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Myths and heroes

October 04, 2008

Re "Race for president builds characters," Opinion, Sept. 28

Todd Gitlin observes that presidential campaigns are as much concerned with American myths of self and country as they are issues, and he describes the archetypes embodied by John McCain and Barack Obama.

McCain is easily recognized as an archetypal figure of the American West, but Gitlin has a harder time locating Obama, calling him "elusive, Protean, a shape-shifter."

Obama cannot be easily categorized because he embodies the protracted birth of a new myth. This is apparent in the campaign slogans of the two candidates. McCain's "Country First: Reform, Prosperity, Peace" is a fitting motto for a new sheriff in the Wild West.

Obama offers "change you can believe in," and the "believe" is especially potent -- the promise of a new social contract at a time when trust and confidence between the people and their government is almost nonexistent.

The drive toward a new paradigm is also apparent in the generational differences. In mythology, there are many stories about societies in distress that can only be relieved by the ascendance of a youthful hero who breathes new life into the body politic.

Catherine Svehla

Joshua Tree

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