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McCain's Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express with John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking About Hope

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,019 ratings  ·  93 reviews
Is John McCain "For Real?"

That's the question David Foster Wallace set out to explore when he first climbed aboard Senator McCain's campaign caravan in February 2000. It was a moment when Mccain was increasingly perceived as a harbinger of change, the anticandidate whose goal was "to inspire young Americans to devote themselves to causes greater than their own self-inter
Paperback, 144 pages
Published June 1st 2008 by Back Bay Books (first published September 1st 2000)
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 ·  1,019 ratings  ·  93 reviews

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Start your review of McCain's Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express with John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking About Hope
May 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: dfw, nonfictions
im not really sure why this is being published now, when it was written for the ghost of election past, but im not going to complain because i love the dfw, and now i can rate it. greg will never catch me!!!

It's been a few years since I've read anything of Wallace's, but every time I do, I'm struck as if for the first time by the way he used language (which is not to be imitated, as my mercifully unpublished 2011-2012 attempt at a novel will attest). His prose opens up a world that you never could've seen on your own, and repeated readings always seem to yield something new. I've read this essay three times now, for example, but it was only this last time that I really appreciated Wallace's descrip
Nov 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

It’s Thanksgiving, 2015, and we’re in the throes of the craziest presidential campaign ever, because of one Donald J. Trump, so I decided to re-read Wallace’s essay about presidential campaigns, the 2000’s Republican’s campaign for its nominee. The contest was between George W. Bush and Senator John S. McCain. I wish I could gather all my family and friends around the fire this Thanksgiving and we could talk about politics and the campaign, after everyone reads this essay. Wallace takes us insid
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
"Salesman or leader or neither or both, the final paradox – the really tiny central one, way down deep inside all the other campaign puzzles' spinning boxes and squares that layer McCain – is that whether he's truly 'for real' now depends less on what is in his heart than on what might be in yours."
Although McCain has by now (2016) largely receded into history's shadows, the campaign trail of 2000 as recounted by DFW is still relevant. This is because DFW, as is his wont, asks the perennial
DFW is breathtakingly genius, as you can see in this supposedly non-political long essay on McCain2000 Campaign. A must-read, especially in the exhaustion/excitement of the election days.
Tom Stamper
Oct 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is best described as David Foster Wallace's experience traveling with John McCain in the winter of 2000 as he tried to wrest the Republican nomination from George W. Bush. 16 years old and this story is already a period piece. It's easy to forget that McCain was treated like Prince Valiant by the media in 2000. He wouldn't get the same treatment in 2008 when the media had a new Prince. But the real story is less about McCain and how Wallace sees the political process.

Wallace comes to a con
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting narrative, I think 2018 could learn a lot from 2000 McCain.

I also think DFW would have hated covering 2016. Hell, probably even 2008 and 2012.
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
With the same brilliancy of his essays Consider The Lobster and Big Red Son, DFW provides another thorough lookout inside the Mcain2000. DFW is aware of the dullness of politics and the Indifference people have for it, yet he strays away from repetitiveness and pretentiousness of political writing and brings us an honest and new look to it.
Joe Deegan
Jun 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a really good book, at the surface about John McCain's 2000 campaign for the Republican nomination, but also about the broader state of political campaigning. DFW initially wrote this as an article for Rolling Stone, but the original piece was way too long to print (three times too long), so they published an abridged version in the magazine and the full thing as this book.

The magazine article is really good, it takes about an hour, and is definitely worth a read - you can read it here h
John Wiswell
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In 2000, John McCain was beloved to both major parties in the U.S. and couldn't get the nomination from either. It was possible that if he ran against both candidates that he'd win, but of course that didn't happen. David Foster Wallace was embedded with McCain's campaign, doomed to lose out to George W. Bush, and shrewdly observed how McCain made messages out of himself, how the staff tried to manipulate those messages, and how the country refused to see the candidate as a complex human being. ...more
Joey Nelson
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So fun reading David Foster Wallace’s take on (semi) modern American politics.

“It’s hard to get good answers to why most Young Voters are so uninterested in politics. This is probably because it’s next to impossible to get someone to think hard about why he’s not interested in something. The boredom itself preempts inquiry; the fact of the feeling’s enough. Surely one reason, though, is that politics is not cool. Or say rather that cool, interesting, alive people do not seem to be the ones who a
Lisa Claire
Apr 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An as-it-happened commentary penned by my favourite GenX writer of the 2000 Republican Presidential nomination race: where going negative worked against expectations, where the anti-candidate lost to the establishment favourite, and "alt-media" meant The Rolling Stone, not obscure puppet blogs masquerading as legitimate news sites (pardon my cynicism).

It's hard to imagine John McCain as an Anti-Candidate (and even harder as the greater of two evils as he's sometimes sceptically cast by Wallace)
Mar 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the end, the Shrub won. McCain, the anticandidate of the 2000's could not stand a chance in a Republican Establishment bent on regaining the power, returning to the "good old days". We know how and when by watching TV, or reading the news. And we take the news as it is. Sent by the Rolling Stones mag. on McCain's campaign trail, David Foster Wallace chose a different approach in understanding the party politics, the Babel-like going and coming of political strategies. On top if it, he present ...more
E. C. Koch
Feb 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Apart from J. Weisberg's intro. you're not getting anything here that you didn't get in the version printed in CtL; so it should be said right off the bat that you probably shouldn't buy this unless you just really need to read what Weisberg says about what Wallace says about McCain's now sixteen-year-old campaign or to complete a shrine or something. That said, this is a(nother) really great essay by DFW that hits on his major themes of sincerity and belief in a toxically aloof pomo culture tha ...more
Kristin Schuck
Mar 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this because I've been trying to get my nerve up to read Infinite Jest. I've actually even checked IJ out from the library once or twice, but been too intimidated to crack it open. So I looked up David Foster Wallace's books at the library and checked out the best reviewed DFW book available. Just so happened to be only 144 pages (I think IJ has over 1,000 pages.)

