Maddie's eyes had a twinkle as she poured the packets of sugar into her diet coke. "That Omama guy had better look out now," she said happily.
"Excuse me?" Bernard asked, looking confused as he touched his hearing aid.
"McCain has announced that he's putting on his campaign suspenders! He's getting serious now."
"Um," I offered hesitantly. "I think that you might have that wrong."
"Huh?" Maddie frowned. And then she followed my eyes to her glass and laughed. "Oh! This?" she waved the sugar packets. "I just add the sugar because they say that the artificial sweetener in diet coke is not good for you, so I add the natural stuff."
"No," I said. "John McCain suspended his campaign. There was no mention of a wardrobe malfunction or costume change."
"Although," Bernard drew himself up, running his thumbs through his own suspenders, "there is nothing wrong with suspenders."
"If you want people to know you were born before World War II," I mumbled. "But it might be time for someone in Washington to don a cape," I added.
Bernard leaned forward. "McCain's problem has nothing to do with his wardrobe. His is a psychological problem."
"What?" I asked, my attention momentarily diverted by the arrival of my Reuben sandwich.
"It's called all or nothing thinking," Bernard said. "I read about it. It is a cognitive disorder."
"You and your books!" Maddie said with a shake of her head.
Bernard gave her a look and continued. "This really happens. Some kid gets a B on her report card and suddenly, she thinks that she'll never get into medical school and since she can never be a doctor, she'll never find any career that interests her and since she has no future now she doesn't even want to go to school. It's called all or nothing thinking," Bernard said. "It is one of the worst kinds of distortions of reality, because reality is rarely so stark - a choice between bliss or your own personal purgatory."
"What does that have to do with the way John McCain dresses?" Maddie asked.
"Nothing!" Bernard said. "I'm talking about his speeches over the last couple of weeks. And Bush's speeches. Two weeks ago, the fundamentals are sound, everyone should just stop worrying and go shopping. This week, we're in a financial crisis. We have to pay $1.3 trillion to bailout out banks and brokers! You know how much that is? Out of 170 countries, $1.3 trillion would make you the 10th largest economy on the planet! Just smaller than Canada, just larger than Brazil and tied with France! Suddenly, we go from everything is fine to teetering on the edge of disaster?"
"So, you think that McCain's problem is psychological?"
"Yes! Those Republicans have nothing but contempt for subtlety, and yet life is always shades of gray."
"So why don't they just say so?" I ask, as it turns out, stupidly.
"Because the people who vote Republican don't want nuance, complexity or subtlety. They have no patience for it. They pay for the simplification of reality. That's why they put candidates in office - to assure them that life is predictable and makes sense."
"You are talking in circles again, Bernie." Maddie reached over to pat his hand and turned towards me. "Even when he was a kid we could never follow him. He could never make things simple. For him it was always layers of complexity."
"Reality is complex!" Bernard insisted.
"So you say, Bernie," Maddie tucked her head down and took another bite. "So you say."
“The neurotic person distorts reality, makes demands upon it, imposes premature conceptualizations upon it, is afraid of the unknown and of novelty, is too much determined by his interpersonal needs to be a good reporter of reality, is too easily frightened, is too eager for other people’s approval, etc. It may be expected that as a culture improves, thereby improving the health of all its citizens, truth seeking should improve.”
- Abraham Maslow