good. And the [O]ne will accomplish just that as US President.

  • Ymarsakar

    He will make you care, he will make you work. You know this, for Michelle has said so. They will save people from Bangladesh, for people can only be saved if they are forced. Cindy’s personal act of charity is invalid and very harmful to the Order of things.

  • Allen

    Dagon, haven’t you been doing this for a while? I mean same links, same discourse so on.

    It’s pretty clear you might vote for Obama. and you don’t care for McCain.

    It’s pretty clear she might vote for McCain, and she doesn’t care for Obama.

    But really, is this the unity you seek, calling someone ignorant and having mental issues (read a book, you’re delusional).

    Senator Obama is not the problem, but his followers are.

  • Mike Devx

    Certainly the rush from Carol McCain to Cindy McCain is not exactly morally or ethically impressive.

    However, here is a different, unedited take:
    “Carol remained resolutely loyal as McCain’s political star rose. She says she agreed to talk to The Mail on Sunday only because she wanted to publicise her support for the man who abandoned her.

    Indeed, the old Mercedes that she uses to run errands displays both a disabled badge and a sticker encouraging people to vote for her ex-husband. ‘He’s a good guy,’ she assured us. ‘We are still good friends. He is the best man for president.”

    “Another friend added: ‘Carol didn’t fight him. She felt her infirmity made her an impediment to him. She justified his actions because of all he had gone through. She used to say, “He just wants to make up for lost time.”‘
    Indeed, to many in their circle the saddest part of the break-up was Carol’s decision to resign herself to losing a man she says she still adores.

    Friends confirm she has remained friends with McCain and backed him in all his campaigns. ‘He was very generous to her in the divorce but of course he could afford to be, since he was marrying Cindy,’ one observed.

    McCain transferred the Florida beach house to Carol and gave her the right to live in their jointly-owned townhouse in the Washington suburb of Alexandria. He also agreed to pay her alimony and child support.”


    You’ll find a wide variety of takes on this issue. My take?
    – John McCain has Carol McCain to worry about. She continues to support him.
    – Barack Obama has Rev. Jeremiah Wright to worry about. He’s not exactly supportive. Rev. Wright may be planning a very nice October Surprise, during his tour for his new book at that time, for the Empty Suit that threw him “under the bus”.

  • Ymarsakar

    Dagon believes in peace, that’s why he foments war. People must suffer in order for true peace to arrive, after all.

  • Deana

    Let me get this straight: Bookworm reads an AP report and writes a wonderful commentary on this and Dagon thinks Bookworm is deluded. And my favorite part: that Obama’s office organization is due to the building being a van der Rohe structure. Right.

    Bookworm – excellent piece. Recently, the Democrats seem to have a bad habit of nominating folks that people just don’t like. I never supported Clinton but I could always understand why people like him. But Gore? Kerry? Edwards? And now Obama?

    McCain strikes me as likable. Human. And not drowning in self-importance.

    I’ll take that any day.


  • BrianE

    Deana said about McCain:

    …And not drowning in self-importance.

    I thought that was the definition of a Senator– full of self-importance. I think it’s why so few senators are elected President.

    Here’s a great article why:


    I find it fascinating that he has a picture of Falwell on his wall. I’ve always had the impression that McCain merely tolerates Christians.
    For all of his faults, Falwell defended social conservatism and the Moral Majority was a bulwark during a time when conservatism was being swamped by Roe vs Wade, Vietnam betrayal, Nixon, etc. and was instrumental in Reagan’s election.

    Here’s a timeline of the organization.

  • Hullabaloo

    Mies van der Rohe is a red-herring the AP article was about the Senators’ offices on Capitol Hill. A cursory reading of the original article would easily tell one that. By talking about an office in a building half a country away does not bolster one’s appearance of acumen.

    But a half man half fish Philistine god is always a slippery being.

  • dagon


    sorry you’ve got me wrong. i don’t want unity. i want the republican party as it now stands destroyed. you might find it difficult to believe but i consider myself conservative on some issues such as fiscal matters. i’m a registered independent, not a democrat.

    but this current bunch that have hijacked the mantle of “conservatism” via the republican party are anything but. and anyone who fails to see that at this stage of the game is frankly….deluded.


  • BrianE

    While I think the Republican party squandered most of its opportunities to fundamentally reform the country economically– I’m not sure whether it was ever possible to limit government spending.
    If you remember back to the Reagan years and even the Gingrich years– the mantra of cutting the safety net and such, which cast the conservatives as greedy, uncaring capitalists while federal spending continued to rise, created tremendous obstacles to reform.
    Our politicians became indistinguishable from most politicians whose goal centers around re-election. I think they just gave up, considering the challenge of getting a conservative message to the public through the MSM.
    I’m curious what the mantle of “conservatism” that has been hijacked represents to you though.

  • Zhombre

    So those anecdotes prove McCain is a bastard.

    Try these about the biggest bitch in America:


  • Zhombre

    oh and i would like to see the democrat party as it now stands destroyed because it is dominated by the left and crazies like the kos crowd and i too consider myself an independent having registered republican only to vote for giuliani in the florida primary and having been too lazy to reregister independent though i will do so if only to stem the flow of republican party mail i keep getting that i don’t respond to however i have sent small amounts to mccain and to norm coleman in minnesota because i do not wish to see the prime buffoon al franken in the u s senate


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