I'm really going to put my head in the lion's mouth this time.
Before I begin, allow me to preface my idealistic whining with this: I know campaigns are rough. I know that candidates volunteer to have themselves go through the things that I am going to later refer to as "downright shitty." And I know that politics is a nasty arena. I know it's bloody, in the figurative sense. I know it's not for the weak, and if you can't take the heat, um, don't sit your ass directly on a stove.
But I'm just going to come out and say it: Sen. John McCain needs a hug.
I didn't feel my usual sense of schadenfreude while watching McCain flail about in this week's presidential debate. (Which, it should be said, was staged and shot so awkwardly that Tommy Schlamme himself couldn't have blocked this thing.) I hated how he acted. He was smug, he was combative and defensive. He was acting like a guy who knew he was losing and knew he had something to prove. But there was a moment towards the end when Sen. Barack Obama reminded us what McCain was responsible for and why he would be a bad choice. McCain was on camera, and he just looked completely defeated. It made me sad for him. He didn't look like a politician anymore - he looked like a human being, one who had been through live television hell.
Like I said, these men have voluntarily subjected themselves to public scrutiny. But stripping down everything that we all discuss on this blog, John McCain and Barack Obama are still just men. One of them grew up in a military family, went to war, survived being a tortured prisoner of war, then came back to serve the country that sent him to war. The other one was born to a single, teenage mother, and grew up to live out the American dream against all odds by muddling his way through college and entering public service. They are both sons, husbands and fathers, one of them a grandfather. And the campaign has turned them both into two-dimensional caricatures of the public versions of themselves. Most of us don't know either candidate personally, so this is all we get - two characters, rather than people, who are way too easy to attack.
Neither one is a blameless, holy creature. But calling McCain an erratic, scary old man in questionable health who has a tendency to fly off the handle has got to be really hard on his family and the people who see him on a daily basis. Though not as hard as rallies featuring people calling for Obama's assassination and equating, no, identifying him as a terrorist. But it's all so easy when you're not referring to another human being, when all you're referring to is a name and a party platform, or a photo in the paper, or a campaign ad on the radio or TV. Obama even brought that up himself, saying that McCain couldn't talk about the "terrorist thing" (my quotes, not a direct quote from Obama) to his face, a sentiment echoed by his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, another fellow sentient human being who displayed such emotions during the VP debate with Gov. Sarah Palin.
Now, there's a person who has been completely devoid of humanity since she entered the national scene. Thanks to her being "handled" by the McCain camp, she now comes off as a production of the Walt Disney Corporation. At this point, she's really nothing but nice hair and a fun accent. Which is why she will be the number one Halloween costume this year. For women and men. She's not a "hockey mom" anymore, or a mother of five who somehow balanced her growing family with serving her community, moving higher and higher up in the ranks. She's a cartoon. I feel bad for her, too. But I would have a beer with Sarah Palin. I would have a beer with President Bush. I would probably need many, many beers if we ever brought up politics, but take out the baby pictures or talk about "Ghostbusters"? I would do it! Would I support them politically? Hell, no! Hell, no!
The way I feel about this downright shitty campaign reminds me why I'm a big leftie and why I vote Democratic. I think about people. Way too much. I was told recently that I'm like a "psychic sponge," meaning that if someone feels bad, I'll absorb it. And that's a lot of crap to absorb. I need to knock it off. But I would rather think of people as real people than write them off as numbers, statistics or faceless mannequins. The GOP platform is anti-human. It calls for minimal interference by small government while wanting to take away our rights to make the most personal, human choices, the ones we make with our hearts and souls. Government so small that it's only meant to legislate our loins, apparently.
So why, oh, why, would I offer a hug to someone who supports such policies? Because I'm a big hugger? Yes, but mostly because as a liberal, I believe wholeheartedly in the First Amendment. I'm very nearly an absolutist, if not for campaign finance reform, on which I am, admittedly, undecided. This means I believe that no matter what we believe, we are all allowed to say it. Even if it's ugly. The GOP is allowed to say all the ugly, nasty shit they're spewing at rallies. (Save for the death threats, obviously. That's actually...criminal.) And the Democrats can come back with their own. Such ugliness makes a civil disagreement so refreshing. Exhibit A: Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan. Exhibit B: Me and a conservative friend who prefer to talk about a fictional TV show all day. What makes it better is the respect for our fellow human being. Yes, we fundamentally disagree. No, I'll never agree with you. Yes, I think what you believe in is ruining us as a race. No, I will not change my mind. But thanks for not expecting me to.
If any of the presidential candidates came up to me and, to my face, called me an asshole and punched me in the mouth before I had a chance to defend myself, then yeah, I'd probably not be writing this treacly, Aaron Sorkin-y article right now. And maybe it has something to do with being a nerd who was barked at in school, called a freak and Poindexter, and designated Captain of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee. It was so easy to make fun of me. So, so easy. Still is. It will be even easier for you to leave amazingly nasty comments below. And I'll let you. But it's really easy to do that to someone you've never met. Which is why I don't read my comments. (I really don't. Please, post away.)
I suppose that's why the campaign ugliness is easy, on some level, for those who subject themselves to it to brush off. But all I know is John McCain looked like he knew he lost. Again. And that sucks for him. I don't want him to win, but I don't want him to feel like shit. Sure, he was a POW, and that sucked a lot worse than some silly vanity show like this. But this was on live television, with over 63 million people watching, and the media waiting on baited breath. I mean, he called Barack Obama, a man who beat out early 2007's "presumptive" nominee Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination and the country's first African-American presidential candidate, "that one." Bad move. But you know what happened? The human came out. And the human feels like he's been running his heart out for this gig, again, and this newbie is going to snatch it from him. Just like "that other one" did eight years ago. This all sucks for McCain. It sucks so much that he wanted the guys who mercilessly beat him into the ground in the dirtiest, dirtiest way to do the same thing to "that one." I don't think he's a pathetic old man. I think he's a human being, just like us, who has let his competitiveness compromise his judgment. It happened to Hillary Clinton. (For whom, by the way, the dirty, nasty campaigning thing worked like a charm.) They went the way of the "doodyface" campaign by going personal - looking like bullies and not leaders.
Barack Obama is a good politician. I don't mean that as an epithet, as it usually is used. I just think he can be a leader without letting things get to him. McCain (and Palin) and Clinton cracked under the pressure and let their campaigns go awry. Obama hasn't let that happen, and I have every reason to believe that he'll be a steady, strong leader of our country.
And I hope John McCain congratulates him on "Saturday Night Live" afterwards, laughing at himself like he used to. That's the guy I would hug.
And for those of you Joe Six-Packs and hockey moms playing the drinking game: Human.