Weighing Aura

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I’m sitting right now next to Alex Steffler, a real devotee of Barack Obama who just said something insightful about many (not all) Obama supporters.
He said that many Obama advocates support “his aura” — not his substance.
David Gergen on CNN stated that there were two frontrunners tonight — Hillary Clinton and John McCain — but neither could put it away tonight.
Gergen continued that Obama really performed well — and that many dynamics may favor Obama as the challenger.
But I wonder if Obama has characteristics similar as that of a quickly rising pop star — and that after tonight, the pop star may be popping.
Clinton advocates seem to scrape on no matter what — cynically aware of the fact that their candidate is not the potentially transformative/high change symbol that Obama is.
But for the Obama team, the failure to sweep the country and perform wildly beyond expectations may be quite deflating to his supporters — many of whom are motivated and inspired by the fumes of mystique and charisma.
Again, this slug fest and contest will continue for quite a while — but to beat McCain/Huckabee, Obama and Clinton need to run together.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

27 comments on “Weighing Aura

  1. Greg says:

    It seems somewhat odd to me that Gore would wait until after Super Tuesday to endorse. I guess he could have been waiting to make sure that Obama was still viable, but I would have thought that seemed very likely already and his endorsement pre-Super Tuesday would have had the greatest effect.
    Presidential endorsements generally don’t matter that much. If, however, you combined a Gore endorsement, victories in several of the upcoming states and perhaps an Edwards endorsement, that could lead to powerful momentum for Obama running up to Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
    (Btw Steve, my father is Shelly Williams, whom I believe you know.)

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  2. Dave says:

    Temoc-
    I doubt that Obama would go that far at all, in particular with China. Obama speaks much better about how he envisions the US relationship with China then Clinton and, before, Biden. Obama repeats over and over that China should be seen as a competitor, not as an enemy and not as a friend. Whereas Clinton would more likely attach punititve measures on China for distorting its currency and take protective trade measures to protect the Democratic base…
    Steve has voiced concern with Europe, and it is true that Obama has less knowledge of the region. But look at who is in power- Sarkozy, Merkel, and Brown are all, in some form or another, Americanophiles (if thats a word). To have a president come into office his is credible on the Iraq war and his is able to move in a new era of foreign policy, I think the region will look to the US in open arms.
    Again, I would stress that Obama’s rhetoric on trade is much more credible and less pandering than Clinton. that will help him both with Europe and China.
    Trade not war is what is important with those regions and will shape US foreign policy in the 21st century.

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  3. temoc94 says:

    Dave wrote that Obama is going to devote much of his foreign policy to East Africa and genocide, citing the fact he took on Samantha Powers as an advisor.
    This is well and good from a human development standpoint. But it is also one of the major concerns I have about Obama. The bottom line is that our policy towards the EU, China, Russia, and India are going to shape this century far more than our policies towards Africa. I could very easily see Obama making a Carteresque blunder like boycotting the Beijing Olympics because of Chinese business activity in Sudan.

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  4. Jacek says:

    “the fumes of mystique and charisma” I suppose I just don’t understand why such well-read and educated people dismiss this quality or equate it to being a “lightweight.” Anyone who is a student of history would recognize that the icons of the past, JFK, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln possessed a preternatural amount of charisma and eloquence. Furthermore, it is hard to imagine being charismatic and eloquent in rendering speeches and being unintelligent. I am also completely befuddled by the dismissal of speeches as being “fluff.” Anyone ever hear of the Gettysburg Address? How much does that SPEECH echo in our modern world. We are not electing the smartest man in the world. Otherwise, we would just ask your run of the mill physicist theoriticist to take office. We are electing political leaders whose power is grounded in the amount of people s/he can coalesce behind him.
    Sometimes, I am just completely befuddled by the lack of perspective from people.

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  5. Vista says:

    I turn to your site for thoughtful commentary on a regular basis. However I too, as an Obama supporter, find the characterization of that support as based on mystique to be rather dismissive. On a very practical level I see that a President will need to have a huge appeal to the nation if they are to have a chance to accomplish the level of transformation for the necessary US turn around. A President will need the ability to rally massive support to achieve changes including: 1) revive the US economy and transition it to more sustainable basis (such as ending our “addicition to oil” and moving toward renewable energy sources — such as Obama emphasized in his speech last night– meanwhile reducing greenhouse gas emmissions) 2) end the war in Iraq responsibly, deal with the terrorism threat wisely including buildling diplomatic relationships with Isalmic countries, and rebuild the stature and trust of our nation internationally, 3) move health care reform forward with Congress and the American people (alrady Romney’s derision of “Hillary-care” is putring fear in the hearts of Republicans and would, in my view, be a huge hurdle to overcome and put the reform effort at risk), and 4) inspire people to feel good enough about our country to partcipate in increasing numbers in the political process.
    Obama’s presence in the race is sparking a level of interest and participation that will be needed now and into the future. Listen to college students stand up and speak for him at our local caucus here in Colorado last night gave me a real hope for many things. I cannot help but give it deep credence and encourage them to continue their efforts, as I will mine.

