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.

  • Michael

    You really want a manager? I find that so odd.

    Why would you want a manager? This isn’t a business, this isn’t a corporation or a corner store or a Gap clothing store – this is a nation, a sort of democracy.

    I don’t want an executive, I want someone to stoke the fires of political engagement so that the people will be involved in thier government again.

    Hillary only offers this “sit back, and I will be a leader and I will get the job done for you”. But, this must be the generational split, you WANT someone to do the job for you – I want to do the job MYSELF, with THE PEOPLE.

  • Michael

    And I’ll repeat the longer explanation I posted earlier:

    What the Obama movement is about. And what you’re missing.

    I just checked in with your blog after a break. I’m shocked to see how you just aren’t ‘getting it’ when it comes to the Obama campaign.

    We’ve raised a whole generation of young people to participate via commerce. They only identify with something if it is a product they can buy into. The only way to engage them in politics is to create that product and offer them a chance to buy in. That’s the brilliance of the Obama campaign.

    Now, if it were only a product, it would be meaningless – but it’s also a totally participatory and transparent campaign. It is grassroots, built entirely from the ground up, and the course of the campaign is determined by the people. This campaign, in all of it’s manifestations is democratic, it’s democratic in a way that politics hasn’t been before. The product that you are seeing, and dismissing, is only the packaging – it’s the doorway that gets young people involved. Once they are, they are let loose.

    Signing up and participating with Obama’s campaign allows you to email anyone involved in the effort, nothing is filtered, no one is babysat. The campaign staffers are completely accessible, the campaign itself is in the hands of the people, the volunteers, the believers. This is a movement – and the passion is not about sound bites, but the sound bites do accurately represent the passion.

    You’re missing the whole thing – you’re blind to the excitement, the engagement, the groundswell of interest in politics and issues that is bringing in a whole new generation of previously apathetic voters. If Democrats don’t recognize what this movement means and what it could mean – they risk loosing the white house this November.

    We don’t want an executive to lead us – we want someone who will amplify our voices and give us the ability to reach into government. We don’t want someone who voted for the war and can’t admit it was a mistake, we want someone who was right about the war from the beginning and isn’t afraid to say it.

    This campaign has nothing to do with Obama himself, it’s about us. I worked FOR Kerry/Edwards, I loved the Clintons – but for the first time in my life, I AM the campaign and I’m working for MY voice, MY vision, MY hopes.

    You titled your response to the music video “Nice Beat. But can you lead to it?” You’re missing the whole point – we don’t WANT a leader. We’re done with leaders.

  • Michael


    you bring up the “lack of experience” argument again. But Sen. Obama has been an elected official serving the people for LONGER than Sen. Clinton.

    She was first elected in 2000, Obama was first elected in 1997.

    Not to mention that she voted for the war and won’t admit it was a mistake (haven’t we had enough of presidents who can’t admit when they are wrong?) Whereas Obama spoke out against the war from the beginning.

    And she voted AGAINST the Mine Ban treaty, and Obama for FOR it.

    There is such a long list of policy reasons…. Have you read Obama’s statement on technology? It’s the reason Lawrence Lessig endorsed him (http://www.lessig.org/blog/2007/11/4barack.html), it’s the most amazing statement on the use of new media for providing a participatory and transparent government. Really, any blogger or new media person who reads this will vote Obama:


    The policy differences are huge, the details he provides are explicit, the platform he’s running on is inspirational, but WHY do you keep confusing the packaging with the contents?

  • Harry

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

    So what exactly has Hillary Clinton ever managed?

    The only thing that comes to my mind is her attempt to reform health care in 1993. How did that turn out?

    She’s been a senator for seven years now. What piece of landmark legislation did she push through the Senate? What well-known bill is her name associated with?

    I can’t think of one. Can you?

