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September 23, 2008

Obama, The Disappearing Man: The More the Public Gets to Know Him, The Less There Is To See

Christopher Hitchens asks: "Why is Obama so vapid, hesitant, and gutless?"

Uh, is that a trick question?

Obama acts like an aimless twit because that's what he is. There is no "deeper Barack." Sure, he does fine on the topics he's rehearsed a hundred times (race, healthcare, race, anti-Bush, race, Iraq, oh and race), but give him something new to to think about and he defaults: "Present."

That's what happened with Georgia. He gives a statement that he probably read on a bumper sticker: "War is bad for humans and other living things." Then revises it after his advisers have a chance to write up a few position papers (cribbing from McCain) and run a few polls.

That's what happened this past weekend with the financial bailouts. First he sounded like a fourth grader aping a tour guide on Capitol Hill: "Congress has an important role to play." Then, after declaring that now is not the time for specific details to fix the problem he was mocked on Leno. And today he has his advisers have a six point plan.

If he seems gutless, it's because he's used to going whichever way the wind is blowing. As he wrote in his book, "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views." Sometimes it takes him a few tries to figure out just what message his minders are projecting onto him. And, of course, without these people he has nothing to say at all.

He seems vapid and hesitant because he's never really sure if the answer he's giving is the right one. He's worried that his minders are going to have to turn him around so he can explain away any "inartful" statements. Think of it like this: every time Obama says "uh" on camera, what he's really doing is flinching from the possibility that his campaign manager, David Plouffe, is going to whack him on the nose with a newspaper. Again. Hence the stutter.

Hitch writes that he's getting the feeling that Obama is a little scared of winning this contest. And why wouldn't he be? After two years of dancing to his minders' tune, being reduced to a mouthpiece for smarter, more experienced and more ambitious men and women, he can look forward to at least four more! This is an understandable fear.

But Obama's also feeling what a child feels after he has climbed into Daddy's truck and turned it on, believing that he's seen Daddy do it so many times that he can do it too. The Obama campaign truly has been the campaign of hope: as in, "I hope I can do this." Things are rolling now, but it's just starting to dawn on him that maybe he doesn't know as well as he thought how to control this thing. He's more likely to come to a screeching, crunching, grinding stop than to make a graceful finish.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 02:32 AM

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