Friday, October 31, 2008
What's Wrong With Using Your Head?
Barack Obama's been doing the last-minute media blitz, and it's been a great opportunity to get into his head a little. All the speeches in the world won't tell you what one good interview will.
Here's what I see: He's clearly an ambitious guy - no one who wasn't would run the godawful gauntlet our election process has become. And he's organized - you can tell that from the descriptions reporters have of his staff...they can, at a moment's prodding, spill over with every fact, figure and possible remedy for every rumor of election suppression that comes up while maintaining a calm facade of optimism. As Dana Bash said on CNN, "They KNOW what's going on."
He's not a great off-the-cuff raconteur: his scripted jokes in NYC were hilarious - but his attempts to tell a joke during an interview sometimes fall a little flat. But he likes to laugh and does so easily.
He's thoughtful, he's measured in his answers and Handsome Significant Other noticed one important thing as we watched Obama speak with Rachel Maddow last night (by the way - I want HER if I ever have to put together a softball team!): Obama loves this stuff. He clearly relishes the problem-solving aspects of being president. His answers on issues are not emotional - they reflect a mind that circles a problem, checks out every angle, considers the possible results of each solution and finally settles on the one that seems to best suit the situation.
I'd bet money I'm right. All the evidence is there - his unflappable demeanor which spreads to his campaign staff ( dubbed "No Drama Obama" by the press), his choice of a campaign director who has created a noiseless engine for victory using computers and cellphones as well as good old enthusiasm, the campaign's clear attempts to stay on message and not descend into the negative campaigning hole that swallows candidates alive, Obama's constant use of reason instead of emotion to try to get his message across.
Here's a perfect example: John McCain and Sarah Palin in particular whip up the Republican crowds to a frenzy by bashing the Democratic ticket. The crowds respond with boos, shouts of 'terrorist' and 'kill him'. Palin doesn't miss a beat. McCain finally had to stop a woman as she clutched the microphone and told him that Obama was a Muslim. Flip that view...look at Obama this week as he spoke before a cheering crowd. He said McCain's name and the crowd started to boo. His response was lightning quick. He told them he didn't need them to boo...he needed them to vote. Emotions defused, rerouted, and turned into positive energy.
So the guy's smart. He's got a logical bent. Why, oh why, America, is that so threatening to some of you? The people who love Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin cheer when they call Obama 'elite'. What is elite about him? He doesn't have more money that John McCain. He doesn't have as many houses or cars as John McCain. He went to an Ivy League school, but McCain went to private boarding schools and Annapolis. That's pretty elite. McCain was a Navy brat, traveling from school to school. Obama was a kid without a father raised by his mother and grandparents.
So if Obama's background doesn't make him elite, what is it? I submit that it's his intelligence.
McCain is no dummy - I hear he's a bright guy and an avid reader. But his appeal to voters is always emotional - "my friends," he calls us as his campaign tries to either make us fearful or mistrustful of his opponent. It's a classic appeal to the emotions and when he ventures into substance, it's usually to criticize particulars of Obama's plans for health care or economic relief or foreign policy.
Obama's appeal, at first, was also purely emotional. He spoke to the hope for unity, the hope for a better country and our hopes for the future. When his campaign fell flat was when it went negative, but they seemed to figure that out and used it sparingly. (You must remember my vantage is from a state that is considered a lock for the Democrats...what people are experiencing in swing states may be very, very different).
But every emotional appeal seems delivered from a higher place - a vantage just a bit above the usual which is looking farther into the distance and taking the wider view. Obama, for instance, won't bash Republicans. Why? Because, he told Rachel Maddow, we're going to need them to help rebuild this country. He says there are many moderate Republicans who might be willing to work with Democrats so long as they're not actively pushed away. He wants to invite their participation. He's not expecting their vote - he's looking past the election to the need to work cooperatively after the election. He's the kind of guy I can see accepting a position in a McCain administration because it would be best for the country. That's putting your head before your emotions...and that's a quality I think may be the best medicine this country could get.