    Hillary’s main accomplishment is her ability to endure repeated public embarrassments caused by Bill’s compulsive infidelities. And that’s a sign of weakness, not strength. Anyone—-male or female, straight or gay—-who puts up with that sort of abuse from a significant other clearly has numerous problems, beginning with a pathological lack of self-respect and assertiveness. Those are not the sort of traits you want in a president. A truly strong, self-respecting woman would’ve dumped Bill a long time ago and seized control of her life on her own terms. Women with high school educations supporting two kids find the fortitude to send abusive spouses packing; why can’t a Yale law school grad do the same? I would have much, much more respect for Hillary if she had divorced Bill in 2001 and struck out on her own; it would’ve been an exhibition of real backbone on her part.

    Just living in the White House is not experience, and potential doesn’t mean “she really hasn’t accomplished anything on her own yet.” If you feel Obama is too inexperienced, vague on substance, etc., those are legitimate complaints. But to call Hillary a “manager” is to exhibit a real disconnect from reality and a lot—-a lot—-of wishful, deceptive thinking.

    Bob Dylan was thinking of people like Jeff when he sang about Mr. Jones in “Ballad of a Thin Man.”

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  • This is helpful, Jeff, to gain a better understanding of the lense thru which you are comparing the 2 dems.

    First off, if you want a manager, it seems like Romney is the best bet. He’s worked at consulting firms & equity firms, the two modern temples of mgmt. He’s managed a business & a state govt’t. From my POV, he seems to not have much he believes in – but then again, that fits a lot of managers I’ve known.

    If you want a spiritual advisor, well it seems like Huck is the best bet. Not my theology, but he sure can preach.

    Your criteria is helpful between Hillary & Obama: tough and experienced and practical

    It’s hard to know which of the two is tougher, isn’t it ? Watching the Clinton thru Bill’s terms, I got the sense (a) they had become almost immune and (b) they still yearned for the adoration. Hillary seems to be tough, despite the spin she gets – I do worry that her sense of a “vast right wing conspiracy” is not tough-ness, but lunancy at times.

    I like where Obama’s toughness comes from – growing up bi-racial, spending 2 years on the streets of Chicago as a community organizer, even antagonizing McCain as a young Senator.

    In terms of experience, they actually seem like a wash, despite Hillary’s vaunted 35 years. The lion share of those 35 years, she worked as corp. lawyer for the infamous Rose Law firm. From my POV, I just do not agree with the output of that experience – I question her judgement and ability to not revert yet another co-presidencey (first 8 yrs of that from Bill I, then 8 years of Bush).

    In terms of practical, I’d ask you to point to 1 policy proposal of Hillary’s that you feel is practical. Her health care debacle was the very essence of impractical and her ongoing logic for the Iraq vote is pretzel-like.

    Clearly, you’ll vote for HRC tomorrow. I am banking on the thousands of new voices – young people, old cynics who had given up, hell even Obama-cans – I am banking on them. And if Obama is the nominee, as I hope he is, I suspect your energy & commitment to him will eventually grow.

  • Jeff,
    You know I’m a big fan. But I take issue with you here. Posted on my blog:

  • One other thought, Jeff – I sense you are mistaking Obama’s work in a community organizing model with the spiritual adviser model. As a community organizer early in his professional life, Obama understood his task as catalyzing citizens into building movements for change. Obama’s speeches are about citizen action, assembling coalitions, forcing change through popular demand.

    Clinton’s speeched tend to focus on what SHE will do for US. Subtle, but very different.

  • Tom B.

    You’re flat out wrong Jeff. We need someone who can transcend party, politics and ideology. Barack is exactly that type of person whereas Hillary is not. You can see it in how they went to the race issue in SC.

    Republicans will never work with her, they will fight vehemently against her. Barack will have won over so many independents that they will be wary to stand in the way of change.

  • From a UK perspective, for the most part I’m just relieved that people in the US are finally arguing over which Democrat they should choose. From what I’ve encountered in the news, I think Jeff’s points about the packaging of the Obama campaign are for the most point on the button and, to be perfectly honest it’s precisely the type of wishy-washy electioneering we’re grateful not to encounter too much here.

    Socially, I’d rather have gone for a beer with Bush than Gore, but thinking about it politically I’d have happily strangled Bush with my own hands to prevent him getting into power (and served the jail-time grinning like a Cheshire cat).

