Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Professor's Sense of the Possible

Daniel Larison has a fine post that explicitly names the semi-buried, bad-conscience doubt of my earlier entry on Obama:

Besides highlighting another episode where Obama’s own supporters seem intent on destroying him through their own misguided enthusiasm and good intentions, justifying the ways of small town America to the wine and cheese set exemplifies a couple of other problems with Obama’s campaign. One is that it puts him into his academic, meta-candidate role, where he talks about his campaign as a kind of prism for understanding American society as if he were a pundit commenting on his own candidacy, and the other is that it conveys the impression that his campaign (and, if he won, his administration) would be a long, drawn-out graduate seminar in which the Professor holds forth on various subjects on a regular basis as a way of spurring on “dialogue.” That definitely appeals to a certain kind of person, which is why Obama wins college grads and post-grad degree holders by gigantic margins. For everyone else, it inspires the kind of dread and boredom that I sense in my students when I use the word uxorilocality.

1 comment:

Matt said...

As I understand it, the explanation was requested by one of the audience members. I don't know that there's a way he could have answered the question that wouldn't have set off Mr. Larison's prof-dar. We also don't know what the rest of the conversation was like; it could have been a kind of wonkish, academic exchange suited for the audience of the moment.

My sense is that the candidate actually has a fairly keen sense of audience, and tends to pitch his comments well to the appropriate mode and tone for many diverse constituencies. He switches from professor mode into preacher mode into politician mode rather well, from what I've seen. Each has its appeal in a campaign season.

I think Larison's right that attempts to "explain" any constituency to another is inherently treacherous, even if candidates get asked to do it all the time. But Obama's ability to offer insights that weave together an understanding of diverse constituencies has frequently been cited as one of his political gifts.