Cult Of Personality

Matthew Yglecias attacks a meme that has persisted through the Democratic nomination fight, intensifying as the field continued to narrow; that Obama is an empty suit that may be able to inspire with his words, but doesn’t have the wonkish bona fides to back it up.  In other words, that one meme in American politics that I count among those I detest most; more style than substance.

Indeed, I particularly like Matt’s “conservation of virtues” theories which absurdly claims that one can have style, or substance but not both.  This theorem reaching the hight of ludicrous hypocrisy in Clinton supporters’ belief that Bill Clinton is the exception to the rule.

Kevin Drum, in a fit of what I’m guessing is unintended irony unless he has taking up writing parody which doesn’t really seem to suit him well, asks who these people are that don’t give Obama his due when it comes to wonkish street creds.  This despite the fact that all one has to do is start picking through Drum’s comments threads (and probably a post or two), to find these people.

You find them over at Hot Air linking to YouTube vids of “Cult of Personality” by Living Color, and the authors of No Quarter and Taylor Marsh breathe this meme day in and day out.

Of course, my problem with the old style vs. substance meme has been that no presidential candidate gets that deep in details nor should they.  Presidents, not having legislative powers, have only so much influence on laws that are passed and plans of all shapes and sizes that get enacted.  Thus, when you look at similar planks in the platforms for each candidate, they look pretty similarly fleshed out.

In fact, just for funsies I went and pulled up the web page for both Hillary and Obama on education, and you know what?  Not an extraordinary amount of detail from either, and in fact you have a little more detail coming from Obama.  Neither candidate is going to have a fully fleshed out and actionable on day one plan ready to go; that would be hundreds of pages long, I would expect.

You want a president with substance, don’t get me wrong.  You want a president with plans, and intelligence, and that extra ingredient required to get them pushed into reality.  But far more significant than highly detailed plans would be who would these candidates put in their cabinet?  How would they be able to work with Congress?  And what is their judgement like.

I’ve made the argument before, and I’ll make it again.  Substance is a great thing, but it’s not the only thing, and if you get too much substance, what you really have is a deluded micro manager and not necessarily someone ready to be the chief executive of a massive organization.

Who has the better big picture?  Who has the right idea when it comes to receiving opinions from all sides of a given debate and then chart the best course forward through those opinions?  To me those questions are vital in a true debate on a candidate’s substance.

Both Democratic candidates right now I think have just about the right amount of substance, give or take.  They don’t always agree, but they got strong foundations on their policy proposals in many areas, and definitely enough to go to congress and the cabinet with.

Which brings us to style and the backhanded criticism Obama receives as far as being a perfect example of the “Cult of Personality.”  For some reason, the fact that Obama has too much style in his favor miraculously is a major criticism he has to contend with.

But I think Clive Crook for the most part gets it right; it is Obama’s style–his ability to inspire–that is exactly the reason to vote for him.  And I say this from as objective of a perspective as I’m capable of doing.

It is that ability to inspire that has made Obama a serious contender in the Democratic race, and may just make him the frontrunner by the end or the week.  He has done what politicians have tried and failed to do in bringing out the young vote in droves.  And when we look to November, we must remember that it’s the heart candidate that wins, it’s the heart candidate that we must rely upon to inspire people to get off of their couch and head to a polling place and pull the lever.

It is the hope and change messages that Obama offers so enticingly that will bring voters out in record numbers this fall, and as my colleague Matt pointed out in a conversation we had last night, Obama’s caucus strength points to the fact that Obama is the candidate that can organize the last minute GOTV effort that could push him over the top in a tough contest.

Right now, we don’t just need the substance, but we need the style.  America would do well to vote for Obama’s policies, but just as America needs a strong and competent president, after seven years of George W. Bush, America needs his his message of Hope and Change as well.

People speak out of the side of their mouths like Obama’s soaring rhetoric is an empty benefit, but what I see are enthusiastic voters, and an insurmountable grassroots effort.  People have attacked Obama that his pretty words aren’t actions, but Obama’s there’s little evidence he doesn’t have the walk to back up the talk, and besides, doesn’t a President rely upon his words to call a people to action?

With a snide tone, people may dismiss the momentum as a cult of personality, what I see are ever increasing numbers driving a growing campaign, and when it’s all said and done, those folks are probably going to stick around and fight in the fights necessary to put America back on the right track.

I’m failing to see the problem with all of this.

3 Responses to “Cult Of Personality”

  1. plum says:

    Well said. Might I add that Clinton’s “Ready on Day One” theme is pretty misleading. The last time I checked, the winner of the November election doesn’t have to start governing the very next day, but has a few months to meet with the current president, talk to cabinet heads, etc, and otherwise get up to speed on what’s going to be required of the position. Day One is actually sometime in January.

  2. You are most definitely correct, and might I add that the “Ready on Day One” meme is misleading for another reason. You get two terms max at being president; that’s it. Once you’ve done that, you’re done, which means, all presidents require a little on the job training.

    That’s just how it goes.

  3. Angellight says:

    If anyone needs Substance, just read Obama’s November 2002 speech he gave at an anti-war rally which set out the reasons why he thought going to war was a terrible ideal. It gives specific reasons and is actually a prophecy of what has happened. I believe the speech is on his website or you can google it.

    Also read his books, this man has plenty of substance in spades, no pun in attended. He is also brilliant, forward looking, inclusive a Man for these times!

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