    However, Michael’s comments above prompted me to check out Obama’s Blueprint for Change, and despite the fact I was expecting to see the now cringeworthy word ‘change’ in every other sentence, I was pleasantly surprised that the blueprint contained a huge amount of surprisingly specific policy detail. He can obviously unite people, but if he proves himself capable of delivering what on the face of it look like sound policies, you just might have a great president on your hands.

  • The second paragraph in my comment above makes no sense and was supposed to be preceded by, ‘In light of what your country has gone through over the last decade or so, you’ve every right to be wary of personality politics.’

  • Jeff,

    Let me try to explain my perspective in a way that I think you can appreciate:

    Hillary Clinton = Yahoo!

    Barack Obama = Google

    Think about that for minute and then tell me how you think I’m wrong about this.

  • You’ve got to be kidding me. This is, as the Brits would say, “rich.”

    You’ve bought in to the two biggest media myths of them all, pushed by the Clinton campaign and echoed in the press, that somehow Hillary Clinton is a proven manager, with more experience. And that she has been more detailed in her positions than Obama.

    First, on the detail point: you don’t have to work to hard to find plenty of speeches or debates or white papers, where Obama has been very detailed about his positions. Just one small example: did you watch (or listen) to his articulate, detailed explanation of his health care plan in the debates the other night? The claim that Hillary is somehow “more detailed” is bogus. It gets focus from the press because, really, it’s the only strength she has.

    On Hillary’s supposed claim to more experience. What exactly has she managed? What specific experience does she bring to the office?

    Perhaps you’re thinking of the botched job running the health care task force in 1993? (Yes the Republicans didn’t offer much help, but the most stringent criticism of her performance came from fellow Democrats on the Hill — go read the history).

    Or maybe you’re thinking of her good judgement to vote for the Iraq war authorization, without having even read the NIE? (Bob Graham read it — one of the few who did — and voted against the bill because he could see the intelligence was shoddy).

    Another great bit of irony: if you really want a manager as President, then Jimmy Carter was your man. No President in the past 50 years was a more hands-on, technocratic micro-manager than President Carter. If Hillary wins, you’ll get your Jimmy Carter manager all right.

    Finally, like so many Clinton supporters, you’ve forgotten what Presidents really do and why rhetoric matters in politics. To get stuff done, you need to build a strong governing coalition. The most successful Presidents of the past 100 years understood that, and used powerful rhetoric to inspire people to their cause.

    If you’re a Democrat, you need to get people elected to Congress from Idaho, or Kansas, or Nebraska, or Arizona. Not just the coasts. Obama connects with voters in those states as well as those on the coasts in ways Clinton could only dream of. Can you imagine Hillary pulling 15,000 people in Boise?

  • Sara

    You’ve got some reading to do tonight, Jeff! http://www.barackobama.com/issues/.

    As for slogans and nicely packaged sound bytes, Hillary’s got ’em too! Make History! Hillblazers! I’m in to win! I’ll be ready to lead on Day One!

    Sound bytes are a part of this new media wave. Just because people listen to them doesn’t mean that’s all they’re listening to. It’s a means to stir up excitement, inspiration, action. What’s so wrong with that?

  • Jess



  • From Andrew Sullivan (not an unbiased source, admittedly):

    To chants of “Yes, she can!,” a variation on her chief rival’s campaign slogan, Hillary Clinton rallied thousands of supporters and a smattering of Hollywood celebrities at Cal State Los Angeles on Saturday … At one point, she asked the crowd, “Are you ready for change?” According to press accounts, Obama asked the same question in a Saturday afternoon speech in Minneapolis.

    “Yes, we can” vs. “Yes, she can.” There you have the key difference between the two campaigns.

  • This campaign reminds me most of that of Eugene McCarthy. The idealists get caught up in a “vision” and this invokes an emotional response.

    Liberals, however, are supposed to base their choices on rational and objective criteria, not gut feeling (that’s for the conservatives who believed “it was morning again in America”, or we want a guy you can have a beer with). So what we are seeing is a bunch of rationalizations for their choice of Obama.