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  6. Pilgrim says:

    “the fumes of mystique and charisma” That’s a very good description of something I’ve been trying to get the words to describe.

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  7. Dave says:

    One more thing. HillaryCare does matter. As much as I would support a mandate, it means nothing if you can’t actually get the legislation passed through Congress. Hillary failed at making the political compromises necessary to do so in 1993. I am thus now not quite sure why that means she deserves another bit at the apple…
    That’s why Obama’s rhetoric of compromise and building a large, inclusive base is so important. It will allow him to get the political majority, rather than the political dogfight, necessary to pass legislation.

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  8. Dave says:

    Nobcentral- I completely agree with you. Obama was the underdog going in and managed to walk away with 14 states and a slim majority of delegates (to be determined).
    Breaking it down by class and ethnicity. The general feeling is that Obama does worse with lower-income white voters and hispanics. But, looking at last night Obama won important states like Colorado, Missouri, and possibly New Mexico. He picked up Connecticut and Delaware, two states that were unexpected. California matters, but it was a Clinton stronghold during Bill’s presidency, and Obama managed to take a near 20% lead down to 10%.
    Steve- I disagree with you about Obama and policy. I have no doubts that Obama will be great on policy points, though admittedly he doesn’t talk through numbers in the debates. The major differences that I see in Obama and Clinton on policy points are health care (no mandate) and nuclear energy (he supports)- both of which i disagree. For Clinton, however, I feel, as I am sure many liberals do, that her stalwart defense of her 2002 Iraq War vote was the worst of all aberrations for a Democrat. Her comments at the YouTube debate about meeting with foreign leaders is the worst of all political rhetoric because to me it shows equivocation rather than “experience”- as Charles Krauthammer would have you believe.
    The difference between Obama and Clinton as I see it in the foreign policy realm is not identity politics- as you and Fareed Zacharia discussed a while ago. To me, it is about a real strategic turnaround in globalization and the war on terror that Obama could represent and that Clinton cannot. Obama will provide better leadership in the war on terror through addressing both the military necessities of the time (in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan- his so called “gaffe” there doesn’t seem so stupid now…) while also better addressing the human necessities (poverty- particularly in East Africa, genocide- he has Samantha Powers as an adviser). Clinton on the other hand seems willing to play the hawk, probably for the general election, and will waffle on the strategic necessities of today as her husband did in the 1990s.
    On the globalization front, quickly, Obama seems more willing to promote a liberal trade regime then Clinton, perhaps because she is appealing to lower income voters in the primaries. Obama also has better rhetoric then Clinton on China policy.

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  9. Beth says:

    This is the same critique you’ve always had, Steve, and again I find it insulting that you think we are “motivated and inspired by the fumes of mystique and charisma”.
    Obama has strong positions and character. That fact that many think he has charisma should not be stated as the reason we support him. That said, what the hell is wrong with charisma?
    Obama is doing this without the Democratic establishment behind him, and I for one think that’s another reason to support him.
    Also on electability: He’s one the red states. Do you seriously think Massachusetts will go Red in general?

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  10. Dan Kervick says:

    MJA,
    I really don’t see the race issue as being that important. White males appear to be one of Obama’s strongest demographics. Much more important right now is the gender divide, which Obama has to begin to close.

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  11. Nobcentral says:

    I guess I’m really shocked to be in the minority here but there’s no way yesterday can be considered a loss for Obama or deflating in any sense. He’s the UNDERDOG. The fact that he’s sticking around, that HRC can’t put him away, suggests he has a real shot to win this thing. As an Obama supporter, I have always known his candidacy was a long shot. He’s a black man running against a virtual incumbant with the greatest name recognition in recent memory!
    That being said, I was a bit disappointed with California. I expected him to do better there. It will be interesting to see how the early vote impacted the final count. BUT, if you look at what Hillary won, at the end of the night, she HAD to have California to stay ahead. And that means Obama is strong.
    Going forward, Obama has the money, the next few primaries favor him over Hillary, and he’ll likely close the gap and could very well move ahead. Let’s face it, Hillary did well in 3 areas she was supposed to do well in: the NE, the Arkansas region, and Cali. That’s it.
    Bottom line: The longer he sticks around, the worse it is for her. Just as the Patriots.

