Sunday, July 27, 2008

Betting on Obama?

My default position is to prefer the Democrats to win any election rather than the Republicans. I tend not to get too worked up about it when it comes to the presidency though. There are a number of reasons for this but one that is overlooked to a degree I find inexplicable is that the powers of the US president are circumscribed by Congress to an extent that is, I think, without parallel in any other democracy.

In other words, instead of hearing the cliche that the American president is the most powerful person in the world, I think it would reflect reality better if more people said that Congress, in relation to the executive, is the most powerful legislature in the world.

This is one of a number of reasons why I have misgivings about Obama. He has for me the dual advantage of being neither a Republican nor Hillary Clinton - but whatever other problems might occur should he become president, I'd bet on this one: surely disillusion will follow hard on the heels of the euphoria we'll see should he win the presidential election? This is a function of his limited powers, which will be exacerbated in his case with the fervour of expectations now surrounding him.

Obama is undoubtedly charismatic - but one of the features, and dangers, of charisma in politics is that the carrier of charisma becomes a repository for people's best expectations almost regardless of what they are or what they do. When you have someone with charisma, people take them as representing almost anything they want - regardless of the reality. This is why, for example, Princess Diana could be for the monarchist the incarnation of a royal fairy-tale whilst simultaneously being an anti-establishment figure to those of a republican disposition - rather than what she was: a publicity-seeking, imploding bag of poisonous self-pity.

As for Obama, what we know - rather than what people want to believe - gives me cause for concern. For one, he strikes me as being woefully inexperienced. He is also rather conservative - having had a record, as far as one can tell, of being somewhat accommodating, flexible, in his stance on a variety of issues if this serves to further his career. There is, as far as I'm aware, no example of him being prepared to court unpopularity over an issue over which he feels strongly. Also, while I won't pretend to know what is best in this present situation, like a number of people while I welcome his expressions of commitment to Afghanistan, I treat with great scepticism the idea that the American involvement there is something that can be divorced from its role in Iraq.

However - and it was this thought that prompted this post - the more short-term concern has to do with his electoral strategy, and this is related to the whole issue of his charismatic style mentioned above. Maybe it's pure prejudice, evoked by the sight of Germans getting excited at a public rally and waving flags - even if the flags in question happen to carry the Stars and Stripes - but I can't help getting the feeling that the tone and manner of his European tour wasn't very wise. It might play well on the pages of the European press but in America?

It's the feeling he's peaked too soon and the assumption that the election is as good as won isn't going to go down well with a significant section of the American electorate. People don't like this and this thought floated through my mind: is this like Neil Kinnock's triumphal entrance at party conference prior to the 1992 election, only on a much larger scale? I have no idea but it occurred to me again when I read Paulie's short post on the subject:
"Am I the only one that thinks that McCain at 5/2 today is a very good price?"
No, you're not. I'm not going to have a punt for two reasons:

a) I never gamble. Nothing virtuous about this. Deep down I'm a shallow human being with an addictive personality and an adolescent's impulse towards immediate gratification. Fortunately, gambling is one vice I simply don't understand.

b) Even if I did, in this case I trust reason would prevail anyway. Having ignored my own advice - that in politics it is folly to attempt to predict the future - the memory of failing to predict the SNP win in Glasgow East is likely to be a strong deterrent for quite some time.

But no, Paulie is not alone. I'll eschew any temptation to predict the future this time but we are justified, I think, in remembering what we know from the past: people, voters, do not like being taken for granted - and I think this might prove to be a problem for Senator Obama's campaign. (Predicting again while pretending not to - I can resist anything but temptation.) He is still just a Senator, right? The thing is, he seems to be surrounded by a whole bunch of people who seem to have forgotten this already. Don't think the American electorate have though.

Update: Hmmm - seems the Kinnock comparison occurred to someone else too.

Remember this, anyone? How fucking embarrassing was that? I remember being profoundly embarrassed - and that was before Major won the goddam election...

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