I will admit, I have been interested in all the heat and light that seems to have developed around Barack Obama during the past several months. I want to believe there is a "new way of doing politics" as I have heard him say.
Recently, Peggy Noonan wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal that summed it all up. My favorite bits:
What does he believe? What does he stand for? This is, after all, the central question. When it is pointed out that he has had almost--almost--two years in the U.S. Senate, and before that was an obscure state legislator in Illinois, his supporters compare him to Lincoln. But Lincoln had become a national voice on the great issue of the day, slavery. He rose with a reason. Sen. Obama's rise is not about a stand or an issue or a question; it is about Sen. Obama. People project their hopes on him, he says. He's exactly right. Just so we all know it's projection.
He doesn't have an issue, he has a thousand issues, which is the same as having none, in the sense that a speech about everything is a speech about nothing. And on those issues he seems not so much to be guided by philosophy as by impulses, sentiments. From "The Audacity of Hope," his latest book: "[O]ur democracy might work a bit better if we recognized that all of us possess values that are worthy of respect." "I value good manners." When not attempting to elevate the bromidic to the profound, he lapses into the language of political consultants--"our message," "wedge issues," "moral language." Ronald Reagan had "a durable narrative." Parts of the book, the best parts, are warm, anecdotal, human. But much of it pretends to a seriousness that is not borne out. When speaking of the political past he presents false balance and faux fairness. (Reagan, again, despite his "John Wayne, Father Knows Best pose, his policy by anecdote and his gratuitous assaults on the poor" had an "appeal" Sen. Obama "understood." Ronnie would be so pleased.)
But again, what does he believe? From reading his book, I would say he believes in his destiny. He believes in his charisma. He has the confidence of the anointed. He has faith in the magic of the man who meets his moment. He also believes in the power of good nature, the need for compromise, and the possibility of comprehensive, multitiered, sensible solutions achieved through good-faith negotiations. But mostly it seems to be about him, his sense of destiny, and his appreciation of his own particular gifts. Which leaves me thinking Oh dear, we have been here before. It's not as if we haven't already had a few of the destiny boys. It's not as if we don't have a few more in the wings.
I need to listen more to what Obama has to say, as well as the rest of the cast of presidential candidates. I just hope there is some substance there, somewhere. And I might want to think twice about voting for The Man from Nowhere. Barack Obama may indeed be a great leader, but maybe that greatness will emerge over time, say the next decade, rather than by a rush of popularity over the next 12 months, like the Most Popular Kid on Campus. In these trying times, we need real leadership, the kind that comes from experience, rather than flash.