Blogs > HNN > Obama's In!

Jan 16, 2007 3:48 pm

Obama's In!

Hey, let's celebrate!

Sorry, I can't.

Obama's in a long line of pols who by virtue of television put themselves before the public as serious candidates for the presidency.

It began with Estes Kefauver in 1952. Kefauver, the Democratic senator from Tennessee, had been elected a mere four years earlier. But after heading the famous crime hearings of the early fifties he became a household name. He immediately ran for president. NBC did a special at the convention, Kefauver versus the special interests (ie: bosses).

The bosses still ran things then so Kefauver went down to inglorious defeat (with Truman's connivance). The truth is he didn't have a prayer.

He was ahead of his time. But since then TV has given pols with short resumes like Obama and Estes the opportunity to make serious runs for president.

I wouldn't wish to go back to the era of the bosses. But the seriousness with which they took politics is impressive compared with our period's insufferable inanity.

At least the bosses KNEW the people they put before the public as candidates for the presidency. What do we know about Obama?

That we lack a clearinghouse for candidates comparable in sophistication to the system of old is a scandal.

And don't tell me the media are a good substitute. They play the role only passably better than school children drawn to a flying moth. Obama is exciting to TV people because he's charismatic and interesting. They don't vet him the way the bosses vetted a candidate. They don't ask if he's compiled an impressive record. They don't wonder if he's made the right sort of enemies. They don't pull him aside and ask if there's anything in his past that might produce a scandal. (Ok, they ask. But they are unlikely to receive the unvarnished truth the way the bosses did, though the bosses of course made plenty of mistakes--think Harding.)

But here we go again.

Obama: The Great Black AND White Hope of America, 2008.

For his sake and ours I hope he loses. He's too green for the job. And as Bush has proved, green presidents make bad presidents (unless their last name happens to be Lincoln).

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Oscar Chamberlain - 1/18/2007


Maybe you are right about Obama, but I really think you’re pushing your broader point way too far on the evidence you give.

1. "[Kefauver} was able to advance as far as he did solely because of television." And previous candidates needed newspaper coverage. And great songs, and great slogans (the old word for soundbite).

Henry Clay once complained that he only got the nomination in years that the Whigs were doomed. Their two successful presidential candidates were generals. "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" was hardly an appeal to the intellect.

In fact, how often in the roughly 120 years since Jackson won have parties deliberately chosen the man with the greatest experience for president?

2. "Because of his presence, his charisma, his telegenic smile." They help, no doubt about it. Charisma also helps in smoked filled rooms; do you really think that it was not a major factor before?

If we look at the elections over the last 30 years, there were two presidents with TV friendly charisma, Clinton and Reagan. That certainly helped them both, but part of the charisma of each was the ability to project optimism. They made that part of their message and their legislative agendas. In short, the charisma shaded over into substance at some point. Charisma alone would not have gotten them reelected. A majority of voters really did feel better off than they were four years before. (That drove me nuts in 1984, but it was true.)

2a. Second charisma point: did charisma help W? Did looks help him? He did not even get the most votes in the first election, and 9/11 helped a lot in the second.

3. You seem to want a ministerial system as in Western Europe. Sometimes I do too. When one looks at European leaders, their level of knowledge is striking. (One certainly does not need to worry about them pushing intelligent design in their school systems).

But we don't have such a system. The progressive era presidents were arguably the best educated, but by your standards neither TR nor Wilson had the political experience to be the choice of wise citizens.

In fact their selection is a reminder that Americans like candidates who seem to have one foot outside the system. That results in voters seriously considering candidates with little beltway experience.

You are right that the disadvantages are real, but there are some advantages, too, in bringing outside air into the imperial city.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/18/2007

I think this may underestimate Obama's ability to reach around the black leadership to the black community at large. Also, I would not underestimate his Illinois connections; they would provide him with more than a foot into the door of the established African American leadership.

HNN - 1/18/2007

He might of course make a good veep for her. A pretty strong ticket. He'd be strong where she is weak: on the war.

I worry about putting him in even as veep given his inexperience. But sometimes you have to gamble a bit. I'm betting Hillary wouldn't resign, be impeached or killed.

