Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Moment Which Defined This Election? "That One."

It's a catchy headline that a columnist salivates over. Yet I found myself so reluctant to use it that I decided not to follow my normal pattern of writing immediately after a debate due to the way it dominated my thoughts.

With an evening to think on it and a good night's sleep behind, I realize it dominated my thoughts for a reason.

The appalling and disrespectful moment when John McCain referred to Barack Obama by pointing a finger sideways and saying "that one" with utter disdain captures everything about the man that gives me pause when I imagine him as President.

Moments can define people. As a writer and a film buff I should know this. When Lawrence of Arabia stands on the roof of the train, when Sidney Poitier says, "They call me Mr. Tibbs!" or when Indiana Jones casually pulls his gun and shoots the swordsman in the marketplace, those characters are defined forever.

John McCain defined himself in that moment. He thinks he is better than everyone around him. He thinks that this presidency is his because he deserves it and no one else does. He showed not only disdain for Barack Obama, but for all of us. Our votes are his by right. He doesn't need to earn them.

See, John McCain thinks he is entitled to that post. He thinks that the fact that he has to go out and cater to all of us in order to be elected is ridiculous. Because why should he have to parade around in front of these people who are beneath him in order to get the job he so obviously deserves?

I struggle with this characterization. It is an awful thing to say about a man who suffered as a P.O.W. and who has spent the great majority of his life in service to his country.

But it fits.

If I was writing John McCain, as a character in a novel, and I needed the reader to "get this" about the character, I could not have chosen a better way to make the point. And it changes the rest of his actions in ways that make sense within the character. It explains his choice of Sarah Palin, since her obvious flaws become inconsequential to a man who thinks he knows so much more than those around him. The pat on the back of the audience member, the constant use of the condescending "my friends" and the repeating of talking points that have already been shown to be untrue all make sense from this point of view into John McCain.

It explains why he thinks he can fly into Washington with a non-suspended suspension of his campaign and think that he will emerge victorious. It explains why he feels it's no big deal to blow off David Letterman. It explains his role in the Keating Five. It explains his first marriage and how it ended. It explains the awful jokes.

And it fits with a man who was involved in three flying accidents in the Navy before he was shot down and yet never lost his wings because of who his father was. With a man who knew they wouldn't kick him out of the Naval Academy. With a man who pledged this spring to run a clean campaign on the issues and instead is running what the New York Times called this morning "one of the most appalling campaigns we can remember."

It explains why he can't look at Obama. It explains why he is okay running the horrible ads. It explains why he can make outrageous claims like Obama not agreeing to ten Town Halls "forced" him to go negative and why he can tell his lies with a wink and a smile.

It's a moment I am not going to be able to shake easily. Because, as a writer, I feel it reveals character. Perfectly. I couldn't have written a better scene and thus I am hard-pressed to explain away what I saw and heard.

The only question to be answered is who John McCain respects less. Barack Obama? Or all of us?

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