I've been looking for a way to package this observation, and I haven't been able to figure it out. What I'm hoping is that by the end of this post, I'll have it.
When it comes to politicians, there are two ways of thinking. Well, there are lots of ways of thinking, but the only way to make a point seem even remotely interesting is to simplify it into two camps. In my case, the two camps are "in vacuum" and "in context."
The easiest example to illustrate what I'm trying to get at is the Monica Lewinsky affair. Using Vacuum Thinking (hey, I just capitalized the words; I'm getting close to the "package"!), I was outraged at the outrage. It was a personal matter. I don't care what happened to whom in the Oval Office or anywhere else. The brutal truth is that philandering has nothing to do with leadership. In fact, a convincing case can be made that the relationship is inversely proportional (the ol' "Hitler didn't smoke, drink or cheat, but Winston Churchill and FDR..." argument). Someone who makes bad personal decisions often makes very good professional ones, and vice versa.
On the other hand, using Context Thinking, I'm more outraged now than I was then. This type of thinking always starts with the words, "As a professional, you should know better than to..." Using this thinking, the act was reckless and damaging beyond comprehension. What you did not only brought you down, but damaged the party that put you in power, and thus everything you're supposedly trying to accomplish... paving the way for the next president to be chosen purely based on the perception of his personal morality, even if he's not fit for the job in any other way. (See what that got us?)
In looking at this year's presidential election, I move between these two ways of thinking in analyzing the candidates. With Obama, it goes to the heart of the American Contradiction when it comes to choosing candidates: You want someone who seems nice, down to earth and truly different from other politicians (Vacuum Thinking), but you also want someone with a killer instinct who understands the political system and is willing to do the dirty work to win (Context Thinking).
With McCain, it’s almost in reverse. I want to believe that his Evangelical Elite pandering is simply him doing what it takes to win (Context), but that once he gets in the Oval Office, he’ll go back to his free-thinking, mostly rational ways (Vacuum). McCain’s campaign recently floated the idea that he would only run for one term. That made him much more attractive in my eyes, because he wouldn’t have to spend his first presidency running for his second term, and he could stand up to his base.
We'll see if the conventions shed any light on this. In the meantime, I find myself in the odd position of reading about how Obama, out of political necessity, has ticked allies off in Chicago during his rapid ascendancy ... and seeing it as something in his favor.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Posted by Marc Conklin at 8:32 AM