Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Obama Phenomenon

Met a good friend of mine, who I hadn't seen for three or four years, for lunch today. About ten minutes into the conversation, he looks at me and says "So, have you succumbed to the Obama thing yet?" "I've been trying to resist it," I said, "but it's senseless to ignore it at this point. So yes." "Me too!" he said, enthusiastically and relieved

Thing is, this is getting to be a more and more common kind of experience with me. Liberals who have some vague worry that they shouldn't be really enthusiastic about a candidate, and who are rather embarrassed about how enthusiastic they are about Obama. We're Democrats. We vote for policies, not people. We're supposed to tolerate our candidates, not love them. We have an innate skepticism about reactions of this kind.

Of course it's not all emotive or rhetorical. I'm pretty much immune to rhetoric, actually. In fact, nothing turns me off faster than hollow rhetoric. It's, rather, that he is saying smart, true, important things, and saying them in a way that makes it clear that he believes them very deeply. I listen to him, and I think "why has it taken my whole life for a candidate like this to come along?"

Man. I think I'm starting to understand how people felt about JFK.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldnt agree more.

When Obama had his first primary win, I watched his victory speech on CNN.

I got goosebumps, I cracked a couple smiles, my eyes started watering.

At first I wanted to say, "What is this salty discharge?!" After all, Im a cynical liberal wholly distrustful of politicians, the state of our politics, and power.

But Obama's sincerity is part of his charm. His cool detachment is a welcome counterpoint to the....well, what we've had for too many years now.

12:39 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

"People" almost elected the splendidly unappetizing Richard Nixon over JFK in 1960. It was a close thing.

Tonight I introduced [after meeting him for the first time] one of my longtime internet foils [like you, WS] to a bandmate who's an Obama Democrat. [A new coinage, perhaps, as in Rockefeller Republican.]

The former is an unabashed and off-the-scale lefty, who, for lack of a better candidate to back, is a Hillary man.

I just let them go at it, the Hillary man taking my role in the Obama-vacuousness style-over-substance argument.

Hey, I got the night off.

6:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i do my best not to give in to the euphoria of obama's message of unity and reforming the climate of DC (although its what ive been wanting to hear for years and years) because im still quite skeptical that one man can change the whole climate. im not even clear on what the 'unity' is that people say he creates. does he unite people on beliefs? on policies? or does he make us hate each other less? does he help us understand our differences more? the message of unity seems vague to me and, unfortunately, hopeless. it sounds like america's fondest pipe dream for everyone to agree on all major issues. and at times people talk about obama as if thats what he is going to do. the certain failure of that will be as damaging to our country as another hyper-divisive president.

maybe im misunderstanding the goal of reform and unifying that obama has (i absolutely admit that possibility and i would be happy if someone would correct me) but based on what i see, its not possible for one man, no matter how charismatic or great of a politician he is, to change the climate of DC. yes, he doesnt have the decades of contributions to his career that he has to repay through his staff appointments. its also true that he is an excellent and intelligent speaker who believes in the goal he speaks about.......but how can one man and his administration actually change the level of discourse between the politicians and the members of the 2 parties? how can one man make us all agree with each other?

i love what he says but im still very skeptical that one man can do it and i also worry that other people put too much faith in his ability to change DC

9:14 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

First A:
"What is this salty discharge?" LOOOOL Too freakin' funny!

Second A:
Perfectly legitimate worries. I have something like them myself.

I won't try to defend the whole Obama thing here...in part because I'm still thinking and wondering about it myself. But, first, you do ask the wrong question. The question isn't "can one man make it all perfect?" The question is: "can one man, if elected president, help us all make it better?" We don't have to all adore each other. We just have to get over the Nixonian/Rovian politics of divisiveness. We don't all have to agree, we just have to get out of this false and pernicious rut that encourages us to think that everybody who disagrees with us is evil.

And the message isn't just one note. The emphasis on hope rather than certainty is, I think, and important part. Those who emphasize certainty can easily tell us that we can't accomplish anything hard--if it's hard, then success will, of course, be uncertain. It's hope that provides the only chance of success in such cases.

Again, I'm not pushing any of this as obvious. I, too, am skeptical of soaring rhetoric. I lived through the era of Reagan's soaring yet hollow rhetoric, and it made me skeptical of all soaring rhetoric. Obama's is not hollow, however.

I could, of course, be wrong about all this, of course.

10:15 AM  
Blogger lovable liberal said...

For better or for worse, political choices are buying decisions, and nearly all people make them emotionally to one degree or another.

Emotional resonance is part of the job of a leader. Without the ability to inspire, it's hard to lead a country.

Still, I'm skeptical of too much emotion, and some Obamamaniacs are way over the top about him. But haven't we Democrats nominated and lost with enough bloodless technocrats? Kerry, Gore, Dukakis, Mondale, though Gore has proven himself to have hot blood since he lost - isn't it time to try another approach?

If Obama wins in November, that will be the emotional high point. Then, as the establishment, led by the VWRC, gears up to stake him down like Gulliver with a thousand tiny threads, we'll all have to stay engaged to cut those bonds, and Obama's emotional leadership will be essential. If...

4:45 PM  
Blogger Tracie said...

I've become an Obama supporter because it's important to have a Democrat in the White House. After 8 years of BushJr, it is pretty much unthinkable for me to want anyone from the GOP running the country, even if it's someone semi-reasonable/likable like John McCain.

But to my point, given what I've read, a McCain/Hillary matchup would tilt independents towards McCain, whereas a McCain/Obama matchup would tilt inds. towards Obama. Since Hillary and Obama seem fairly similar as far as what they want to accomplish, Obama's got my vote. The rhetoric is nice, but practically speaking, I think Obama has a better chance of getting elected over McCain than Hillary.

This site is an great primaries resource:


The information about the matchups can be found on this page:


5:05 PM  

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