Barack Obama: the man who fell to earth?

Much of the news chatter after the Pennsylvania primary has been focused on what Newsweek is calling Obama’s “Bubba Gap.”

(Superman or Clark?)

If you can forgive the magazine the ridiculous cover art showing arugula and a beer, the article does make an important point about the difficulty Obama is having in playing by the old rules and tactics that he promised to rise above.  Look, this campaign, which started out being about “hope” and “change” versus “experience” has now become about bowling scores, 60s radicals, flag pins, angry preachers, elitisim, and imaginary snipers at the airport.  With these two dems having essentially identical positions on the real issues, it was inevitable that the 24 hour news cycle would focus on personality and “character.”

A particular passage in the Newsweek article drew interest …

 Obama might win (center-right columnist David) Brooks back if he returned to his high-mindedness and stopped pandering. But winning over the great mass of American voters is tricky. Obama has stood for change, and when it comes to changing politics, many Americans are with him. But change, more broadly imagined, is threatening to a lot of people, and not just high-school dropouts who own guns and live in rust-belt states.

What pundits have been discounting re: Obama is that besides his soaring rhetoric and high mindedness, a lot of people see him as a human being.  Despite his cool intellectualism, he has a calm, steady presence that people respond to.  He doesn’t have to fake it, it’s real.  The writers of the Newsweek piece (Thomas, Bailey and Wolffe) got it right: when Obama panders he loses.  What they didn’t point out is that when Hillary panders she wins – sometimes big — as the Penn primary has proven.  That’s because the Clintons’ strength has always been their Zelig-like desire to please us, even at the cost of losing their own identity.  People inside the party who really know Hillary have been disappointed in her win-at-any-cost tactics.  That’s because she’s continually losing herself in her quest for the gold ring. 

She’s becoming more Gollum-like with each primary contest, with her ridiculous pronouncements aimed at (“my precious“) super delegates about how only the “big” states she’s won count and the others don’t (sorry Virginia, Maryland, et. al).  Last week she actually started to count the Michigan and Florida delegates in her own popular vote tally, forgetting that those contests didn’t count (and Obama wasn’t on the ballot in Michigan), and discounting all the caucus votes where Obama won big.

Obama is in a tough spot: he’s got to soar and be grounded at the same time.  He’s got to be Superman and Clark Kent rolled into one; even the man of steel got to have it both ways by splitting into two.  When the Reverend Wright thing came to a boil, he had a chance to pander to whites but chose to make a historic speech about race instead.  But lately, he and his staff have lost their focus by trying to be all things to all people. 

BTW, a wag of the finger at Hillary for continuing to repeat the line “if my preacher said that I would leave that church” while Wright makes his media rounds this week to resurrect his damaged reputation.   The Wellesley and Yale Law grad knows full well that you would no sooner walk out on the church that nurtured you and provided you with a community than you would walk out of the country club that helped get you that job on Wall Street, or the Synagogue membership that helped you land that movie deal.  That’s the reality of old school social networking.

We may be biased about this (ahem) but Obama has got to go back to keeping it real and define himself in a way that is closer to his true character and history.  Obama is still a blank for a lot a lot of voters and that leads to others defining him (Newsweek quotes a poll saying that 13% think he is a Muslim, a point that Hillary does little to dispel: “as far as I know,” she winks when asked about his status as a good Christian).  

Barack, forget the pandering.  Let the Clintons do it and have your staff and the rest of the pundits cry foul.  While you’re in Indiana don’t pretend to be an Indy racing expert.  Play some hoops instead, talk about your dreams for our future and we’ll all be okay.

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