John McCain and Barack Obama seem to occupy different universes.
In McCain's universe, the planets rotate around the sun in a predictable pattern. In Obama's universe, he is the sun -- and we are but minor planets revolving around his brilliant countenance.
Rarely have the different orbits of these two men been more vivid than last week. While Obama was enacting the rapture before 200,000 worshipers in Berlin, McCain was grinding out economic policy with fellow earthlings at Schmidt's Restaurant and Sausage Haus in Columbus, Ohio. Its motto: "The Best of the Wurst!"
One is a Sun God -- a young deus ex machina who entered the national stage just four years ago; the other is an old soldier rendered witness to the shifting tides.
Yet, despite Obama's amazing miracle tour last week through the Middle East and Europe -- and despite McCain's recent missteps -- the veteran is still not losing to the novice. Why not?
Given Obama's star power and incredible political machinery, he should be doing even better than he is. Though he gained a few points in the polls following his Berlin speech -- and thanks in part to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's seeming endorsement of Obama's withdrawal plan -- a new Gallup/USA Today poll shows McCain leading by four points among likely voters.
The easiest explanation is McCain's familiarity against a relative newcomer. But another possible explanation may be more instinctual. Obama is too good to be true.
Like an "American Idol" winner, Obama seemed to spring from the wings a fully formed celebrity. He knows all the right moves but, like the young superstar, there's something missing. It's that intangible but palpable something that comes from paying dues.
"American Idol" winners are full of raw talent, but they're different than veteran performers who put in years showing up for auditions, suffering rejection and absorbing the humility that comes with it. When they finally land the lead role, they're prepared for it, but know better than to feel smug. They've earned it.
Being older and working longer don't necessarily make one better or more capable, obviously. Some people are blessed with greater talent, more intelligence, better looks. But Americans are skeptical of those who skip the line. Obama is like the guy who ignores the "merge ahead" sign, speeds along the outside lane past other drivers waiting their turn, and expects to be let in at the front.
Or so it feels sometimes.