#ThinkpieceThursday – McCain and Obama: Character Consistency in Storytelling
The U.S. election drama has me riveted. It is an amazing opportunity to see two Character Types play out their roles on the world stage. Here are two articles that demonstrate how consistently Character Types are viewed. The same basic qualities are highlighted in nearly every analysis and review of the candidate’s campaign performance.
Here is what the co-author of McCain’s memoirs said about the stories McCain loves and how they connect with his own story:
The John McCain (as he describes himself in) “Faith of My Fathers,” for example, bears more than a little resemblance to the fictional Robert Jordan of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Mr. McCain later celebrated (this Hemmingway hero) in another book (about himself) with Mr. Salter, “Worth the Fighting For,” which was named for a line of Jordan’s dying thoughts. (Jordan) was “a man who would risk his life but never his honor,” Mr. McCain wrote with Mr. Salter, a model of “how a great man should style himself.”
Each book is heavy with premonitions of mortality. Robert Jordan and John McCain each confront great tests (the temptation to escape a doomed mission for one, the offer of early prison release for the other) in the service of a lost cause (the socialists in the Spanish Civil War, the Americans in Vietnam). And in accepting his fate, each makes peace with his father and grandfather.
Mr. McCain’s admirers, like Mr. Timberg, have often puzzled over what drew him to Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage.” It is a convoluted psychodrama about a young man with a club foot; he seethes with resentment over his disability and nearly ruins his life in the thrall of a waitress-turned-prostitute who rejects him. But the character’s final realization could fit almost as well near the conclusion of Mr. McCain’s memoir: “It might be that to surrender happiness was to accept defeat, but it was a defeat better than many victories.”
“That explains it,” Mr. Salter said when he heard the line. “Perfect McCainism.”
The full New York Times article can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/13/us/politics/13mccain.html?hp
Power of Idealism characters have a sense of doomed destiny. They reject the offer of ordinary escape (and a happy life) in favor of the valiant, but doomed attempt. They embrace glorious defeat (or death on the battle field) in order to live out their own scenario of courage and personal honor.
Here’s what a recent article by a conservative New York Times columnist said about Obama:
“(O)ver the past two years, Obama has… shown the same untroubled self-confidence day after day. There has never been a moment when, at least in public, he seems gripped by inner turmoil. It’s not willpower or self-discipline he shows as much as an organized unconscious (or I might add the collective unconscious). Through some deep, bottom-up process, he has developed strategies for equanimity…
They say we are products of our environments, but Obama, the sojourner (on his quest), seems to go through various situations without being overly touched by them. Over the past two years, he has been the subject of nearly unparalleled public worship, but far from getting drunk on it, he has become less grandiloquent as the campaign has gone along.
…It could be that Obama (as a president) will be an observer, not a leader. Rather than throwing himself passionately into his causes, he will stand back. Congressional leaders, put off by his supposed intellectual superiority, will just go their own way. Lost in his own nuance, he will be passive and ineffectual. Lack of passion will produce lack of courage. The Obama greatness will give way to the Obama anti-climax.
We can each guess how the story ends. But over the past two years, Obama has clearly worn well with voters. Far from a celebrity fad, he is self-contained, self-controlled and maybe even a little dull”
The full New York Times article can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/17/opinion/17brooks.html?hp
Power of Imagination characters are humble and self-effacing quite naturally. They seek greatness from others and draw their inspiration and power from the bottom up (rather than display it from the top down like John McCain does).
Obama’s grass roots campaign and masses of small individual donations also displays this Character Type’s bottom up view of things. The danger is they are always collecting allies and consensus and avoid stepping out decisively or with passion on their own, ahead of the crowd, to really lead. They can be a bit dull and do seem quite ordinary. Their leap of faith is to move away from the unity of the crowd and make hard decisions that could be divisive.