As mentioned yesterday, what struck me most, in reviewing Barack Obama's oratorical and debate performance since the first cattle-call, Gravel-equipped televised primary debate early last year, was his unchanging nature. He got better as he went along, but as an improving version of the same thing. I said I couldn't be sure whether Obama's consistency arose from deliberate strategic choice, flawlessly executed over a very long time, or whether it simply reflects the way he is. Odds favor the latter.
Reader D.M. writes about the way this trait has worked in the general election campaign:
I'm hoping it is a deliberate calculation on Obama's part, or else it is genuine and not a calculation at all, because it is brilliant. By being a rock- steady, unflappable, boring (according to some commentators) - Obama accomplishes two things. It's a lot harder to find any personality hooks for passionate dislike. See, e.g. Hillary's dynamism, Bush's feigned Texas dialect, McCain's temper.
Second, by being bland, consistent and totally straight, any tactical changes by opponents makes them look erratic, scheming and without integrity. Had Obama joined in the personal mudslinging, he would have slipped his tether, and would have looked just like McCain. He's a mirror against which we view the opponent. He's a survey marker against which all territorial changes of opponents can be measured. It really is a new kind of politics.
And in a related post here, Michael Batz argues that through the course of the debates, Obama has won the argument for "argument" -- that is, for a calm and reasoned approach to issues, not by going with emotion, anger, and the gut. He wrote to me:
In short, McCain is going for emotion and Obama for reason. Ordinarily, I'd go with emotion, but crazy times flip everything on its ear. I also am amazed, honestly, that Obama has used these debates to UTTERLY reverse his public persona from the great lofty orator with few specifics to the down-in-the-numbers reassuring policy wonk at the same time he practically destroyed McCain's leadership mantle by baiting him into anger and carefully pushing the message of McCain as erratic and unpredictable. It's pretty remarkable.
As always, I give the time-battered caution that we can't know how and whether these traits will work in office until we get a chance to see. But in making it likely that we will get that chance, the campaign approach has indeed been remarkable.
And, as a subject for a later day, I remember how often, how vehemently, and with what certainty Obama's detractors during the Democratic primaries said that he could not, possibly, in any way, in any real world, withstand the onslaught of GOP negative campaigning once it geared up against him. That he's been seriously underestimated twice -- by the Hillary Clinton camp, and now by McCain -- doesn't prove his potential in office but is interesting.
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