Todd Gitlin, who writes our “Sunday Watch” column for Campaign Desk (check out today’s, here), had a fantastic op-ed in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times. Newspaper opinion pieces, for all their verbal verve or rhetorical punch, are rarely lyrical; Gitlin’s piece is, thankfully, an exception to that rule. “This election campaign is about more than its issues, slogans, proposals, strategies, tactics, attacks or counterattacks,” he writes.
Like most presidential elections, it represents a collision of myths. Every four years, various versions of America wrestle with one another, and through this combat, the nation inspects itself, turns itself over and over, striving to choose not only how it wants to be led but what it wants to affirm, how it wants to be known—really, what it wants to be.
The piece goes on to describe the competing, Joseph Campbell-esque mythologies each candidate embodies: McCain, “the known quantity, the maverick turned lawman, fiery when called on to fight, an icon of the old known American story of standing tall, holding firm, protecting God’s country against the stealthy foe,” and Obama, “the new kid on the block, the immigrant’s child, the recruit, fervent but still preternaturally calm, embodying some complicated future that we haven’t yet mapped, let alone experienced.”
In all, it’s lyrical, purposeful, and well worth a read.Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.