Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Obama Effect(s), pt. 2

For better or worse, it is sometimes the case that the better part of research on a blog post is done once it is published. Such was the case with a recent commentary in this space. After noting Barack Obama's inability to "close the deal" against John McCain (a sort of electoral dysfunction that Obama has evidenced before), I surmised that Obama is a serious contender only as a result of a wholesale abandonment of any skepticism of his seemingly implausible campaign.

Thinking myself clever enough, I described this phenomenon as the "Obama effect." As I alluded to in an addendum to that post, there was at least one other previous reference to an Obama effect. Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish cited reporting from the Times of India that proposes that Obama

But here's a trivial observation that suggests why Obama, because of his eclectic and unusual upbringing, may be different: He's the only American leader who has been heard to pronounce Gandhi and Pakistan correctly — just like it's pronounced in the subcontinent (Gaan-dhi, not Gain-dee; Paak-isthaan, not Pack-is-tan). In other conversations, Obama has also referred to Indian success in technology fields, and drawn comparisons between his father (who came to the US "without money, but with a student visa and a determination to succeed") and the experiences of Indian immigrants.

Such empathy and "connection" to immigrants from the subcontinent is only one part of Obama's plural multi-ethnic background and wide-ranging eclectic education (American, African, even part-Asian) that makes him arguably the most unusual and exciting presidential candidate in US history — more universalist than American. (Emphasis added.)
While the TOI article concludes that - irrespective of whether Obama wins in November - India will have to "tread carefully and tread its own path," Sullivan's (and TOI's) not so subtle inference is that an Obama presidency will have the benefit of creating more intrinsic connections between Washington and New Delhi, thereby reviving the staid argument that a Democratic administration will raise America's standing in the world.

Other references to an Obama effect include everything from
"motivating folks who were previously uninterested in politics to run," to setting "a new standard of decency" in Canadian politics to his effect on small children. The most illustrative description (outside of my own) comes from Running Commentary. A post there makes reference to George Packer's New Yorker piece "The Choice." In his article, Packer recounts the afterglow of an New Hampshire Obama rally.
Obama spoke for only twenty-five minutes and took no questions; he had figured out how to leave an audience at the peak of its emotion, craving more. As he was ending, I walked outside and found five hundred people standing on the sidewalk and the front steps of the opera house, listening to his last words in silence, as if news of victory in the Pacific were coming over the loudspeakers. Within minutes, I couldn't recall a single thing that he had said, and the speech dissolved into pure feeling, which stayed with me for days.
Whatever I and others might say about any Obama effect, and however it is variously described, the common factor is that it is observed entirely beneath of the level of cognition. It both manifests itself in and depends upon a transcendental derangement from rational thought; such is the sole predicate for Obama's campaign. He intends to substitute emotion for reason, swelling rhetoric for serious discourse and nebulosities such as "hope" and "change" for policy prescriptions that might engender either hope or change. His appeal is to "pure emotion" and if we were electing a lover, he would be a shoo-in.

What I find most disconcerting about Sen. Obama's candidacy is that it seeks to engender a kind of affirmative action-like credulity that would allow a man who can't carry Colin Powell's jock strap to seriously contest for leadership of the Free World. He wants us to ignore the fact that he is African American, except to the extent that we would be proud to vote for the first black president. For my part, I am done voting for "first blacks" as my recent experience (see "Papa Doc" and "Baby Doc" Stroger here in Chicago) shows that doing so does little to improve the political or socio-economic quality of life. Rather, I will satisfy myself with voting for the most sensible candidate and hope for the best.

Four More Years!

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