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  12. carsick says:

    I think you highly overstate the appeal of a McCain/Huckabee ticket. Where’s the crossover/Independent bright spot in that pairing. Iraq will be much more of an issue in the General and McCain loses his maverick aura when it comes to Iraq and Iran. Huckabee brings some of the Republican base back but the base is what? 33-38% of the general population. I find it hard to believe McCain/Huckabee could do better than 47% in the General.

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  13. NJA says:

    I hate to raise the race issue but I think it is the reason Obama has not caught fire. There will always be those who just cannot get past it and vote for him.
    I really think if he were white this would be a done deal.
    I doubt many, if any, would admit it but I am sure it is a facto. Sadly ๐Ÿ™

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  14. DonS says:

    Huckabee brings the fundy vote with him, or, they sit on their hands? Or do they loathe McCain so much they’ll sit on their hands anyway?
    McCain is running real hard as John Wayne and I think it will be hard to sell the war, again. Unless, as I’ve said, he can really gin up the fear machine, with or without legit terra-ists to help him make the case. And there is no question in my mind that fear will be his major platform, policy, and plan (he’s already said he doesn’t do economics – that would be franchised). Just how sick are we of the stupid war anyway? We’ll find out.
    The dem decision will be made by knife fights in the ally (smiling on the outside), not, I think, based on the logic of Obama bringing in regional strength in those blue-er areas, and the fact that either can carry the normally strong democratic locales. Their is no mechanism for logic to prevail; only fallibly in the pundit’s minds.

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  15. Caitlyn says:

    Speaking of pairings, Steve, your friend Doug Bandow made an interesting point as he looked at a Republican ticket that seems to be running away from his interests and positions:
    “Imagine a McCain-Huckabee ticket: a mix of irresponsible hawkishness, economic populism, nanny-state regulation, parole for murderers, Christian identity politics, and ethical lapses. The Democrats are starting to look real good!”
    Any perceived “ceiling” for a democratic candidate, in percentage of the vote if not in absolute numbers, may need reassessment upward in light of such statements by Doug and even by Ann Coulter.

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  16. Caitlyn says:

    You say:
    ” but to beat McCain/Huckabee, Obama and Clinton need to run together.”
    as if were fact. but you haven’t convinced me. I don’t see an “inspirational” leader being a help spinning lofty rhetoric from the number 2 position, and I don’t want to see Hillary used as an attack dog in the number 2 slot while Obama and his supporters keep their hands clean of the dirty work of fighting out the campaign.
    All in all, I would prefer Hillary to advance in the Senate over taking the VP slot or to take a cabinet post such as DOD or Health. After Cheney, I hope to see the VP’s role returned to relative obscurity.

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  17. Davidson says:

    Dan Kervick,
    That’s just it: Obama is performing at the OPTIMUM level *possible* for his candidacy considering that he is absolutely backed by the Establishment, especially by the corporate media, and yet he still can’t throttle Clinton. Imagine once actual legitimate criticism is allowed to be seen on the media across the board, let alone when the right finally targets him. With Clinton, you know it can’t get any worse (she’s basically been immunized) considering the despicable way even the left has adopted the right-wing demonization of Clinton, one of their own contenders, and yet she’s still winning major states.
    Besides, he’s having major trouble with Latinos, who won’t be in his corner if he’s up against McCain. And I doubt women will come out in droves as they would if Clinton was the nominee.

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  18. Davidson says:

    I disagree. His supporters are known for being rabidly devoted. Besides, he did do quite well and (in my view) seems the favorite to win the nomination. He has the corporate media absolutely in love with him (legitimate criticisms of him are considered “smears”) and openly hateful towards Clinton (baseless charges are considered valid), major Democratic machines in his corner (Kennedy, Daschle, etc.), momentum, and a movement behind him.

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  19. jacek says:

    Umm, Steve, did you forget that after NH, Obama’s donations increased? Also, the trend for Obama has been pretty consistently upward, even after NH and Nev.

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  20. memekiller says:

    Can’t capture lightning in a bottle again. Even if they had control of a branch of government to devote full time to investigations of the Clintons (after eight years of no accountability for the current occupant), maybe they could double the number of scalps they got in the 90s from Bill’s administration to two. Still less than Carter.
    What can the most corrupt party in history make up about Obama or Hillary that they’ve haven’t made up already?
    They’ve done their worst — and it doesn’t get much worse than that — and we’re still standing. Their worst isn’t good enough. And this time, with 2 to 1 turnout, rallying the base isn’t an option, and the slime machine isn’t going to play, not when the echo-chamber is rooting for a McCain loss to keep them relevant.

