[SUNDAY FEAURE] David Foster Wallace on John McCain: ‘The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys and the Shrub’

On the presidential campaign trail

Seven days in the life of the late, great John McCain

(This story originally appeared in the April 13th, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone.)

Prologue: Who Cares?

Since you’re reading Rolling Stone, the chances are you’re an American between say 18 and 35, which demographically makes you a Young Voter. And no generation of Young Voters has ever cared less about politics and politicians than yours. There’s hard demographic and voter-pattern data backing this up … assuming you give a shit about data. In fact, even if you’re reading other stuff in RS, it’s doubtful you’re going to read much of this article – such is the enormous shuddering yawn that the Political Process evokes in us now, in this post-Watergate-post-Iran’Contra’ post ’Whitewater ‘post’ Lewinsky era, an era when politicians’ statements of principle or vision are understood as self-serving ad copy and judged not for their sincerity or ability to inspire but for their tactical shrewdness, their marketability. And no generation has been marketed and Spun and pitched to as ingeniously and relentlessly as today’s demographic Young. So when Senator John McCain says, in Michigan or South Carolina (which is where Rolling Stonesent the least professional pencil it could find to spend the standard media Week on the Bus with a candidate who’d never ride higher than he is right now), when McCain says “I run for president not to Be Somebody, but to Do Something,” it’s hard to hear it as anything more than a marketing angle, especially when he says it as he’s going around surrounded by cameras and reporters and cheering crowds … in other words, Being Somebody.

And when Senator John McCain also says – constantly, thumping it at the start and end of every speech and THM – that his goal as president will be “to inspire young Americans to devote them- selves to causes greater than their own self-interest,” it’s hard not to hear it as just one more piece of the carefully scripted bullshit that presidential candidates hand us as they go about the self-interested business of trying to become the most powerful, important and talked-about human being on earth, which is of course their real “cause,” to which they appear to be so deeply devoted that they can swallow and spew whole mountains of noble – sounding bullshit and convince even themselves that they mean it. Cynical as that may sound, polls show it’s how most of us feel. And it’s beyond not believing the bullshit; mostly we don’t even hear it, dismiss it at the same deep level where we also block out billboards and Muzak.

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