The 72-year-old John McCain is not a Gen Yer—obviously. Neither is 47-year-old Barack Obama, although his behavior in the presidential debate Friday mirrored the younger generation. Let me explain.
I turn 28 next month. That puts me on the cusp of Generation Y, although I don’t identify with them. So I was surprised when Penelope Trunk, the Boston Globe columnist and Gen Y expert, told me last spring that I was very much a part of that generation. The reasons, she explained, were I spoke frankly with her, looked her in the eye and called her Penelope, not Ms. Trunk.
During Friday’s debate, Obama (attempted) to make eye contact with McCain when appropriate; he called Sen. McCain by his first name, John; the young senator insisted his leadership skills were not only equal to McCain’s but even superior to him.
Meanwhile, McCain failed to look Obama in the eye; he referred to Barack as Sen. Obama; he stressed Obama was not only naive and inexperienced but dangerously naïve and inexperienced. Make no mistake: this was no gaffe or subtle psychological insight into McCain’s mind. As some pundits have suggested, his cold shoulder didn’t reveal his dislike or fear for Obama.
Of course, John McCain does not like Barack Obama. That should be obvious. Look at the footage of McCain and Obama at Ground Zero on 9/11; McCain doesn't want to get cozy with his opponent. I don’t think it’s anything personal. You never know, under different circumstances they might be back-slapping best friends.
But here’s the thing. They are locked in competition. John McCain doesn’t like Barack Obama because they are opponents. And McCain, like Obama, is hell bent on winning.
The presidential debates are not jocular conversations, but battles—decisive ones—in the war for the White House. McCain learned the hard way in 2000 when he ran chin first into George W. Bush and Karl Rove that presidential debates are not friendly competitions.
“I don't look at my opponents because I'm focusing on the people and the American people that I'm talking to,” McCain told George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.
He might be looking at the American people, but he's definitely not looking at his opponent. And that's fine. It's his style of debate.