    Notice that none of them can actually point to significant achievements of Obama (and Hillary doesn’t highlight any of her own, which are mostly of local interest in NY). Obama hasn’t been in office long enough to have done anything major. This is not a criticism, just a fact. Freshmen senators have no clout.

    So rather than saying they support Obama because they have a gut feeling they have to come up with something else, hence the rationalizations.

    It’s OK to support someone based upon a hunch. Even the person with the most lengthy policy platform can’t tell you how they will react to an unforeseen circumstance. One can see this in how Clinton reacted to the first WTC bombing and how Bush reacted to the second. In hindsight this is completely predictable based upon their personalities and view of the world.

    You like Obama, fine. Why do you have to try to convince others (or are you trying to convince yourself)? Go with your gut and be satisfied.

  • David

    If Hillary actually seemed like she was interested in becoming president to improve the country rather than to fulfill her own personal ambitions and quench her lust for power at any cost I would consider voting for her. But then again I just remembered that Bill Clinton wasn’t particularly good the first time around. He just happened to be in office at the right time to take credit for a period of concurrent low inflation and strong economic growth, the likes of which we will probably not see again in our lifetimes.

    For me it’s Obama or nobody – I’m abstaining in November if Billary wins tomorrow.

  • Paw

    Sorry, Jeff, but if we needed a manager in the White House (which we don’t – we need someone who’s going to help us re-establish our good standing in the world as well as sheperd sound fiscal and social policies for the future), I’d pick Romney, as a previous poster indicates. He did wonders for Massachusetts and has a business background to boot.

    Hillary Clinton’s undistinguished service to New York buys her nothing in my book, as far as experience goes. She has spent more time prepping for this campaign and campaigning than she has trying to get anything done for New Yorkers, whose taxation-to-tangible-return ratio must be the worst in the nation.

    Personally speaking, I’m weary of both Clintons and Bushes. We split from the UK 232 years ago because our founding fathers thought monarchies sucked. Still do, so why perpetuate a virtual monarchy here?

    Besides, both Hillary and Obama will raise my federal taxes. That’s what I have to look forward to either way.

  • chico haas

    RF: “Liberals, however, are supposed to base their choices on rational and objective criteria, not gut feeling (that’s for the conservatives who believed “it was morning again in America”, or we want a guy you can have a beer with).”


    I think the gross generalization in our country is liberals take care of people and conservatives take care of business.

  • RF: “I think the gross generalization in our country is liberals take care of people and conservatives take care of business.”

    It’s a crying shame that every conservative that gets in to power acts out this “stereotype”. Sure, there’s lots of nice, caring conservatives. It’s just a shame conservative voters don’t vote for them.

  • Harrison

    I like Obama because he’s out there saying every day that he wants people to buy into the process, to be a part of of his campaign, to be a part of Washington.

    If he gets in there and it’s business as usual, well the people who bought into him are going to push back pretty hard. There will be a large movement of people who truly want better things to happen in this country behind him. If he fails, OK we move on. If he succeeds, the upside is so much higher then a political manager hack like Hilary.

  • chico haas:
    This is not the place to get into a detailed discussion of the “right wing authoritarian” personality type. But, if you are interested in why those who follow a strong leader also tend to be conservative politically I suggest visiting the web site, theAuthoritarians.com run by psychologist Robert Altemeyer.

    He has a free, online book available on the subject.

  • Barack Obama is a Harvard University Law grad (as is Michelle, his wife). He’s not the preacher man that you make him out to be. I don’t think that anyone in their right mind would argue that he’s not intelligent enough to ‘manage’ the executive office. Conversely, America voted George junior to do that twice. I think that we’d all agree who the better manager would be.

    I also think that most Obama supporters are confident that he is intelligent enough to surround himself with wise council and make good, pragmatic decisions based on objective criteria rather than lobbyist pressure or other old-politic persuasions. His lack of experience in executive government is actually one of the things that his supporters relish. He isn’t one of the ‘good ole boys’ and, being more detached from it, he can make decisions more easily without feeling the need to please the right people. He can step on toes that need stepping on.

