I'm pretty sure I weighed in on this before, but you know, we old guys tend to repeat ourselves. And anyway, I think I've got a new spin. The topic is "presidental candidates" and "confusion."
Story: my friend Hank (who died much too young) practiced law here in Palookaville, in company with his father, Harry. In his day, Harry had been a pillar of the bar, the author of a highly regarded treatise on California mechanic's lien law. By the time I knew him, he was around 90. I didn't come to the office every day, but he did have a few clients who still called on him, and he undertook to give them service.
From time to time when I stopped to visit with Hank, he would say, "by the way, dad wants to see you for a minute." I'd drop into Harry's office and he would present me an issue on a law topic about which I was supposed to know something--typically bankruptcy or chattel security. I'd deal with the question as best I could.
Remember, we're talkin' 90 here. This is a guy who has a right to be confused. And in fact, Harry didn't seem to have the energy or the focus or the detailed command of particulars that he might have had when he was 45.
But here is the point: Harry didn't make mistakes. He may not have got all the details right, but he always knew which direction he was supposed to go and he always got to the right result.
I think it's pretty obvious what is going on here: although in a kind of decline, Harry was trading--successfully--on lifetime of disciplined professionalism, hard work and careful study. He could get away with coasting a little because he had this great reservoir of achievement behind him.
Which brings us, of course, to a certain presidential candidate. John McCain's problem is not that he is "confused" in any codger sense. It is that he always has been confused in the sense of shallow, incurious, indifferent to the facts. I think I kind of surmised this a few months ago, but everything in the campaign would say that it is far worse than I would have guessed.
One is tempted to say: just like the incumbent. Actually, I won't go that far. I do think they share a deep-seated, persistent, perverse incuriosity--one of the worst traits you can imagine in a president. But I give this to McCain: I don't think he is as mean as the incumbent, or as truculent; I don't think he has the sense of grievance that the incumbent seems to carry around like a monkey on his back. This is something, but it's not a lot. McCain is still confused. And age has nothing to do with it. As a presidential candidate, I'd happily trade McCain at 70 for Harry at 90.