Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The One, Muted

Once again, Hillary Bok ("Hilzoy") offers a keen insight. Riffing off a Time Magazine piece about Obama's growing crowds and suddenly soaring rhetoric and recalling a passage from Obama's autobiography she adds:
One of the things that has made the McCain campaign's harping on Obama's celebrity, 'The One', etc., so surreal to me is that... it has often seemed to me that Obama is deliberately not using his rhetorical gifts as much as he might have. There are exceptions to this: his speech on race is the obvious example. But he has often seemed to me to be quite deliberately downplaying his sheer oratorical force in favor of substance and solidity. It's as though he's thinking: I could use style and eloquence alone, but I'd prefer something more durable, and more respectful.

That's one thing that makes him such an interesting politician to watch: most politicians do not deliberately refrain from using whatever gifts they have. If they can go with eloquence, they do. I think Obama made the right choice. It allowed for a lot more real substance, and gave him the chance to make his case on a much more solid basis. That also made it a different case: calling for a change in the way we practice politics looks very different depending on whether or not the person who makes it also talks substance, addresses voters' genuine concerns about the issues, and generally treats us as adults.
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It also shows a lot of confidence. Not the kind of arrogance the McCain campaign complains about, of which I have seen very little evidence, but the kind of confidence that allows you to play a long game, rather than clawing for every apparent advantage, no matter how insignificant or counterproductive in the long run; to hold back sometimes; to choose understatement; and to keep your eyes on the prize. That, and discipline and self-restraint.
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Politicians normally crave attention. Obama seems to me not to. That's probably one reason why he can afford to underplay his hand sometimes, and to hold back. And it's certainly part of what makes him so interesting.

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