    Most importantly, I think that Obama supporters think that he is listening to them and will continue to listen to them when he is president. They are confident that he will make government more transparent and accessible to them. That might sound like Rhetoric, but if it is, it’s rhetoric that is desired by many people who are tired of the same old thing.

    Hilary talks about her experience. But I, like many, feel that she is just a cog in an old wheel. Having experience with a failing company doesn’t impress me. I’d prefer the enthusiasm and innovation of the promising start-up. If anything, I would prefer that our new manager came from outside of the existing, experienced pool of leaders who have run the business into the ground.

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  • Jeff – amen.

  • Mark Hall, above, makes an important point:

    “Finally, like so many Clinton supporters, you’ve forgotten what Presidents really do and why rhetoric matters in politics. To get stuff done, you need to build a strong governing coalition. The most successful Presidents of the past 100 years understood that, and used powerful rhetoric to inspire people to their cause.”

    Being able to make inspirational speeches is part of the job description for a successful politician. A major reason why our current incumbent has been so unsuccessful is because he is oratorically impaired. Parenthetically, I believe that Obama’s oratory seems especially welcome in Campaign 2008 precisely because the electorate has been starved of a half decent speech for eight years now and likes one when it hears one. When you, Jarvis, said in your earlier post on the will.i.am video — “To me, this only underscores the notion that Obama’s campaign is the most rhetorical of the bunch” — I confess I thought this was unaccustomed praise for his performance. I only understood it as criticism when I read the comments on the post.

    In your excellent earlier post on The New Metrics of Campaigns you, Jarvis, argued convincingly that the viral activity generated by a campaign is more significant than mere support, as measured by a pollster. Making that argument, you implicitly recognized the value of an ability to inspire. Leaving aside whether your judgment happens to be correct that Rodham Clinton is indeed the superior manager of the two, it is not clear that your argument for settling on your criterion of selection — managerial skills instead of charismatic appeal — is convincingly thought out.

  • Jeff, I agree completely (and I don’t always tell you that!) – we need Hillary Clinton badly, not the messianic figure gaining so much media attention. No one transcends politics in the White House….no one.

  • Jeff, you should watch Larry Lessig’s video on Clinton vs. Obama: http://lessig.org/blog/4obama.mov

  • Andy

    While I agree that the word “change” is essentially meaningless on its own and points to no specific policy positions, there’s something to be said for character and charisma. If Obama was making empty promises, if he had no substantive stances on issues and no ideas about how to improve this country, than I would agree that his star-power was more of a charade than anything. But the reality is he has staked out positions that are as concrete and specific as Hillary’s, only he has turned on the charm a little more than she has. Reading their environmental proposals, they are very similar. As are their stances on the war. As are their views on healthcare (don’t try to persuade me that Hillary’s “mandate” constitutes any significant disparity). The reality is that Obama has the knowledge, ability AND the appeal to lead this country. There’s nothing wrong with being inspirational. Given our current economy and international reputation, we could use some inspiration.

  • Harrison

    Jeff, here’s an article that does a much better job then you have done demolishing Obama:


  • Your title confuses me. What’s the link between good public speaking and spirituality?

    “Uh, he talks good words. He must be some god fearin’ cult leader out to brainwarsh me an my momma.”

    Were JFK, Truman and Roosevelt spiritual advisers or Presidents? Maybe I’m confusing my church and state?

  • chico haas

    Thanks, Robert. At present, I’m not interested in the nature of the “right wing authoritarian” personality type. I only commented on your statement because it seems to misread US conservatives as gut-feelers due to the “Morning in America” commercial for Reagan’s re-election. While everyone remembers the first line of this admittedly populist commercial, the rest of the voiceover speaks to the improved economy – always a core topic among US conservatives.

  • Harrison, it’s not really surprising that Fred Seigel, a senior advisor to Rudy Giuliani in his first term, would speak out against Obama. On the other hand, the advent of Obama-cans, Republicans who admire his open-ness to different POVs and bridge-building skills, is EXTREMELY surprising.

