Posted by: mutantpoodle | October 2, 2008

The Least Angry Man

Kudos to Joe Klein, who figured out John McCain this summer and has been, along with Andrew Sullivan, dismantling him in pieces large and small. Today, he talks about Presidential temperament:

We journalists have an extensive vocabulary for cataloging the failures of politicians and a skimpy one for celebrating their successes. It’s safer to be skeptical: no one will ever accuse you of being in the tank. And so we’ve heard lots, in a negative way, about Obama’s coolness and intellectuality. And at times in this campaign — during Hillary Clinton’s populist transformation, after Sarah Palin’s convention speech — Obama’s demeanor has seemed problematic. He was too remote, too cerebral and nuanced in his answers, it was said; he had to get warmer, learn to love junk food, practice his bowling. But Obama stubbornly remained himself through the tough times; his preternatural calm has proved reassuring in both the economic crisis and the first debate. “His performance has been polished and steady,” a prominent Republican told me. “John’s has not been.”

Part of Obama’s steadiness is born of necessity: An angry, or flashy, black man isn’t going to be elected President. But I’ve also gotten the sense, in the times I’ve interviewed and chatted with him, that calm is Obama’s natural default position. He is friendly, informal, accessible…and a mystery, hard to get to know. He doesn’t give away much, doesn’t — unlike Bill Clinton — have that desperate need to make you like him. His brilliant, at times excessive, oratory is an outlier — the only over-the-top, Technicolor quality he has. There has been no grand cathartic moment for him in this campaign, but rather a steady accretion of trust, a growing public sense that he knows what he’s talking about and isn’t going to get crazy on us. His demeanor has rendered foolish all the rumors about his alleged radicalism. This guy is the furthest thing imaginable from an extremist; McCain, by his own admission, is the bomb-thrower in this race.

To which I’d add two comments.

First, stubbornly remaining yourself is the mark of a grown-up, and God knows we could use one of them as our President.

Second, there was a day when someone I worked with – an enormously successful executive – pointed out that making people like you wasn’t part his job description. He didn’t mean that you had to be an asshole – he just meant that people liking you – or not – was usually irrelevant to the performance of one’s job.

Now, clearly in politics you can’t get too far if some people don’t like you. But Obama likes – or more accurately, is comfortable with – himself. That’s a rare and appealing trait, and one absent from John McCain. (You can always tell – people who are comfortable with themselves simply don’t blow up, and McCain, well, not so much.) Obama’s comfort with himself allows us to get comfortable with him.

And McCain is just an angry, angry man these days. His Sarah Palin gamble is crapping out, and he’s losing to some young punk when it’s HIS TURN, DAMMIT!

Last night, after the bailout bill passed, Obama sought McCain out:

As the two shared the Senate floor tonight for the first time since they won their party nominations, Obama stood chatting with Democrats on his side of the aisle, and McCain stood on the Republican side of the aisle.

So Obama crossed over into enemy territory.

He walked over to where McCain was chatting with Republican Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida and Independent Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut. And he stretched out his arm and offered his hand to McCain.

McCain shook it, but with a “go away” look that no one could miss. He tried his best not to even look at Obama.

Finally, with a tight smile, McCain managed a greeting: “Good to see you.”

Obama got the message. He shook hands with Martinez and Lieberman — both of whom greeted him more warmly — and quickly beat a retreat back to the Democratic side.

McCain’s in a pretty deep hole, which brings us back to Joe Klein:

The polls have McCain in free fall now. “John’s advisers are sitting around, trying figure out their next Hail Mary pass,” the prominent Republican told me. “But most Hail Marys aren’t successful. They fall to the ground in the end zone.” Sometimes a frantic heave will net a score, but you get the sense that even if McCain stages a last-minute rally, Obama will not be daunted. Under insane pressure — as brutal a year on the stump as I’ve ever seen — he has kept his head. He is the least angry man.

Obama is rising – and McCain falling – because, on a visceral level, people are looking for that kind of calm and maturity.

The grownup in this contest is the far younger man.


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