Watching McCain posturing as the saviour of the US economy this evening I was reminded of this post by David Weinberger.
McCain’s suspending of his campaign is so very odd that I find myself looking for psychological, and not just political, explanations. So, try on this armchair psychoanalysis, keeping in mind that I’m just making this stuff up:
First, assume that McCain is desperate. When Fox puts you at 39%, desperation becomes reality-based thinking. Second — and this is the unpleasant part — imagine that McCain has had the thought that many of us had had: A terrorist attack in October would shake up the entire electoral chessboard, and might well favor the Republicans. (Yeah, yeah, I don’t think it should it, either.)
Now, no one wants a terrorist attack (except, um, the terrorists), including John McCain, of course. But we’re talking psychology here. So, could it be that McCain is reacting to the financial meltdown as if it were a large-scale terrorist attack because deep within him, he’s waiting for the crisis that saves him, the crisis that lets the aging warrior put on his flight suit one more time?
After all, the subtext of his “putting country first” trope isn’t patriotism but heroism. Heroes need crises. McCain’s brand of heroism consists of sacrifice: He gave up 5 years of his life in North Vietnam, and now he’s willing to give up campaigning.
McCain’s political problem is that in this case, his self-sacrifice seems unnecessary and can be taken as panic or cowardice. It seems like sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake. He thus runs the risk of voters turning away from the hero-without-a-cause to the leader who has one.