Archive for April 4th, 2008

A subtle, highly readable article by Virginia Postrel on Barack Obama. Obama she says, has brought glamour — that special combination of mystery and grace — back into American politics. Indeed, Obama’s exceptional combination of charisma, intelligence and vagueness makes people want to project their own ideology onto him.

Plenty of candidates attract supporters who disagree with them on some issues. Obama is unusual, however. He attracts supporters who not only disagree with his stated positions but assume he does too. They project their own views onto him and figure he is just saying what other, less discerning voters want to hear. So when Obama’s chief economic adviser supposedly told a Canadian official that, contrary to campaign rhetoric, the candidate didn’t want to revise NAFTA, reporters found the story credible. After all, nobody that thoughtful and sophisticated could really oppose free trade.

However, she warns, these very qualities could be his undoing.

To rely on illusions is to risk disillusionment. If Obama the dream candidate becomes Obama the real president, he’ll be forced to pick sides, make compromises, and turn “hope” and “change” into policies some people like and some people don’t. Or, like the movie star governor of California, he might choose instead to preserve his glamour by letting others set the agenda. Either way, his face won’t make America’s worries disappear, and his cool, polite manner won’t eliminate political disagreements. Some of his supporters will feel disappointed, even betrayed. The result could be a backlash, heightened partisan conflict, and a failed presidency.

I agree completely. However, some of his supporters (and I am one of them) are fully aware of the above and still willing to take the risk of disappointment. When one thinks about the alternatives, what choice does one have?

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