Public opinion polls are revealing a remarkable dichotomy. Although John McCain scores higher than Barack Obama on many crucial dimensions - trustworthiness, commander-in-chief qualifications, patriotism - Obama still leads McCain in support for the presidency.
The answer is simple - people think that Obama is the man for a new era. Each time McCain stumbles in naming a country, or brags that he doesn't get the Internet, or reveals that he thinks women are an alien species ("No way insurance should cover oral contraceptives, like they do Viagra!"), he reminds voters - even older ones - that he is a fossil.
And nothing reminds them more than his trophy wife, Cindy. A cool blonde with a razor-thin figure, elaborately coiffed hair, and clothes and make-up to die for, Cindy looks like someone who doesn't like to get mussed-up. Why, even back in the days when she was a drug addict, she favored prescription sedatives and other downers that hardly suggest she was a barrel of monkeys in bed.
What's funny is that McCain had quite a reputation as a partier - and in fact dumped his middle-aged wife for the much younger and more beautiful (and wealthier) Cindy when he returned from Vietnam. But John doesn't look much in the mood for a party himself these days - and certainly not with the uptight Mrs. McCain, who seems like she's reading a teleprompter whenever she's interviewed.
People want someone, like Obama, who looks like he could still party (if he ever stopped campaigning) - even after having given up drugs eons ago and becoming a self-confessed nerd. At least his wife, Michelle, looks like she could wipe that dumb grin off his face.
In the past, this sort of thing wouldn't have mattered -- who cared whether Mamie Eisenhower was a hot tamale (of course, General Dwight did depart from marital fidelity with Army driver Kay Summersby). But now Cindy's coldness and the dispassionate nature of the McCain's connection (he rarely hugs her, and then in the most awkward way) seems to speak to a distant time, one out of keeping with the way most Americans now view intimacy, marriage, and gender relations.
P.S. (Jan. 10, 2010) Then again, maybe it was just her marriage wth John McCain. From the book Game Change:
The McCains “fought in front of others, during small meetings and before large events, to the amazement and discomfort of the staff.” The authors say that Mrs. McCain accused the senator of ruining her life, that she never wanted him to run again for president, and that “when it came time to film campaign videos of the couple, the camera crews had to roll for hours to capture a few minutes of warmth.”