In Parallel Wording, Divergent Messages

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Both John McCain and Barack Obama mention "fear" when they talk about the nation's financial crisis, but any similarity in their messages ends with that word.

"I know what fear feels like: It's a thief in the night who robs your strength," McCain told an audience in Blue Bell, Pa., yesterday as he promoted his plans for curing the nation's economic ills. "I know what hopelessness feels like: It's an enemy who defeats your will.

"I felt those things once before. I will never let them in again."

Obama, speaking to a crowd of supporters in Ohio last week, reminded them of "some of the most famous words ever spoken by an American," and began, " 'The only thing we have to fear . . . ' "

"Is fear itself," the crowd said along with him.

As Obama and McCain honed their economic messages in advance of tonight's final presidential debate, there was more to their words than a confident Democratic front-runner invoking the image of a legendary Democratic president or the former prisoner of war drawing on his darkest days.

The rhetoric that Obama and McCain use to describe how they would address the nation's crippling economic woes goes to the heart of the appeal each is making to voters.

McCain's is a fiery denunciation of the special interests, a promise to "clean up the mess of corruption, infighting and selfishness in Washington," an invitation to choose experience over risk, a call to " fight," as he intoned 13 times in his speech yesterday.

"Stand up, stand up and fight!" he shouted. "America's worth fighting for!"

Obama's approach is cool and analytical, offering what he says will be a "steady hand" of leadership instead of "erratic" reaction.

"The American story has never been about things coming easy -- it's been about rising to the moment when the moment is hard, about having steel nerves when things are fearful," Obama says.

"We can come together to restore confidence in the American economy. We can renew that fundamental belief that in America, our destiny is not written for us, it's written by us."

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