We’re hiring a manager, not a spiritual adviser

In the interest of blog openness, here’s why I’m voting the way I am Tuesday:

Two things trouble me about the Obama campaign: First, its reliance on empty rhetoric: “Change” and now “yes, we can.” But change how? Can do what? And second, the candidate’s lack of experience is an issue. I fear that we could end up with Jimmy Carter: a well-meaning incompetent, as it turned out, rather than the Second Coming of the Kennedy; there’s just no way to know now. Worse, we could end up with someone who tries to backfill the rhetoric and defines change in ways we didn’t bet on.

I hear people saying that Obama’s impressive oratory gives them something to believe in. That sounds nice. But that, too, is dangerous. I don’t want to hire a spiritual leader for the White House. We have someone now who thinks he stands on spiritual principles and backfilled his definition of them in disastrous ways.

No, I want to hire a manager: tough and experienced and practical. That is what we need, especially now.

We have supposedly disdained the selling of the president, the productizing of politics. But we fall for it, like we fall for celebrity news. The Infotainment Rules blog draws that parallel nicely:

The Obama campaign more and more begins to resemble a celebrity marketing campaign, as I mentioned here:

“The way Barack Obama is being covered by the media and the blogosphere, he’s not a political candidate anymore–he’s a celebrity. He doesn’t have political followers–he’s got fans. He doesn’t have a political platform–he’s got a one-word slogan–“change” [which works, ’cause “change is good,” just like Nissan says, right?]. He makes narcissists feel so good about themselves.”

So: the slogan has changed–now it’s “Yes, we can”–but the marketing pitch is the same: Obama’s the one.

Quoth Oprah.

I am reminded unfortunately of the scene from The Candidate in which Robert Redford sits in back of his car mouthing the words he’s been delivering in random order. I just went out to buy the DVD. Here’s what he says: “Ladies and gentlemen. The time has passed. Got to be a better way. I say to you can’t any longer, oh no, can’t any longer play off black against old, young against poor. This country cannot house its houseless, feed its foodless… They’re demanding a government of the people, peopled by people. Our faith, our compassion, our courage on the gridiron… The basic indifference that made this country great. And on election day, and on election day, we won’t run away. Vote once. Vote twice for Bill McCay.”

I am also reminded of the final scene, in which the victorious Redford asks, “What do we do now?”

I have no doubt that Barack Obama is a decent, smart, and well-meaning politician. But don’t forget that he is a politician. And I fear that turning yourself into a slogan is an essentially cynical political act. Since the start of his campaign, except for a brief period in the middle, he has lacked the courage to be specific in his oratory.

Hillary Clinton has been specific, sometimes to a fault. She is, as debate moderators rudely enjoyed pointing out, not as likable. She is certainly not the orator Obama is. But where others see a lack of change because she has lived in Washington and the White House, I see experience and a potential to get things done. I agree with her on issue. I respect her. So I’m voting for her in the morning.

: See also the transcript of Howard Kurtz’s show this weekend on the media’s complicity in wanting to turn the Obama story to Camelot, the Sequel.

KURTZ: Chris Cillizza, you could argue about whether this Kennedy endorsement was a big deal, but what a collective swoon by the media — ask not why this was such a big story. Are they totally buying into Obama as the new JFK?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Well, you know, I do think, Howie, that in the Democratic Party, people have been waiting for the next JFK. A lot of people thought or maybe believed it was Bill Clinton. And I think Barack Obama is the next obvious heir to that legacy.

It’s a powerful story, and I think as much as the media gets accused of bias, in the decade I’ve spent in it, I don’t think it’s bias as much as it is good storylines. And I will be frank — this is a very interesting, fascinating storyline.

You see John F. Kennedy’s daughter and his brother get up and say this person sounds, feels and looks like my brother or my father. It’s a very powerful story. Ted Kennedy is more symbolic. He’s not just a senator from Massachusetts, he’s also the last one of the Kennedy brothers. So…

KURTZ: So you believe basically it deserves all this blowout coverage because of the symbolism involve? Brief answer.

CILLIZZA: You know, I don’t know if it deserved it, Howie, but I do think it was an important story as it related to Ted Kennedy saying, yes, this person resembles my brother.


CILLIZZA: If you are looking for the next John F. Kennedy, I believe he is it.

I’m not going for a fairytale storyline or a rousing slogan. I’m looking for someone to run the government. I want a manager. Managers don’t make good celebrities.