[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/15/art.mccain.obama.split.jpg]Nancy Gibbs
Of all the false intimacies of modern life, the promise of a presidential campaign may be the most misleading. We think we know these men well enough to judge them. They come into our living rooms every night, plying us with insight and confession; we know the prayers they say and the beer they drink, their tics, their tastes, their talismans.
But both John McCain and Barack Obama insist that there are things a campaign can't tell you about the temperament of an aspiring President. "Who is the real Barack Obama?" McCain asks, as he runs ads attacking his opponent's "bad instincts" and dangerous lack of judgment. Obama argues the reverse: You can't trust McCain because the one thing you know is that you never know what he'll do next. He's an impulsive hothead who is "erratic in a crisis." Is that really the guy you want steering through a storm?
That Obama's fortunes rose as the markets sank shows how central temperament has become in the homestretch of the presidential race. Only weeks ago, you might have expected that McCain's greater experience and his courage in the clutch would lift him as a leader in a moment of crisis. Yet the turn of the polls suggests the reverse; without taking a dramatically different approach on substance, Obama won this round on style and disposition.
Both candidates supported the bailout, and both call for tax cuts and policing of markets, but in tenor, they were polar opposites. Temperament is in the eye of the voter. Is one response evidence of composure and self-possession — or of being too laid-back and unassertive? Is the other response a sign of urgency and decisiveness or a frantic lack of control?
A funny thing happens when...
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