President John McCain looked at the election projections for 2004 and did something rare: he smiled. The economy was rebounding. The wide variety of wild-card independent candidates that ran for the House in 2002 off-year elections actually won and helped force concessions — and thus compromise — on both elder political parties. Osama bin Laden never made it out of Afghanistan alive, the al Qaeda cells in Yemen were on the defensive, Saddam Hussein was giving U.N inspectors free reign, large tax and spending cuts had been enacted as part of the Ross Perot Taxpayer Relief Act, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was law, pork barrel spending was under attack and the Rebuild America program seemed to produce a new ribbon-cutting ceremony each week.
“I cannot believe I almost did not do this,” McCain said to Vice President John Kerry as they looked out over the Rose Garden. Kerry smiled and said, “Neither did I.” Reelection looked like a cinch.
McCain’s four years as president were as counter-intuitive as his 2000 campaign. He became the president that the media had suggested – a Teddy Roosevelt Bull Moose with an Abe Lincoln self-deprecation that let him see the value of progress as opposed to triumph. He transformed into a new president for a new century; not only did he read his favorable press clips during his campaign and believe them, he became that man and that politician.
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