My take on Friday night is captured by the second and last image in the NYT.com front page post-debate slide show.
What is stunning to me is how much the media and the nets are expressing reservations about McCain’s performance when — especially listening to clips of the debate on the radio — I thought McCain was rhetorically more effective than Obama. What accounts for that, I believe, whether articulated explicitly or implicitly, is and was McCain’s manner.
These images — not so casually chosen, I believe — account for a lot about the personality of McCain, particularly his capacity to relate to others.
The first shot picks up on the point made about McCain’s lack of eye contact with Obama, which I agree stems from arrogant contempt. Driving home the contrast is Obama’s eye contact with McCain, his physical embrace, and how Obama’s overall approach, facial gesture included, actually conveys a paternal quality — all the more noteworthy coming from the much younger Obama.
In spite of his didactic and sometimes ponderous debating style, I think Obama’s performance — pairing his widely noted emotional steadiness with instances in which he looked into the camera and spoke calmly to people at home — conveyed a warmth and emotional dimensionality which departed markedly with the pique and emotional pinball quality of McCain.
This dynamics of the second shot are frankly devastating. The Obama’s “familial tone” is natural to the point of mundane. This is in contrast to the daily campaign trail spectical of John and Cindy, and the frankly peculiar, relentless helicopter-like behavior Cindy exhibits toward John. What the photo most effectively and boldly captures, however, is the distance one senses from McCain not just toward Cindy, but — at least from what I’ve observed — from John toward everyone except daughter Meghan, his males buddies Lieberman and Graham, as well as the military vets he meets on the road. Of course, what the picture more easily nails is the odd, fidgety and hyperkinetic McCain who (and I feel the psychological dynamics of this go beyond any war-related injury) never knows quite what to do with his hands.
Overall, what I think the debate reflected and The Times photos captured — especially, given McCain’s better performance along most technical measures – is how much Obama is more normal and Mac is more weird.
(image 1: Doug Mills. image 2: Stephen Crowley. New York Times. Oxford, Mississippi. September 27, 2008)