I cheer your general skepticism, James, but aren’t Obama’s “intangibles” awfully tangible? None among Bradley, Dean, or Clark have a million dollar smile, Tsongas was one of the most antitelegenic candidates ever, and Jesse Jackson’s celebrity appeal was rather … narrow. Though Gary Hart (apparently) had some sort of physical appeal, neither he nor any other candidate the Dems have put up have even come close to, much less matched, the physical, nearly physiological embodiment of the Modern American Dream like Obama — except guys like Bill Clinton and John Kennedy. What Obama has, simply put, is charisma; but whereas we think of charisma as a general quality it’s better understood as a specific convergence of person, place, time, and People. For a hot minute it once looked like Ralph Reed could have reached that level. What Obama offers is something more: the promise of a unity society, in which every culture, every individual, every imperfect history, has its place, because hope gives us the power of us-ness. There shall be no contradiction between religion and therapy. There shall be no contradiction between government and caring. There shall be no contradiction between races, between classes, between the drug-gobbler of the past and the book-author of the present. A lot of major cultural forces and failings — some of which helped produce President George W. Bush — have been building the irrefutable premise for ‘Bamismo for some time. That sort of naturally zeitgeist-tailored magnetism may not be enough to beat Hillary Clinton in a cage match, but it is enough to power a candidacy on real hope all the way to that showdown: hope maybe not for us-ness but for simple victory.
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