Virgina Postrel Echoes Me

On Barack Obama

Obama’s glamour also accounts for some of his campaign’s other stumbles. Plenty of candidates attract supporters who disagree with them on some issues. Obama is unusual, however. He attracts supporters who not only disagree with his stated positions but assume he does too. They project their own views onto him and figure he is just saying what other, less discerning voters want to hear. So when Obama’s chief economic adviser supposedly told a Canadian official that, contrary to campaign rhetoric, the candidate didn’t want to revise NAFTA, reporters found the story credible. After all, nobody that thoughtful and sophisticated could really oppose free trade.

Unlike Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan, the two glamorous presidents who shaped 20th-century American politics, Obama has left his political philosophy a mystery. His call for “a broad majority of Americans—Democrats, Republicans, and independents of goodwill—who are re-engaged in the project of national renewal” is not a statement of principles. It’s an invitation to the audience to entertain their own fantasies of what national renewal would look like

Like any candidate, Obama of course has position papers on specific issues. But even well-informed observers disagree about whether he represents the extreme left wing of the Democratic party or something more market-oriented and centrist. As the NAFTA flap demonstrates, his supporters can’t even decide what the candidate really thinks about free trade. His glamour makes it easy to imagine that a President Obama would dissolve differences, abolish hard choices, and achieve political consensus—or that he’s a stealth candidate who will translate his vague platform into a mandate for whatever policies you the voter happen to support. (The Peril of Obama)

The link may not stay valid for long, but Postrel is using “glamour” in its  original sense, when it meant “Magic spell”. (That also accounts for the odd spelling of the word – odd, that is, if you are an American.)

Barack Obama and Rajiv Gandhi

I have not been following the ups and downs of the American primaries very closely because there isn’t much profit to be had from it.  I am sure that the internal workings of the US presidential elections are as interesting as those of the Nutrimatic Drink Dispenser,  but the result will be the same.  So I am only dimly aware of the Barack Obama phenomenon (and before you ask, I was completely uninterested in the Ron Paul phenomenon.)  But from what I understand, he is like the Rajiv Gandhi of 1984.

There are many reasons why the dynastic system finds favour with people. A minor one among these is that every generation a new scion of the ruling family descends on the scene and makes a bid for a top post. Chances are, he will be a relatively young person among more senior contenders. Youth always attracts people – they associate it with freshness. They also instinctively associate it with a rapid rise, achievement and talent, even when they should know better.  Because this person is  from the ruling family, chances are that he has not had to fight his way to the top, has not had to make ugly compromises and does not have a history that gives some people a reason to hate him. His “clean past” is an empty vessel into which people can pour their hopes and aspirations, whatever they are, however unrealistic they are. So it was with the Rajiv Gandhi of 1984. With absolutely no basis in his track record, nay with no track record  people had decided that he was the one who would lead the country into the 21st century. The dream took around 2 years to end.

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