Edging back into politics: "My First Kill"

Many people have noted that this past week was a bad time for John McCain to have published an article promising to deregulate the health insurance industry, "as we have done over the last decade in banking," given the collapse of the banking industry due in part to that deregulation.

True enough. For later, something "serious" about the relationship between financial chaos and the McCain/Palin predicament in this race.

But my immediate reaction to the flap was to sympathize with whatever poor schlub had actually cranked out the article in question, which appeared in Contingencies, the closely-followed journal of the American Academy of Actuaries. The article just before it in Contingencies's newest issue was "An Actuary Weighs the Proposals." I love the magazine business.

Two things are 100% certain about this article:

1) John McCain did not write it;
2) Whoever did write it was just trying to get through the to-do deadline list for that day in the campaign office, and knew that the simplest way to do so was to cut-and-paste from existing statements on health policy.

I sympathized because on my very first day as a cub speechwriter in the Jimmy Carter campaign office, 26 years old and ready to inspire the nation, I was told that I had two hours to turn out an article "by" Carter for an important interest group.

The ACLU, about Carter's views on civil liberties? His fellow Naval Academy alums, about the future of the military? The Urban League or NAACP? No, no, and no.

This was for some pro-gun journal, which had asked presidential candidates to describe their hunting memories, to be published under the headline "My First Kill." I thumbed through Carter's writings and speeches (no internet search then) and asked people who had known him, and came up with a touching yet manly reflection on gunning down a squirrel. Then it was on to the next emergency of that day.

No doubt a health policy statement requires more substantive details (though less atmospheric description!) than "My First Kill." And the official journal of the American Academy of Actuaries is more august than the place I was writing for. But I am certain that whoever churned this out did so in a similar meet-the-deadline spirit --  and, like me, with no built in expectation that the results would ever be part of general press consciousness. No cosmic point here; just an observation of the culture of campaigns.

Now: on to the debates.