In the first 2008 presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, McCain started the debate by announcing, without the least trace of Republican irony, and with deep regret and soberness (as if he were about to well up with tears), that Ted Kennedy was in the hospital.
McCain called Kennedy “the lion of the Senate”—and I sensed that his voice wanted to crack.
McCain also spoke, later in the debate, of his 35 year relationship with Henry Kissinger.
I couldn’t help but read these two moments in Freudian terms—that John McCain’s sadness and nostalgia for the “old guard”—his generation of American leadership—is on its way out, and that he is the last man standing.
In other words, Kennedy’s deathbed is, metaphorically, McCain’s own.
In short, I think that the pressure is getting to McCain, and he senses that this election is slipping away from him, and it is making him maudlin and nostalgic for the good old days (before the Internet).
And I think that, like Hillary, he’s bitter that a young guy can jump the queue on him, and it came across in his inability to look at Obama through the evening, and his caustic dismissiveness of the new person in the room, and his excessive blinking (as if to say, “I’m trying to wake up from a bad dream”).
In short, Obama has thrown McCain for a loop, giving him, as it were, intimations of mortality.
Below are the opening lines, for John McCain, of William Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality.”
I sympathize with John McCain.
I really do.
It sucks getting old.
And someday Obama will have to confront these lines also, when someone, younger still, overtakes him. But for this year, these words are for McCain:
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore,—
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.