Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Trouble With Too Much Charisma

Those who oppose him in both parties are attacking Barack Obama with a double-barreled cultural stereotype, the old film noir thesis that good looks can be deceptive combined with a Jim Jones analogy about followers suicidally drinking in hope with laced Kool-Aid.

In today's New York Times, Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian and Clinton supporter, observes, "What is troubling about the campaign is that it’s gone beyond hope and change to redemption.” He claims that Obama is "posing as a figure who is the one person who will redeem our politics. And what I fear is, that ends up promising more from politics than politics can deliver.”

Earlier this week, Paul Krugman wrote that "the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality."

Today's Times piece quotes Norman Mailer describing JFK's arrival at the Democratic convention in 1960, “the prince and the beggars of glamour staring at one another across a city street.”

The reporter should have gone further into Mailer's musings on Kennedy. Substitute "African-American" for "Catholic" in this passage:

"With such a man in office, the myth of the nation would again be engaged, and the fact that he was a Catholic would engage the mind of the White Protestant. For the first time in our history, the Protestant would have the pain and creative luxury of feeling himself in some tiny degree part of a minority, and that was an experience which might be incommensurable in its value to the best of them."

It's understandable that detractors would try to equate Obama's emotional appeal to lack of substance. In the 1960s, when I was editing McCalls, an advertiser told me, "Your competitors say the magazine looks so good that readers don't get to the ads."

"If I had to sell a dull magazine," I answered, "I might make say that too, but if you can't get people to pay attention, they won't respond to anything."

This year, Obama is getting voters to pay attention, and his opponents are reduced to finding fault with that.


Liza said...

Yeah, the New York Times is at it again. The newspaper that gave you the Iraq War.

Who owns the New York Times? I'm guessing, but are some of them pro-Israel American Jews? Hillary has a great deal of support in that sector.

I'm surprised at Krugman. I wonder who he sold his soul to and if it was worth it.

Bottom line, the NYT has gotten to be a major rag, dying the slow death of the printed newspaper in America. They are online, of course, but the competition is fierce.

Liza said...

Well, yeah, the NYT is owned (mostly), published, and controlled by the Sulzberger family and they are most definitely Jewish.

I suspect that they are very pro-Hillary and I would also expect them to trash Obama.

I used to respect Paul Krugman and I thought he was the last redeeming feature in the NYT after they assisted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis by hawking the war for George and Dick.

I've changed my mind about Krugman.

Anonymous said...

Obama all about charisma? I don't think so. He has a good baritone voice and speaks well. But Obama and his staff are smart. He has a TV ad running out of Toledo stations where he is seated and talking about his mom who died at 53 from cancer. It shows a picture of him as a young boy along with his mom. He says when his mom was dying, she was more concerned about paying her medical bills than getting well. That's personal and powerful stuff.

Hillary is running ads that sound just like the 2008 John Edwards, who is popular in Ohio, hitting drug companies, insurance companies, oil companies, etc. Not very authentic, in my view.

Carl said...

Why does he not speak substantively about the issues, Bob?

Hillary has put it on the line. She has detailed policy proposals posted at her website, solutions.

Obama? Rhetoric.

Liza said...

Have you checked Obama's website for "substance" or do you just like to repeat the Clinton attacks?

BTW, the Clinton attacks on Obama, non-stop since she lost Iowa, are not substantive. They are just attacks.

Carl, if you do not understand what Obama is saying, perhaps you are not in the target audience. Obama is not speaking to conservatives. He is speaking to those who want very fundamental reforms in government and foreign policy. He is speaking mostly to those who inherit the debacle of bad governance and war and unprecedented debt, etc...and must fix it so they can live.

Your "empty rhetoric" argument repeated from attack ads is pure bunk.