  • beachmom

    Sounds like you have fallen for the hype about the hype: that Obama somehow isn’t about substance. That’s funny, because I remember Obama coming out with a detailed Iraq plan back in late Dec. 2006, long before Hillary did.

    I think what this is really about is your long held bias to vote for Clinton. You said way back in ’05 that you “can’t wait to vote for Hillary Clinton”. Well, you made sure to filter out what Obama had to say, what his worldview was, and what he intended to do as president (I mean, you COULD actually peruse barackobama.com if you wanted to see the details), so you could stick with your Plan A. Maybe it also has to do with the fact that you supported the Iraq War, and Obama never did. Now that is talking substance.

  • Jimmy

    Wow, while this Obama supporter may not disagree with your assessment of either candidates, it sure is a cynical assessment. I won’t climb on the Obama = Kennedy bandwagaon. I mean, the man was a good president, but he was also very flawed and was slow to embrace the Civil Rights Movement. However, I firmly believe when you vote along such cynical lines you get Bush redux. If Hillary Clinton is the final nominee I will certainly vote for her, but while I have a choice it won’t be her.

  • I think that this comparison chart illustrates who the better ‘manager’ will be in terms of transparency.


  • If that’s rhetoric, give me more of it.

  • Vote with your mind. Don’t be swayed by the big brand names.

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  • Let’s not forget that Rodham Clinton, too, is using rhetorical techniques to present her candidacy.

    She scrupulously avoids abstractions and intellectual themes; she doggedly on sticks to pre-tested talking points; she presents her policies using a series of micromanaged five-point plans instead of generalities — all of these are designed to create the very impression that BuzzMachine endorses, that she is the candidate of substance and diligence, grounded in concrete reality rather than airy-fairy idealism.

    Just because her speaking style is not inspirational, it does not mean she is not choosing words and arguments carefully to make a persuasive case. That is the definition of rhetoric.

  • Perhaps Jarvis has stumbled across one reason why Rodham Clinton’s appeal among non-Democrats seems to be weaker than Obama’s…

    …the virtue that many Democrats in the party’s base hail as “competent management” is an attribute that many non-Democrats may see as the vice of being “wedded to bureaucracy.”

    It may be that a liberal Democrat who talks in generalities, rather than specifics, has an easier time persuading those voters who are reflexively against big government that he does not have the heart and soul of a bureaucrat — or “manager” to use BuzzMachine’s less pejorative term.

    There is no doubt that the legacy of her Hillarycare scheme has saddled Rodham Clinton with that big-government image among her partisan Republican opponents.

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  • Cooler Heads

    I wrote this in the comments for the post that came after this one and probably should have put them here:

    Jeff, you ask why people are so excited when Obama says “change.” What does change actually mean, why does it mean something when he says it?

    (Full disclosure: I have tended to vote GOP recently, and deeply regret a vote for Bush II.)

    The biggest change that Obama proposes is the end of divisive partisan politics. He says it a lot, and so far I have not heard him engage in the deep ugliness that has swallowed up both parties in recent years. The Clintons have mastered the art of dirty politics, mudslinging, and name calling. Look at Bill’s romp through South Carolina for proof of that.

    And the Republicans? Do I need to list their activities or can we just stipulate?

    This is why Obama is catching on. It’s not health care, it’s not some policy plank or party line. It’s that he represents the potential end of “fight to death” partisan politics. He embraces “compromise,” a strategy that marked US governance through about 1950. Since then, it’s been “winner take all” politics, better to die than compromise. And look where it’s gotten us.

    When I hear Obama say “change,” that’s what I hear. When I say Clinton say “change,” I think she means “It’s time for the Bush’s to go and the Clintons to take over again.”

  • I’ve been away a while, Jeff, but I missed it when you decided that our fight with Jihadists was over, or perhaps the candidates’ attitude, intent, perspective and/or capabilities with regard to this topic might have some bearing on your decission. Like it or not, the Democrats are widely eprceived as light on national security, both here and abroad. I make no predictions, nor am I trying a “vote … or else” scare tactic, but I see a significant chance that there will be a desire to test the resolve of the new President come 2009. Who do you think will be best to handle that test, regardless of party?

