The Hardest Call
It's hard not to read John McCain's new book, "Hard Call," without feeling like the pages echo with what might have been.
The Arizona senator's fifth book with Mark Salter, his top aide, is a collection of essays about decision-making, using examples drawn from business, politics, science and sports--each presented as object lessons.
The book was largely written months ago, when McCain looked to be the man to beat in the 2008 presidential campaign. Now, thanks to decisions McCain made about staffing and strategy, his campaign is barely afloat -- falling in the polls and running on little money.
His own campaign, it turns out, could easily have been a case study in the book.
From the beginning, McCain made fateful choices: to run a Bush-like campaign with a huge staff, expensive consultants and a big budget; to stand by the war in Iraq and the president's surge in troops; to push for immigration reform despite opposition from conservatives.
So were those the right calls?
In the book, McCain argues that there are six attributes to good decision-making: awareness, foresight, timing, confidence, humility and inspiration. Looking back, it might be said that the McCain 2008 presidential campaign suffered from a lack of several (awareness and timing, in particular, though perhaps not confidence).
In the book's introduction, McCain writes about an Air Force pilot, Bud Day, who was shot down in Vietnam. Captured and wounded, he escaped and made his way to the edge of an American airfield. His decision: to cross at night, risking triggering a mine or friendly fire, or wait until daylight. He waited, was recaptured, and endured six years of torture.
"He had made a sound decision, in a crucible few people ever encounter," McCain writes. "It had probably been the right one. But it had not worked out as he had hoped...It is one of the rare instances when the assessment of the decision doesn't depend most, or even much, on its outcome."
Which makes one wonder how McCain might assess his own decisions in the current campaign? It's likely that McCain would conclude that his decisions were sound -- they just haven't work out as he hoped.
--Michael D. Shear
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