The third and last presidential debate last night reminded me of the 1960 square-off between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon– and how television has transformed our perceptions of candidates.
The hot medium of TV loves cool cats like JFK and Barack Obama but is brutal on the pale, blinking and scowling countenances of Nixon and John McCain. The recent PBS American Experience biography on Nixon delved into this phenomenon at length, mentioning Nixon’s fatal decision not to accept makeup before going on the air. The result was that he looked shifty and untrustworthy.
Nobody can ever look as bad as Nixon, but I thought McCain had some unfortunate moments during last night’s debate when the camera caught him in split screen with a tight smile and rapidly blinking eyes, giving the overall impression that he was seething and about to blow his stack. I wondered if McCain might’ve come across better if I had listened to the debate without a picture.
McCain’s mind must be blown. Throughout all the debates he must have been thinking, “How can this guy with no real experience be kicking my butt in the polls? How can this be?”
McCain is barely concealing his contempt for “That One,” as he referred to Obama in the second debate. Last night, I detected a little bit of Jack Nicholson in McCain’s frustration, as if he was going to suddenly deliver an over-the-top tirade like the You-can’t-handle-the-truth scene in the film, “A Few Good Men.”
I thought he was on the right track with idea of reaching for a real person likeÂ “Joe, the plumber.” The only problem with it, though, is that plumbing is one of the few recession-proof professions out there. I can’t feel too sorry for this average Joe. He’ll be OK.
It’s Joe the autoworker, or Joe the airline steward I’m worried about.