John Richard Clark - 1/18/2007

I do too. Here's another subplot: Even if he escapes self-destruction in the Southern primaries, Obama still has to defeat the most formidable political partnership in American history. Even as the silent partner in 2008, Bill Clinton has more credibility in the African-American community than Obama does.

If HRC and Bill call in every political IOU they possess among black politicians and opinion leaders, Obama will lucky to get Alan Keyesian numbers in the Democratic primaries.

HRC survived the worst dirty tricks in the Lee Atwater/Roger Ailes/Rush Limbaugh Republican playbook. What can Obama say about HRC that hasn't been said before?

Hillary won't even have to rough him up too much---she will damn him with faint praise, drive him from the race by April, ask him to nominate her at the convention, and appoint him as Ambassador to the UN in January.

HNN - 1/17/2007

I find all of this interesting.

HNN - 1/17/2007

My point is that Kefauver, a first term senator (yes, who had a decade inm the House) was able to advance as far as he did solely because of television. He was the first television candidatre, a man who advanced toward the nomination solely because of his television presence. After him came JFK and many others.

Now we have Obama.

It is worth noting that Obama is part of a historical continuum.

Does he have a chance? Maybe. Why? Because of his presence, his charisma, his telegenic smile.

Why him rather than say, a dozen others in the Senate?

Because of his presence, his charisma, his telegenic smile.

These however are not qualities for the presidency.

Would Adlai have made a good president? Hard to say. He seemed to have difficulty being decisive. He may not even have been as intellectual as contemporaries thought judging on the comments of certain people whose judgment I remember trusting when I read their accounts of his life.

But he was a serious person. The bosses knew him to be a serious person. And they knew his agenda.

The People cannot judge of these matters I am afraid. They base their decision on the most superficial of bases.

They sometimes pick better than the bosses would have, often worse.

But is there anybody who wants to defend HOW they make their selection?

John Richard Clark - 1/17/2007

I am admittedly on the fence regarding Barack Obama's candidacy. He had an unusually easy road to the Senate in a midwestern state. I do not think Alan Keyes was a worthy opponent nor do I think, based on Obama's book, that there is much substance beneath surface appearances.

Obama has some historical advantages that work in his favor. Despite the media's perpetual question ("Is America ready for a black president?") Obama should have little difficulty in winning white voters. He is an African/American, not an African-American. He carries no historical baggage and provokes no white guilt in the way, say, Rep. John Lewis does by his very presence. (Even the most dim-witted American recognizes his face from their imprinted civil rights newsreel in the historical brain---Lewis was ALWAYS in the line of fire and nearly always assaulted. He bears scars that remind Americans of the scars exhibited by escaped slaves)

Barack Obama's political momentum will abruptly end when he goes South to campaign among a constituency the media takes for granted---Southern African-Americans.

Don't be misled by elaborate Southern manners and hospitality---Southerners, white and black, use manners as a weapon against outsiders.

There are Conspiracy Brothers and Sisters down South who suspect Obama is not authentic. They will test him with subtle cultural traps. Is he comfortable in black churches? Would he try to "keep it real" if encouraged to do so? Does he understand that his American story is nothing like most African-Americans' experience?

It doesn't take much reading between the lines to deduce that civil rights veterans think Obama's rise has been just a little too easy, that he has not paid sufficient identity politics dues to earn their love.

In the African-American community, there is a world of difference between being respected and being beloved. African-Americans respect Tiger Woods for his talent and accomplishments in golf, but he made cultural choices that currently prevent him from becoming beloved in the same way Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Arthur Ashe were by many African-Americans.

Oprah Winfrey has been so warped by the unreality of wealth and fame that she barely seems connected to her past. Her bizarre South African Leadership Academy is evidence that Oprah has entered a Charles Foster Kane/Donald Trump/Michael Jackson territory of the ego. Like Woods, she is respected but not beloved by blacks.

The Talented Tenth will support Barack Obama because they possess the finacial clout to rate ambassadorships to Caribbean nations, cabinet seats, and bureaucratic posts. The rank-and-file will view Barack Obama with suspicion until he proves himself, one way or the other.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/17/2007

Estes Kefauver had considerably more experience in elective office than Adlai Stevenson did in 1952. Kefauver had 13 years in Congress behind him and Stevenson had no record in federal elective office. The system of vetting by other pols has given us Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Spiro Agnew, ... I could go on.