McCain and Obama as Leading Men

As I was sorting through my Sunday Washington Post so that I could throw everything but the Parade and Washington Post Magazine my wife reads into the recycle bin, my attention was grabbed by this photo montage on the front of the Style section:

Obama as Will Smith, McCain and John Wayne

For a second, I thought they had juxtaposed Barack Obama with Malcolm X (the newsprint version is grainier than the digital one).   But the Obama as Will Smith and John McCain and John Wayne comparison is more apt.

The illustration accompanies a Stephen Hunter feature entitled, “Leading Men -Barack Obama and John McCain Want the Biggest Role in Politics, Yet Each Candidate Has Very Different Star Qualities to Offer.”  The opening:

Wonderful moment in John Ford’s “The Searchers,” from way back in 1956: John Wayne, as the surly, violent Ethan Edwards, signals to his young compadre that it’s time to move on in their pursuit of Scar, the Comanche chief who’s murdered their family and kidnapped the youngest daughter, Debbie.

“Let’s go, blankethead,” he scowls to the young Martin Pawley.

I love the Duke’s pronunciation of the word “blankethead”; it radiates contempt for the young and the untested. Ethan is using the blast of scorn to tell the young man not only to get going to his horse but to get going in growing up, to acquire sand, grit, salt and all the other granular metaphors for old-guy toughness and savvy. Blankethead: It’s a three-syllable telegram on the theme of the fecklessness of youth, and nobody but Wayne could turn it into poetry.

But in the same instant, I remember Will Smith in the original “Men in Black.” The hotshot young cop has been recruited to an alien-hunting team secretly HQ’d in a New York bridge, and now he’s working for Tommy Lee Jones and Rip Torn. Torn and Jones are babbling about something and not paying attention to Smith. There’s a moment of frustration on the young face, and he interrupts with his own blast of scorn: “Hey, old guys !”

It’s a voice full of impatience, annoyance, even contempt, suggesting they haven’t the energy, the quickness or the attention span to take care of business. It’s on him, now, the new guy, the kid: He’s got to keep them from wandering off, losing track, drifting as the old are wont to do.

A bit strained, perhaps, but interesting.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Popular Culture, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. schlang says:

    This is interesting, Obama shows early signs of lying to the American public by hiring bloggers that pretend to be people that they are not. Also a sign of Socialist propaganda!:

  2. Bithead says:

    Well, I’m not sure how strained it is, in reality. There’s a reason Wayne enjoyed the popularity he did. That contempt of the lack of grit as Hunter mentions, for one thing; It’s bleeds through in all his post-war movies.

    There to be something in the American psyche that understands this and respects it at a subconscious level at least. Wayne understood this.

    That’s why the attempts to fake grit turns people off; Lamar Alexander’s flannel shirts. (Pressed and neatly starched) Mike Dukakas in the tank. Jimmy Carter. John Edwards’ hair. To a lesser degree, Dean’s “I have a scream” speech. Etc.

    The person who has a handle on that relationship will succeed.

  3. If we are casting McCain, one has to go with Michael Hogan.

  4. Floyd says:

    WOW! What an insult to Will Smith!! And What a compliment to John McCain!!

  5. sam says:

    When I was in the Marines, calling someone a “John Wayne” was a way of mocking him.

  6. Steven, how many WaPo readers watch Battlestar Galactica? Not many I’m sure.

    The John Wayne as John McCain comparison would be fitting if the Senator admitted to getting physical with that Sandinista. Assuming it happened according to Thad Cochrane’s memory.

  7. Bithead says:

    When I was in the Marines, calling someone a “John Wayne” was a way of mocking him.

    True enough, but think about WHY.

  8. Gina says:

    Obama is not only a Socialist, who wants Americans to hand over their hard earned cash, in a grandiose scheme to redistribute America’s wealth … he spent 20 years listening to the anti-American, racist sermons of black liberation pastor Jeremiah Wright, which were based upon Marxist ideology … along with his wife and two children … and they still attend the same church, listening to the same anti-American trash!