Here’s something that keeps puzzling me. Some people say that Democrats are afraid of McCain as the GOP nominee, and some people say that Republicans are afraid of Obama as the Dem nominee. No doubt, this is an accurate portrayal of attitudes within both parties. One party or the other may be right to be afraid, but I’m pretty sure that both sides can’t be right in their assessment of the danger. The more I think about it, though, the less it makes sense to me that Democrats fear McCain and Republicans fear Obama. It seems to me that there are at least two things that explain this fear: admiration for the opposing party’s candidate and contempt for that candidate’s rivals. Contempt blinds both sides to the political strengths of the other candidates, while their admiration exaggerates the abilities and appeal of the one candidate, whose exaggerated abilities and appeal then make them fear for their party’s success in the fall. Another factor seems to be that the candidate whom each side fears the most seems to represent something, whether in style or substance, that exposes what each party sees as a glaring weakness in itself. Republicans have built up an entire mythology about the importance of optimism as central to the appeal of Reagan, and if there is one thing Obama has in spades it is optimism, while the modern GOP traffics in the most blatant fearmongering and doomsaying, so perhaps Republicans fear that Obama’s comparison of himself to Reagan isn’t merely self-important bluster. Meanwhile, Democrats fear McCain because he represents unvarnished militarism and appears to Democrats, conditioned for decades to be constantly on the defensive on military and national security matters, to have an insurmountable advantage on foreign affairs and national security. What neither side seems to grasp is how completely wrong its assessment is: one of the last things Americans want after seven years of Bush is more starry-eyed optimism, and probably the last thing they want is more of the same confrontational, aggressive meddling overseas. What each side fears about the other’s possible nominee is actually the candidate’s weakness, and what each party believes to be its weakness is actually one of its best electoral assets in the current cycle.