11/24/2008 10:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Nightingale's Song: Why John McCain Should Not Be Underestimated

John McCain is campaigning the way he boxed at Annapolis. In The Nightingale's Song, Robert Timberg writes that Midshipman McCain would compensate for his lack of athleticism in the ring by throwing punches until his opponent went down. "He won all his fights by knockouts or TKOs."

This is what he's now doing to Obama, who's younger, fitter, and quicker on his feet. But for the moment Obama seems to be playing the rope-a-dope, letting McCain swing away until he exhausts himself. He needs to be careful. The rope-a-dope is a risky strategy; it requires the ability to withstand tremendous punishment. For this reason, Hillary Clinton may have served an invaluable purpose; she was Obama's unwitting sparring partner, conditioning him for the big fight ahead.

And yet no one should understimate McCain. He may be the whitest fossil in North America, but if you read Timberg's book you'll see he's made of steel. The Nightingale's Song is an account of five Annapolis graduates who went on to achieve national notoriety: Oliver North, Robert McFarlane, John Poindexter, Jim Webb, and McCain. The first three masterminded the Iran-Contra scandal. Webb, of course, is a U.S. senator from Virginia (and my pick to be Obama's VP, his stated disinterest in the office notwithstanding). Each of these men---good and bad---is extraordinary. But when you read what McCain had to go through as a POW in Vietnam, you have to tip your hat. You cheer him on as he taunts his torturers. This doesn't mean I will vote for him. I would have voted for him in 2000, against Al Gore. Now I will do everything I can to keep him from the White House. McCain has either sold out or turned fanatic. Timberg notes that when Reagan sent the Marines into Lebanon in the early 1980s, the then-Arizona congressman voted against a resolution that would have allowed the president to keep the troops there another eighteen months. "The longer we stay in Lebanon," he said, "the harder it will be for us to leave . . . We will be trapped by the case we make for having our troops there in the first place." How things have changed!

After reading The Nightingale's Song, you will admire McCain---and lament what he has thrown away in his pursuit of power. But when he returns from Hawaii, Obama had better get off the ropes and hit this slugger with everything he's got. He's not going down without a fight.

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