Thursday, October 02, 2008

Obama, Politician as Writer

Joe Klein:

Part of Obama's steadiness is born of necessity: An angry, or flashy, black man isn't going to be elected President. But I've also gotten the sense, in the times I've interviewed and chatted with him, that calm is Obama's natural default position. He is friendly, informal, accessible...and a mystery, hard to get to know. He doesn't give away much, doesn't — unlike Bill Clinton — have that desperate need to make you like him. His brilliant, at times excessive, oratory is an outlier — the only over-the-top, Technicolor quality he has.
Andrew Sullivan adds that "Obama's little secret is that he isn't that cool. He's just a nerd with natural Xanax in his blood."

I have a different theory: Obama, like few Presidents since Lincoln or Jefferson, is a writer. Jefferson was personally cool and non-oratorical; Lincoln was calm, folksy, and easy to underestimate. Jefferson ripped his opponents' guts out, but could reflect about and moderate that impulse; Lincoln brought his opponents into the fold, as is well known now through the multiple invocations of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book A Team of Rivals. They both radiated charisma.

The common thread is the their ability to see beyond themselves, to observe the world around them and to see all sides of it. Obama discusses his books and his speeches -- especially his signature speeches -- as often as his legislative proposals. He ia an author, and while authors are not always multifaceted and observant, our best political writers have nearly always been.

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