Friday, August 1, 2008

The curious mind of John McCain

WASHINGTON - In his 2002 book, "Worth the Fighting For," John McCain offered this confession -- an acknowledgment of a restless mind: "Although I seem to tolerate introspection better the older I am, there are still too many claims on my attention to permit more than the briefest excursions down the path of self-awareness. When I am no longer busy with politics, and with my own ambitions, I hope to have more time to examine what I have done and failed to do with my career, and why."

A telling observation, or so it seems, and refreshingly candid for a public figure. But the words are not John McCain's. They were written by his longtime aide Mark Salter, McCain's literary alter ego. "Worth the Fighting For," like McCain's other four books, is by "John McCain With Mark Salter," as they all say on their covers. This comment on McCain's disinclination to commit introspection was "my surmise," Salter said in a recent interview in his windowless office at McCain headquarters in Crystal City. He explained his technique:

"It's his voice, but I'm going inside his head to speak some psychological truth about him. I'm drawing a conclusion based on my observation of him. I always show him: 'This is what I've written. This is what I think about you. Is this fair?' " No one is closer to McCain than Salter, who has been with him since 1989. Their associates describe a "mind meld" that has created an extraordinarily close partnership. But even Salter sometimes has to guess what McCain might be thinking, particularly on sensitive subjects. "Things go on inside McCain's head that rarely or never come out," Salter explained.