11/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain's Body Language: He's a Hater

Many people, including the punditocracy, commented on McCain's body language during the first debate. He looked away from Obama when they greeted one another. He did not look at him once during the debate. His jaws clenched, his body was tense, his eyes were fixed forward and glared. His grins were forced, and occurred at inappropriate times. He was clearly seething.

The conclusion has been that his body language showed that McCain has disdain for Obama, and wanted to show it.

I believe that conclusion is wrong. Instead, I believe it shows that McCain literally hates Obama, and was not able to control his reactions. For example, Hillary Clinton also had disdain for Obama, but she did not hate him. She looked at him, and her body language engaged him during the debates.

McCain has written that the Presidency is not a calling to accomplish a set of goals but just a matter of his personal ambition. Prevented--one must assume by his inadequacy that he cannot admit to himself--from fulfilling his family's tradition of becoming Admiral, McCain is driven to become President, to one-up them.

McCain hates anyone, or anything, that stands in his way and, right now, that is Obama. While Joe Biden may "love the guy", McCain does not return the sentiment so long as Biden stands in his way. The media that was once McCain's "base", is now the object of his hatred. Episodes of McCain's physically attacking opposing Senators--even from his own party!--are not examples of being a maverick, but rather that his hatred can be triggered when he believes others are in his way.

McCain is also a moralizer. He convinces himself of his own moral superiority, and his anger can be triggered by suggesting some chinks in that self-portrait. FoxNews pundit Morton Kondracke recalled an episode in which McCain exploded just because Kondracke wanted the NIH to have additional funding to study Parkinson's disease--from which Kondracke's wife suffered. Kondracke concluded that McCain, whom he had previously admired, did not have the temperment to be President.

McCain could not look at Obama because the emotions stimulated by hate are frightening to the person harboring them. They are afraid of their own anger. Some of Freud's earliest cases were those of "conversion reactions", in which people who found certain situations so hateful that they actually had physical manifestations that prevented them from acting out their rage.

Had McCain looked at Obama during that first debate, his rage may have become uncontrollable.

So, what happened last night? The setting of a townhall, with a large crowd intermediating between him and Obama, might have mitigated the hatred, and thus allowed him to look at Obama...but not much. He tried to dissipate the hatred with very lame attempts at humor. He tried to play around with Brokaw. No one bought it.

Moreover, McCain seemed afraid. When Obama looked McCain in the eye, McCain looked away. McCain's usual reaction to fear--lashing out, and adopting the body language of an attacker that often makes the other person step back so as to avoid a conflagration--is unavailable to him in a debate setting, and so all he can do is retreat in fear.

McCain thought he needed a major new economic message, so he offered that the government purchase all the bad mortgages and renegotiate them with the homeowners. Barack--and the studio audience--seemed to ignore it.

Obama, brilliantly, did not engage McCain on the one topic he had prepared. Had Obama done so, McCain would have had his opening to relax his body, and sharpen his dialogue. When his idea fell flat, McCain had no plan B to engage, and so all that remained was his basal response.

"That one" is not disdain, an intellectual judgment. It is hatred, an emotional reaction. George W Bush, for all his disastrous failures, does not appear to be a hater. McCain would be a George W Bush plus hate.

Those who think McCain's staff did not properly prepare him, did not drill him on his behavior, miss the point: McCain's hatred is so ingrained, his self-congratulatory moralism so necessary for his self-esteem, that the emotions overwhelm whatever teaching he might receive. [Actually, there is a way to deal with it, but I ain't sayin' what it is until after debate #3].

At the debate's end the Obamas and McCains circulated with the audience. When Obama approached McCain with an offer for a handshake, McCain shunted him aside, having him shake hands with Cindy.

The McCains left the debate hall very quickly. Recognizing that the audience had not embraced McCain as President, McCain's reaction was to depart.

By contrast, the Obamas hung around for nearly a half hour, speaking to individual members of the studio audience--in Memphis Tennessee, that should be McCain country. Obama's reaction to those who may not like him is to engage, and to get beyond their defenses.

That, in essence, is the difference in their foreign policies. McCain was upset that the Spanish Prime Minister withdrew troops from Iraq, so what was his response: as President, he said he would not meet with him.

Who is more likely to bring a more peaceful, safer world?

[Addendum: After posting, another aspect came to mind--McCain's hatred also kept him from choosing Romney as his VP running mate. Why? He hates Romney, and all Romney stands for in McCain's mind: utter plasticity (true), hiding out from the war, no children volunteering, noblesse oblige (which, of course, McCain shares but can hardly admit to himself). On the other hand, Romney would have appeared more substantive than Sarah Palin on the economic issues--plastic though he is.]