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Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Author on John McCain: "Being an insurgent is in his DNA"

Sept. 11, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The recent surge on Republican presidential candidate John McCain's campaign demonstrates that he is most effective when battling from behind, says a political scientist who published a book about McCain eight years ago.

"When his campaign seemed to collapse, I said, 'OK, he's ready for a comeback," said John Karaagac, who lectures on public policy in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) at Indiana University Bloomington. "Being an insurgent is in his DNA."

Karaagac's book John McCain: An Essay in Military and Political History, was published by Lexington Books in 2000. It is not a biography but a "biographical study" in the form of a series of essays built around McCain's life story. Karaagac, who also teaches in John Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, is also the author of Between Promise and Policy: Ronald Reagan and Conservative Reformism; The Bush Paradox: A Study in Contemporary Politics and The Fate of the Father: The Bush Policy Paradox.

Karaagac describes McCain as a conservative reformer, a conformist who "selectively" bolts from the herd.

"There's a tension there," Karaagac said. "McCain has been alternately defiant of authority yet extremely faithful to a kind of honor code."

McCain's central message, he says, is not his words but the way he has lived his life -- especially his five years as a North Vietnamese prisoner of war.

"That's his road to Damascus. That's the alpha and omega of John McCain's experience," Karaagac said. "He was 'blessed,' as he says. He was given an opportunity to be tested in a meaningful way."

In selecting Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate, Karaagac said, McCain may have responded to her image as an outsider-reformer rooted in the American West, someone who evoked the original reform Republican Theodore Roosevelt.

"Seeing this woman, basically out of nowhere, having the moxie to take on the establishment, I think that played a role in it," he said. The choice of Palin also appeased the religious right, Karaagac said, an element in the Republican Party that McCain has never known how to handle. "What's appeasement to one person could be good party-building to another."

Reporters may contact Karaagac by email at or through Steve Hinnefeld at Indiana University Communications, 812-856-3488 or