Saturday, June 14, 2008

Obama-McCain: Manhood Now and Then

In the wake of disputes over sexist treatment of Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama offer, among other contrasts, a confrontation between old ideas about manhood and new--the hard-drinking, womanizing Navy flyboy turned politician and the New Age husband in equal partnership with a powerful wife.

Stereotypes, yes, but the biographical facts are beyond dispute. On his nostalgia tour after clinching the nomination, McCain talked about misadventures in the places he was visiting.

"I remember with affection the unruly passions of youth," he said in Meridian, Miss., where he had organized an off-base toga party for military buddies and local girls.

At his Virginia high school, he recalled that his disobedience earned him the nickname "worst rat" for sneaking away to Washington burlesque houses and bars.

Outside the Naval Academy in Annapolis, McCain described "nocturnal sojourns" and the hundreds of miles he was forced to march for insubordination.

"I wanted," McCain recalled in Pensacola, "to live the life of a daring, brash, fun-loving flyer...In truth, the image I aspired to was, in the end, only irresistible to one person--me, and it was a very childish attraction."

McCain's vision of manhood comes from life as a carousing son and grandson of admirals and then his sobering experiences as a POW and a Washington politician.

Obama, on the other hand, as he tells it in his books, was an uprooted young man searching for a sense of the father he barely knew and, despite experimentation with drugs, a serious and ambitious young man, described as "grounded, motivated and poised" by his peers.

As they present themselves to voters this Father's Day weekend and beyond, McCain and Obama are both remarkable products of their life histories, representing a contrast in styles of American manhood that go far beyond their other generational differences.

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