30 October 2010

The One - the perils of catching a wave

John Podhoretz writes a "what oft was thought" paragraph about the strange disappearance of Obama's once all-conquering charisma, which zeroes in on what I most liked about The One - the fact that he is an unusually articulate (as opposed to glib) person, rare enough in everyday life and almost unheard-of in a politician.
It has become axiomatic to many of Obama’s well-wishers and passionate supporters that something has gone wrong with his "communications skills". That misses the point. His communications skills are just fine; terrific, in fact. Any of us would kill to have his communications skills. You really have to hate him as a precondition to finding him charmless, or uninteresting, or turgid. He’s none of those things. He’s an interesting shaper of sentences. He says things in unexpected ways.
He can communicate. What he seems unable to do any longer is persuade . . .
Pause for thought. I suppose the nearest comparison over here - in terms of charisma - has been Blair. But he was glibness personified, an exemplar of the profoundly shallow paradox. Blair's lack of substance was his principal political strength, if you measure that in terms of gaining and remaining in power, helped by an opposition that was - and remains - mesmerized by him. But he changed nobody's mind about anything.

Obama's situation is exactly the reverse. He is a conviction politician who has used his charisma to achieve concrete political objectives. By doing so, he went from being a screen onto which people could project their yearnings to being a defined target/scapegoat for their dissatisfactions. And he has violently changed people's minds, mainly to a point of view hostile to his own.     

Were I a politician, I know what conclusions I would draw from that.


  1. Well put. I remember my friend remarking to me "Isn't it amazing that Obama is US president?" when he got voted in.

    I said: "So far all that has happened is that we have a president whose dad is black for the first time - let's wait and see what he does before we get all excited."

    He looked at me like I'd just told him, for the first time, Santa, the Tooth Fairy and God don't exist.

    If you instinctively question and mistrust conventional wisdom, it's very hard to communicate with people who absorb and assimilate it without even realising they're doing so.

  2. One thing Blair and Obama have in common is that each was given a golden opportunity to become a national leader, and each chose instead to govern in a petty, partisan manner. I do not think Blair ever had the stuff of greatness, but Obama did, so his is the greater failure.