Commentary Magazine


Two Tales

Guest blogging for Andrew Sullivan, Chris Bodenner questions the hullaballo surrounding Barack Obama’s telling congressional Democrats, in a closed door meeting, that his becoming president is “the moment, as Nancy [Pelosi] noted, that the world is waiting for,” and that “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.” Chris writes:

Isn’t McCain’s candidacy largely built on the awe-inspiring symbolism of his own personal sacrifice and duty to country? (And rightly so.) Thus, without equating the two, why isn’t Obama’s life and candidacy also grounds for symbolic importance? (whether you personally agree it’s important or not) And why is it arrogant of him to acknowledge the obvious? McCain acknowledges his own symbolic greatness in public all the time.

I see two problems with this comparison. The first is that, unlike Obama, McCain has not predicated his campaign on his identity or personal story. He’s predicated it upon his experience, namely, his more than two decades of service in the House and Senate. A part of his campaign narrative is, yes, his character. But it’s hardly the crux of his campaign, whereas Obama — given his utter lack accomplishments befitting a potential president — has little else to base his campaign on other than his winning personality and vague calls for “change.” Obama’s greatest tangible accomplishments are two books, both of which he wrote about himself.

Secondly, to the extent that McCain has used the “awe-inspiring symbolism of his own personal sacrifice and duty to country” as a campaign theme, it’s relevant to being president. Contrary to what Wesley Clark says, getting shot down over Vietnam and being tortured for five years, while certainly not a requirement for presidential office, is a qualification. It’s a real demonstration of love of country, honor, and leadership capability. These things rightly matter to Americans when electing a president. The “symbolism” of John McCain is attributable to what he did, “his own personal sacrifice,” not who he is. What has Barack Obama “sacrificed” for America?