This book was a piece that started as a far-shorter Rolling Stone article published during John McCain's failed 2000 run at th
Martin Kurniadi
Sep 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essay, political
In here, David Foster Wallace was trying to tell that John McCain, the candidate of United States President in year 2000, as objective as he could.

He was chosen to represent the Rolling Stones, as a non-political writer, to see and write about this man. There is a lot I don't know about presidency in the United States, especially back then, but I know after reading this that politics itself is a battleground. It is mischievous, selfish, and filled with boobie-trapped stage everyone needs to be c
Sep 23, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
It's less about McCain the candidate (or even McCain the man), then it is about how the press that covers a campaign becomes part of it. It is also interesting in light of everything we've been talking about. Consider this description of political candidates:

", interesting, alive people do not seem to be the ones who are drawn to the political process. Think back to the sort of kids in high school or college who were into running for student office: dweeby, overgroomed, obsequious to auth
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
more about the media coverage surrounding presidential campaigns than it is about McCain 2000 -- which is great.
also the source of this much-quoted & endlessly relevant paragraph:
If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who rest assured are not dumb and are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychologi
Dan Douglas
Great reporting from John McCain's 2000 campaign. Reading it in light of today's political moment is all the more interesting. Wallace shows what a dog-and-pony show political campaigning is, and how difficult it can be for an honest candidate to make headway in a system that is designed for effectiveness rather than transparency and honesty.

The writing and point-of-view is amazing. The only downside of this essay is that it abruptly stops where it should keep going--to the eventual loss and un
Ken Heard
Jan 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Rolling Stone puts a reporter on the bus of what first is a marginal candidate for president who becomes the front runner and tells him to write what he sees. Sound familiar? The magazine did the same in 1971 when Hunter S. Thompson covered the George McGovern campaign, and Thompson did a far better, more insightful job.

That's not to say David Foster Wallace failed. He did okay with his observations of life on the road, with behind the looks at John McCain and other reporters, with the "Twelve M
Sep 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book-length meditation on McCain2000, originally a much shorter Rolling Stone piece. Part think-piece, part investigative journalism, it's just Wallace doing his humanist/pomo thing. Nonetheless, an interesting/necessary perspective on McCain as an extraordinarily intelligent and honorable man (a great reading on the meaning of McCain's time in the Hanoi Hilton) saying, ultimately, some very scary shit. Also, a lot of good stuff on the mechanics of contemporary campaigns, much of which ...more
Evan Kirby
It's good and all, but it never feels particularly revelatory about the ins and outs of covering a campaign and what campaign life is, what is basically the intent of the whole thing in the first place. All the John McCain insights about his personality don't really seem that interesting or new, but I think that's primarily due to the fact that I'm reading this 16 years after it was written and McCain's other presidential campaigns since then have informed this portrait of him that I already kne ...more
Love DFW, this is a slighter longer politically oriented "This is water". Same humor, less of a central message, but still thought provoking.

It's centered on DFW's unconventional and fish-out-of-water political coverage of one week on the 2000 John McCain presidential campaign trail.

I like non-fiction political books a little too much. Especially the gossipy ones. This was a cool perspective on a cool event.
Sep 26, 2017 rated it liked it
I read this hoping for something along the lines of Hunter Thompson's writings on the '72 campaign trail. This didn't quite measure up due to Wallace seeming to have very little interest in politics (a chapter is titled 'Who Cares' and another, 'Who Even Cares, Who Cares'). That made for some interesting observations on political media and fine writing on McCain's torture in Vietnam (stabbed in the nuts!!!!), but left out the soul.
Kyle Butcher
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Maybe I'm reading too far into it's implications with our current POTUS's anti-candidate -president status, but I could help but feel this book might've been an unknowing predictor of our political predicament.

Not really a book except for it was bound & I bought it on Amazon; not really like other DFW I've read except it both highlights the (almost) necessary response of PM cynicism while producing hope.
Satyabrata Mishra
In this brilliant essay on John McCain, David F. Wallace shows the making and breaking of McCain's presidential candidacy; the rise of an anti candidate to his fall amongst populist explosion. Full of Wallace's trademark dry wit, this prose is apt for a quick afternoon read for all political science fans.
Jeff Cunningham
Feb 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant political insights

Wallace cuts through every personality and every move that takes place on the campaign. He proves himself the most adept political observer while at the same time confesses he was never a journalist, just pretending (brilliantly) to be one.
May 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
It's a magazine article in long form.
Entertaining and insightful, a nice little dish from DFW's kitchen.
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was really interesting reading this book about McCain's 2000 presidential primary, comparing it mentally to Trump. Interesting how the Republican machine was able to protect the Shrub, arguably a weaker person and candidate than McCain, but was unable to protect the country from Trump, a much weaker person and candidate than the Shrub, McCain, and many other Republican candidates. And I love David Foster Wallace's sentence construction. I know it's not considered well-written, but I find it h ...more
Dec 31, 2019 rated it did not like it
Doesn't really stand up. His analysis -- which posits that politicians who present themselves as authentic might actually be doing so for the media narrative! -- feels quaint in 2019. I was hoping for some good DFW prose stylings but not much there either. Read any other DFW essays instead, or read "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72" for a better dissecting of the political circus.
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David Foster Wallace worked surprising turns on nearly everything: novels, journalism, vacation. His life was an information hunt, collecting hows and whys. "I received 500,000 discrete bits of information today," he once said, "of which maybe 25 are important. My job is to make some sense of it." He wanted to write "stuff about what it feels like to live. Instead of being a relief from what it fe ...more

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