Saturday, July 5, 2008

Sometimes you have to - sort of - quote somebody else

With apologies to Bagehot, the following is twist on an Economist magazine piece critiquing Gordon Brown, Tony Blair’s successor. (Months ago a colleague of mine, a fellow progressive, who lives and works in England pointed out the similarities between Gordon Brown and Barack Obama. The refusal to toe a party's line when that party selects a less than stellar leader can happen in other countries, too.)

…The whimsy and gaffes, however, point to what has been Mr Obama’s most damaging flaw: he is a lousy communicator. A failing in any leader, for Mr Obama this weakness has proved catastrophic.

Part of the problem is—how to put it politely?— the presumptive nominee’s proclivity, under pressure, to be prudent with the truth. It isn’t only his fondness for misleading historical comparisons and self-serving exaggeration: all that is more or less routine, and passes unnoticed by most voters. Much more damaging have been his periodic assertions that up is down as with in his claim that were it not for Selma he would not have been born, when the civil rights march in Selma took place years after Mr Obama's birth.

The mother of all such incredibilities, however, is Mr Obama’s insistence that his latest reversals, waffles, and flip-flops have nothing, repeat nothing, to do with alarming opinion polls. Probably Mr Obama believes that his higher moral purpose justifies such distortions. But they have cost him the respect of political journalists, and through them the faith of the public.

Sadly (for him and for the Democratic Party), Mr Obama has a bad habit even more damaging than saying impossible things: saying nothing at all, often at excruciating length. Beneath his iterations there lies a strategic insight that once served the presumptive nominee well: that his core phrases should be repeated incessantly until they reached the generally apolitical public. But that method works only if the message is clear and appealing. Mr Obama’s themes have often been neither....

[If this sounds too real for your taste, consider supporting The Denver Group]

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