August 6, 2011

ONCE THE BLOT STARTS TO TAKE SHAPE, YOU'RE TOAST (via Kevin Whited):

Obama's Glamour Can't Fix Charisma Deficit (Virginia Postrel, 8/05/11, Bloomberg)

What happened? In 2008, after all, not just political pundits and regular folks were expecting big things of Obama. So were certified leadership gurus. Warren Bennis of the University of Southern California and Andy Zelleke of Harvard praised Obama for possessing "that magical quality known as charisma."

This charisma, they predicted, would give Obama "the transformational capacity to lift the malaise that is paralyzing so many Americans today" because "a charismatic leader could break through the prevailing orthodoxy that the nation is permanently divided into red and blue states ... and build a broader sense of community, with a compelling new vision."

There was only one problem. Obama wasn't charismatic. He was glamorous -- powerfully, persuasively, seductively so. His glamour worked as well on Bennis and Zelleke as it did on voters.

What's the difference? Charisma moves the audience to share a leader's vision. Glamour, on the other hand, inspires the audience to project its own desires onto the leader (or movie star or tropical resort or new car): to see in the glamorous object a symbol of escape and transformation that makes the ideal feel attainable. The meaning of glamour, in other words, lies entirely in the audience's mind.

That was certainly true of Obama as a candidate. He attracted supporters who not only disagreed with his stated positions but, what is much rarer, believed that he did, too. On issues such as same-sex marriage and free trade, the supporters projected their own views onto him and assumed he was just saying what other, less discerning voters wanted to hear.

Even well-informed observers couldn't decide whether Obama was a full-blown leftist or a market-oriented centrist. "Barack has become a kind of human Rorschach test," his friend Cassandra Butts told Rolling Stone early in the campaign. "People see in him what they want to see." [...]

If you think of Barack Obama as a charismatic president, it is hard to explain why his supporters are so angry. He should be able to win them over. But if you understand his appeal as glamour, then his problems aren't surprising.

With glamour, any specific action that stands outside the fantasy breaks the spell, alienating supporters who disagree. Even trying to remain above the fray, as Obama often does, infuriates those who want a fighter.

A well-established sales tool, glamour is a tremendous asset if you're running for office. But once you have to govern, it's a problem. Although charisma can continue to inspire, glamour is guaranteed to disillusion. The only thing surprising about Obama's predicament is how few people expected it.


Posted by at August 6, 2011 11:14 AM
  

blog comments powered by Disqus
« NO ONE'S EVER WRITTEN AN ODE TO FOOTBALL...: | Main | ALL COMEDY IS CONSERVATIVE (AND SOME IS SUDSY): »