Is Obama Outsmarting Himself?

Steven Stark thinks so in his latest column:

Ironically, Obama’s “new” intellectual and reasoned candidacy is part of a long modern-Democratic tradition. And that is both its strength and much of its weakness.

Obama has been fond of subtly comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln — announcing his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois, for instance, and equating his relative inexperience with that of Lincoln. Alas, at least politically, the better comparison is to another son of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson, who had a similar scholarly approach and promised an end to politics as usual. “Let’s talk sense to the American people,” he said in his 1952 Democratic acceptance speech, which could have been delivered by Obama today. “Let’s tell them the truth, that there are no gains without pains.”

The tack has been repeated several times since. Eugene McCarthy, who nominated Stevenson for president in 1960, picked up the torch in ’68, igniting the idealistic, the young, and the intellectuals within the party. McCarthy was then followed by George McGovern in 1972, Jerry Brown in 1976 (who, running at age 38, makes Obama, 46, look like a senior citizen), Gary Hart (McGovern’s old campaign manager) in 1984, Paul Tsongas in 1992, and Bill Bradley in 2000.

The crux:

The good news for Obama is that all of these Democrats appealed strongly to Independents and young voters. Most were embraced by the press for their attempts to uplift the dialogue; many were even noted for their attempts to write or quote poetry. (The poems of Obama’s youth have surfaced; McCarthy traveled with Robert Lowell, and a book of Brown’s Zen-like proverbs — “Why is the governor like a shoemaker?” — surfaced during his campaign.) Plus, most did better than expected in the New Hampshire primary, a state where more than half the electorate in the Democratic primary now has a college degree. (Oregon used to be a good locale for this brand of candidate, as well.)

But the bad news is that only two such candidates won the nomination, and both were beaten decisively in the general election. Being the favorite of the egghead or wine-and-Brie set (two negative characterizations of this constituency through the years) doesn’t win you enough voters, you see. Thus the famous story about Stevenson being approached by a voter who told him that he had the support of every thinking American.

I’ve skipped a lot but here’s the gist:

Thus, if Obama doesn’t change his campaign approach to focus more on the concerns of lower-income voters, history has shown us he, too, may soon run out of luck.

There’s still hope for the Illinois senator, though, given two advantages that the previous candidates in this tradition didn’t have. The first is that the Democratic primary electorate continues to get wealthier as the less well-off — who are less likely to vote for Obama — are less likely to vote at all.

That’s an astute observation. Obama is audacious, we know that, but will his intellectual speeches cost him the presidency, if nominated?

The thing I’ve always said about Obama is that he’s all fluff. He can’t answer direct questions, all he can do is speak philosophically about theory and other things which are meaningless. That is where Hillary is killing him. She answer questions, he rambles on about “the smallness of our politics”. That’s fine if you’re a college professor however I don’t think it will appeal wide enough in a presidential campaign. For example, check out this excerpt from a recent Obama speech:

Our government cannot guarantee success and happiness in life, but what we can do as a nation is to ensure that every American who wants to work is prepared to work, able to find a job, and able to stay out of poverty. What we can do is make our neighborhoods whole again. What we can do is retire the phrase “working poor” in our time. That’s what we can do, because that’s who we are.

What the heck is that? So how do we retire the phrase “working poor”? Seriously, it’s ignorant to believe that poverty can be 100% eliminated, it just can’t happen. I say that because in some cases, it’s a poor life choice that leads to poverty. I mean, I know it’s campaign rhetoric and every candidate has their particular brand of fluff. However, if Obama wins the presidency of the United States, he’ll have to first resign his position as the President of fluff.

Steven’s entire article is a must-read, check it out here.

Note: Steven Stark is the writer of the Presidential Tote Board 2008 on our blogroll.

  • Susan D

    After all of what we learned about Obama recently, and what we don’t know yet, has hurt him very badly. How can the Americam people still vote for a candidate who is less than candid, who has less than good jugement, and refuses to cut all ties with reverend Wright. Unfortunately his condemning of the reverend ideology does not appear as being genuine. At this point, how can the above candidate still win the nomination?

  • Babs

    Strange, Nate, how you first posted this article over 6 months ago, and until I stopped to notice that while reading Susan D’s response I would have thought it was written this week. It still applies, although the President of Fluff has taken his campaign farther than I thought he ever would, he’s still done it as the President of Fluff.