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  21. eatbees says:

    I agree that a lot of Obama’s supporters are attracted to his aura, his star power, his cool kid mystique รขโ‚ฌโ€ but on the other hand, the fact that he made it to Super Tuesday at all is proof that he is more than a flash in the pan. If he was only that, he would have fizzled sometime last fall, or after New Hampshire. In fact the opposite is true, his support continues to rally and grow.

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  22. Dan Kervick says:

    I don’t think there is any real basis for thinking that Clinton and Obama “need” to be on the ticket together to win. Democratic turnout tonight was 2 to 1 over the Republicans. They clearly have the edge right now.
    Personally, I think Clinton would drag down an Obama ticket. Everything I have seen so far suggests that Clinton is up against a firm ceiling comprised by a large number of Americans who despise her and will never vote for her, while Obama continues to show real crossover appeal. I don’t see how Clinton helps Obama in even a single state that he wouldn’t otherwise win. Why in the world would he want her on the ticket? And if Clinton is herself the Presidential candidate, I think the best the Democrats can do is eke out a narrow win, no matter who her running mate is.
    And the Clinton negatives are likely to go even higher than they are now, once the Republicans start bringing out the really awful stuff that Democrats are too civil – or too blinded by see-no-evil partisan defensiveness – to bring up in their own nomination race. The idea that Clinton has already been “vetted” in this area is really laughable. The vast majority of Americans couldn’t at this point identify the names that will soon become household words if Clinton is nominated.

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  23. Steve Clemons says:

    Jason — I agree with you for the most part. Will be interesting to watch.

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  24. Jason says:

    “But for the Obama team, the failure to sweep the country and perform wildly beyond expectations may be quite deflating to his supporters — many of whom *are* motivated and inspired by the fumes of mystique and charisma.”
    That may be true. I wouldn’t have said ” *are* motived…” –too harsh of a generalization based on conjecture for me– but inspiration is fleeting by nature, and it’s fair to ask if his supporters are committed enough to survive the inevitable disappointments of politics.
    In his speech tonight, he seemed aware of this possibility and cautioned his supporters that the battles ahead would be tough and take a lot of work. I found it very savvy and politically aware.
    A small counter-point: his biggest one-day donation total in January was *after* he lost N.H., a state he was expected to crush Clinton in and then run away with the nomination.
    Yet with the long string of high-profile endorsements + feeling of momentum, plus perhaps a broad but shallow support, his most important task this week may be keeping his supporters motivated. I guess we’ll see just how committed people are to him this week.

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  25. Sasha says:

    Harumph. I am a Clinton supporter, and there is nothing cynical about my support. If there was a candidate who gave such wonderful speeches as Obama AND inspired such trust in getting excellent policy through as Clinton, I would happily vote for that candidate. When I have to choose between the two, however, I go for practical results that will outlast a “change in tone” by decades, like the New Deal. There is nothing cynical about that–in fact you can call me a wide eyed optimist, hoping that she’ll change the tone of politics, if you want.
    However I doubt that his charisma-oriented supporters will lose interest themselves. It is possible that they will lose the enthusiasm it takes to keep converting others, though.
    I agree that they should run on the same ticket, but I don’t think that they need to. In my view, the swing voters have clearly already swung, and the Republican choices are incredibly unsavory. Any Democratic nominee just needs to not screw it up, and she or he will win.
    However running on the same ticket would join the ‘practical’ and ‘inspiring’ wings of the party, and ensure a strong Democratic era.
    Politically, Obama will not want Clinton as VP. Not because she might ‘outshine’ him (unlikely) or because the combination would look strangely Cheneyesque; but because he’s running to such an extent as the anti-Hillary candidate, to state it simply. However it would be more suitable for him to be the VP if she were to win; the idea would be that he would be experienced by the time he got the presidency, and the country would not be denied the two people that it could hardly decide between.

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  26. Ben Rosengart says:

    Please, there’s no need go around insulting the morale and discipline of approximately half the primary-voting party.

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  27. memekiller says:

    You’re exactly right. For Obama to win, he has to catch FIRE. He’ll either be Kennedy, or the Macarena. It does not bode well for Obama that he has to claw his way through this primary. Auras can dissapate quickly.
    On the other hand, I think policy is formed by rhetoric. If Obama rides a wave to the White House because he says what people want, very badly, to believe, then the media, opposition, everybody will shape their messages accordingly. In the primaries, health care was not Clinton’s signature issue, and balancing the budget was Perot. His greatest achievements as President were formed by the campaigns, and an Obama or Hillary Presidency would be the same.
    So, I think rhetoric and poetry means much more than we wonks like to admit, just as reason is impossible without emotion — you don’t find a cure for cancer unless you value health and life.

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