Sunday, September 21, 2008

Role Reversal

Central casting of mainstream media continues to present John McCain as "experienced, steady-at-the-helm": a "known" quantity. Barack Obama is the "callow, untested" one: wet behind those perky ears. McCain is "familiar"; Obama, "exotic". This typecasting has been burnt into malleable minds of the U.S. public at large, as recent polls have shown.

But with this week's financial meltdown, beginning with the demise of investment bank Lehman Brothers—it's only just the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history1—a dramatic and ironic role reversal was on display.

McCain convincingly played the role of the petulant, temperamental child, senselessly blaming the greedy green Wall Street monster for causing the mess2. This is from someone who writes this month in Contingencies, the magazine of the actuarial profession:

Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.3

(In a later tantrum, McCain lashes out at the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which he mixed up with the Federal Election Commission4.)

In contrast to McCain, Obama played the role of the patient, steady grownup:

... given the gravity of this situation, and based on conversations I have had with both Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke, I will refrain from presenting a more detailed blue-print of how an immediate plan might be structured until I can fully review the details of the plan proposed by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve. It is critical at this point that the markets and the public have confidence that their work will be unimpeded by partisan wrangling, and that leaders in both parties work in concert to solve the problem at hand.5

But is the public willing to see them play against their media studio typecasting? The final box office numbers have yet to be seen.


2008/09/22: As Andrew Sullivan notes in Daily Dish, even 'Goldwater-conservative' George Will sees McCain's juvenile side:

I suppose the McCain campaign's hope is that when there's a big crisis, people will go for age and experience. The question is, who in this crisis looked more presidential, calm and un-flustered? It wasn't John McCain who, as usual, substituting vehemence for coherence, said 'let's fire somebody.' And picked one of the most experienced and conservative people in the administration, Chris Cox, and for no apparent reason... It was un-presidential behavior by a presidential candidate ... John McCain showed his personality this week and it made some of us fearful.

One can't help but think of the fact that as many men (and it seems to affect men more than women) grow elderly, they seem to revert more to childlike behaviors.

1. MarketWatch: Lehman folds with record $613 billion debt
2. YouTube: McCain: Greed Created Wall Street's Problems
3. Paul Krugman: McCain on banking and health
4. YouTube: McCain confuses FEC with SEC
5. YouTube: Obama Statement on Economic Crisis [full text]