July 14, 2008

Obama:  The Man of His Times

A fascinating piece from City Journal on the peculiar charisma of Obama, a charisma rooted in transparent platitudes and gobs of feminine empathy

Obama?s charisma is tuned to the mood of the moment. The charisma of American political leaders has typically rested on images of unflinching strength and masculine authority: Teddy Roosevelt in the North Dakota Badlands; Kennedy, the naval hero whose sexual prowess was acknowledged even in his Secret Service code name (?Lancer?); Reagan, the man on horseback whom the Secret Service called ?Rawhide.? Obama?s charisma, by contrast, is closer to what critic Camille Paglia has identified with today?s television talk-show culture, in which admissions of weakness are offered as proof of empathetic qualities. Talk-show culture is occupied with the question of why we feel so bad, when it is our right under the liberal dispensation to feel eternally good. The man who would succeed in such a culture must appear to sympathize with these obscure hurts; he must take pains, Paglia writes in Sexual Personae, to appear an ?androgyne, the nurturant male or male mother.?

Obama, in gaming this culture, has figured out a new way to bottle old wine. He knows that experience has taught Americans to suspect the masculine healer-redeemer who bears collectivist gifts; no one wants to revive the caudillos of the thirties. Studiously avoiding the tough-hombre style of earlier charismatic figures, he phrases his vision in the tranquilizing accents of Oprah-land. His charisma is grounded in empathy rather than authority, confessional candor rather than muscular strength, metrosexual mildness rather than masculine testosterone.


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