Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Obama and McCain: Reading Between the Lines

Presidential candidate reading lists. Do they mean much? Maybe.

From The Guardian...

"I am a voracious reader. I read all the time". These words from presidential hopeful John McCain (stress on the second syllable) do offer one interesting explanation for his eclipse in the campaign thus far: he's had his head in a book.

Of course, many candidates use their bookshelves as election placards, and all their various spines can usually be relied on to declare: "I'm brainy, well-informed, and committed to the issues that mean most to you and your family." But not always.

Both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton's proclaimed reading habits show intriguing overlap, including both the classic American novel Invisible Man and Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. (Translation: "I am with you black America; I have some liberal tendencies; I fear the wrath of both God and the electorate in the midwest.") And so on.

George W said he reads a lot about Churchill. (Translation: "I'm useful in battle.) But he also said in 2006 that he was taking Camus' Outsider on holiday - we never found out whether it was the promise of gratuitous killing of Arabs that appealed, or whether he wanted us to know he was not the know-nothing hick he was painted as.

So what is McCain's would-be presidential library telling us? Well, he's often advertised his fondness for Hemingway, saying "I read anything by [him] all the time. He's my favourite author." Indeed, his 2002 memoir, Worth the Fighting For, describes adopting the hero of For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan, as his role model at 13 ("... aspiring to Jordan's courage and nobility and certain I would possess it someday"...).

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