Running (and Maybe Governing) Like a Grownup

So there was that really weird image from the end of the last debate. Here’s the form I saw it in first, from Kevin Drum’s The campaign in a nutshell:

And I had to think to myself, whoa, talk about a tongue jut!

Here’s the somewhat funnier version Beck showed me later:

And I know; that’s silly and beneath me. A still image can capture a moment out of context. So okay: here’s the actual context:

And being fair, McCain obviously was just making a bit of a light-hearted response to going the wrong way around the table. It was just a momentary bit of clowning around, the sort of goofy gesture I might make myself in response to feeling a little awkward, a little embarrassed, a little out of my comfort zone. It’s a brief glimpse of the real McCain, a peeking out of the real person normally concealed by the campaign facade. And on that level, I appreciate that McCain would do that. It humanizes him.

But in the contrast it makes with Obama’s much more serious tone, it really highlights a difference in temperament between the two. Obama takes this effort really seriously. McCain, on some level, not so much. And really, if McCain can’t take things seriously enough to deal with a presidential debate in a grownup manner, is he really the guy I want to have making decisions on behalf of the country as we deal with the economic crisis and military threats and global warming and all the other truly serious issues that confront us?

I thought about this more while watching the candidates responding to Katie Couric asking them why they thought politicians with so much to lose would risk it all by engaging in marital infidelity:

McCain obviously didn’t want to talk in detail about his own history here, which, given what we know about his history, was probably a good call. But listen to Obama’s response:

Obama: The more I’m in public, I mean, I don’t want to even pick my nose (laughs). I’m assuming everybody’s watching, and it’s an interesting… I’ll leave that to the psychologists. I find that the more I’m in the public eye, the more I want to make sure that people… that there’s no gap between who I am and the face that I’m presenting in the world. You want people to know that what you say is what you mean, and that’s who you are.

That dovetails nicely with the observation I was reading this morning from James Fallows, in OK, I lied, one more thing about debates. Fallows talks about an article he wrote previously, saying:

I mentioned in the article that Hillary Clinton was technically a much more polished debater than Obama through the primaries. She answered quickly and crisply; she always got to her talking points; she was almost always on her game and almost never fazed. The problem was that the deeper identity and personality she presented changed dramatically from one debate to the next. Conciliatory toward her rivals in some encounters, harshly critical in others, the shifts matching U-turns in the campaign.

I remember thinking that at the time. Fallows makes a similar point about McCain’s conduct during the general election:

Again, knowing how things are ending up, it’s easy to see a pattern looking back. John McCain, like Hillary Clinton, has suffered from internal shifts and contradictions in his message and affect. Gracious, high-minded, and bi-partisan seeming in some cases. (The first half of his convention speech; interviews like the one mentioned here in which he pleads for a civil, high-road campaign; his generous remarks about Obama just now at the Al Smith dinner in New York; and of course the identity he cultivated with the press over the previous decade or two.) And on the other hand: the choice of Palin, the Bill Ayers-style campaigning, and most of all his ill-concealed contempt and choler through all three debates.

Obama, like all politicians, has trimmed or shifted on some issues and straddled some mismatched policies. But that it is so hard to find contradictions in his style, personality, and larger “work together” message either says something impressive about his discipline or shows something deeper about his essential nature. To persuadable voters, I think it has come across as “integrity” in the neutrally descriptive sense: that is, wholeness and consistency, as opposed to internal tension and contradiction. What it would mean in office we’ll see if he wins. I think we’ve already seen that it is a huge electoral asset.

I think Fallows has a really good point. It’s what I’ve been talking about when I’ve said how much I wish we had “government by grownups.”

Obama has integrity, in a sense that Hillary and McCain demonstrably, on the basis of how they’ve conducted their campaigns, do not. And while it might be argued that Obama has had the luxury of keeping (mostly) to the high road, by virtue of his lead in the polls, I don’t think that’s fair to him. The fact is, there were some dark days for his team during the primaries, when it looked like Hillary was on a roll. There were some similar dark days in the wake of McCain’s convention bounce and the first wave of enthusiasm for Sarah Palin. Through it all, Obama has remained remarkably consistent. He has run a mostly positive campaign, focused on the issues, focused on challenging the nation to rise above the petty sound-bite politics by which we’ve been led around too often.

I know it’s not over. This is no time to relax. But I’m confident that Obama is the right choice. I have no lingering doubts about that. However this chapter in our national history turns out, he is leading us in the right direction. Despite who he is, the weird name and “exotic” background and (of course) the color of his skin, the country is ready to follow him.

I’ve been enjoying reading about the Obama field organization lately. Here’s one of my favorite stories, from Sean Quinn at On the road: Western Pennsylvania.

So a canvasser goes to a woman’s door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she’s planning to vote for. She isn’t sure, has to ask her husband who she’s voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, “We’re votin’ for the n***er!”

Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: “We’re voting for the n***er.”

Me too.

3 Responses to “Running (and Maybe Governing) Like a Grownup”

  1. Craig Says:

    Your ideas about “grownups” makes me laugh sometimes! McCain’s spontaneous reaction to an awkward stage misstep makes him human, but not grownup and too cavalier about debates? Frankly, I’d be a little worried about someone who was always projecting a measured, sober-minded image, and seemed in total control of themselves. We’re all human, and that irrational, angry, implusive, or goofy side of us has to show up in some way.

    We all idealize our heros or at least those we look up to, and this is kind of what I see as especially fervent in many Obama supporters. As polished as he is, he is still human and beyond that, a politician! I think some people are going to get their hearts broken before his presidency is even a year old. Not because he’ll be crappy, but because he will fall off this impossible mantle that many have placed him on.

    Then again, maybe he really IS from planet Krypton, so this human frailties discussion is moot!

  2. enkidu Says:

    some funny pshops

  3. » Blog Archive » Decision 2008 Says:

    […] UPDATE, 10/23: At, jbc goes into the goofy moment in more depth, and links to good commentary by Atlantic Monthly’s […]

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