In light of the premiere of HBO’s Game Change film on the McCain/Palin (or was it Palin/McCain) campaign in 2008, I’m reblogging myself from 2008 on this very topic.
Much is being made of the fact that John McCain rarely (if ever) made eye contact with Barack Obama during their first presidential debate. While it’s possible that McCain was showing disdain for Obama by not looking at him, I also think the moderator’s effort to stage-manage the debate was a little silly. The candidates are trying to persuade us (the television audience, whose perspective is entirely controlled by the camera) not each other, so whether they looked at each other or addressed each other directly is irrelevant.
Having said that: McCain, like Hillary Clinton before him, is incredulous as he faces the prospect that people might prefer Obama over him. The entitlement attitude that excreted from the Clinton campaign (and continues to tinge Bill Clinton’s remarks) is present in the McCain-Palin campaign. However, whereas Hillary Clinton did articulate a general vision of what her presidency would be like and the policies she felt were significant, McCain-Palin articulate only this: “we aren’t Obama.” McCain’s responses during the debate were mostly attacks on Obama. When he ventured into a description of his own plans, he stumbled to find the right words.
Perhaps this is a reflection of McCain’s political psychology: the self-proclaimed maverick is most comfortable when he stands against something rather than standing for something. When McCain-Palin venture into stating what they stand for, a string of attractive cliches come forth — Country First!, patriotism, etc. — over which they claim exclusive ownership. The performative contradiction in this claim is apparent: they prefer to divide the country (i.e., to stand against other citizens) in order to win the election and are willing to do so by defining their opponents as unpatriotic. In other words, they don’t place country first and their effort to demonize other citizens makes their notion of patriotism less than credible.