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  • And people say advertising is dead…..

    “Obama isn’t just a candidate, he’s a movement…”

    Yep sure. Got it.

    By the way, Dove isn’t just a soap
    it’s a self esteem movement for women.

  • Ok. Maybe you’re right Jeff. I only recently realized that Hillary was an excellent manager for big business when she served as a Director on the Wal*Mart board from 1986-1992.


    Maybe she could bring Ken Lay on as VP.

  • @submandave: you say that you don’t want to perpetuate the “do this or else” fear mongering that we’ve dealt with over the last 7 years, but isn’t that exactly what you are doing?

    Personally, I think that Obama would handle threats better than Bush has over the last 7 years. Bush has used fear as a tactic throughout his campaign. It would be nice to have an intelligent and composed leader at the helm if, God forbid, something is actually DONE to harm us. Or would you be concerned that he wouldn’t be as interested as Bush was in policing the world?

    After Hillary’s second teary incident yesterday, I might be a bit concerned if she was in command when actual threats transpired.

  • Harrison
  • How about the future

    I have been waiting for years to come back into the Democratic fold, and the Kennedy family’s “endorsement” of Obama is yet one more reason to wait. Why I, or anyone, should care who they favor in any election is mystifying. Think the Bushes and the Clintons are American royalty? The empires they have created pale in comparison to the Kennedy clan. And the arrogance and idolatry of Ted’s speech comparing Obama and his brother is approximately only 4% less hilarious than a 45-year, 8-term US Senator supporting the candidate of “change”.

    Doesn’t really matter, I suppose. Clinton/Obama will be the ticket vs. McCain/Lieberman. The rest is just window dressing.

  • chico haas

    Heh. Rodham Hussein.

  • Jess

    I should add (in addition to my agreement with you as indicated in my earlier comment) that even Barack’s “plan” — his Blueprint for Change — is empty rhetoric. His ideas sound great, but nowhere does he detail how he will implement and, more important still, PAY for his changes. There is a lot of “Obama will…” but not a whole lot of “Obama will, by…” I’d like my President to have a true plan, not a brainstorm.

    Let the rotten vegetable tossing begin. [covering face with arm]

  • @How About the Future.

    I’m not so sure that Obama will want to bring Hillary along as VP, but I suppose that would be the smartest move. I don’t think any of the Republicans running would have much of a chance against a Obama/Clinton alliance.

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  • Empty rhetoric is par for the course across the board as opposed to a disqualifier. My horse is out of the race but I’m voting Obama instead of Hillary because for all her managerial skills, she was just punching the clock like anyone else. Whoever is willing and able to keep our Constitutional protections from evaporating needs to be given the job as soon as they can start. Hillary is just a little less incompetent in that regard than “wrong way” Joe Lieberman (who *she* endorsed!), but not by much.

    I am not afraid (except of those who play up fear so much in order to gain power). Anyone who was dumb enough to vote for Bush should sit this one out btw.

  • Aspertame

    The thing that is actually striking about Obama support is that, for whatever his shortcomings, he’s just not the worst of the bunch, from the Dem or the GOP side.

    It’s my opinion that most – nope, probably ALL of the front runners would never have gotten so far as a candidate in any previous election year, and that has nothing to do with race or gender. Is being an unproven “inspiring” newbie that much worse than being a cynically corrupt, philandering opportunist? A true believer that wants to bring the nation together under (his) god, albeit in a rather affable, non-threatening style? A presidential spouse angling for 8 more years of hegemony bordering on right-of-kings? — Tell me she’s still with him for love. They’re business partners and the business is politics.

    So no, in any other election year, I’d be impressed by Obama – but give him my vote? More likely I’d stand with those who say go back, get a battle scar or two, show your mettle and try again. This year, I’ll at least consider giving him my vote just on the grounds that he is the “least odious”. You can add to that my fairly deep suspicion based on recollection of her past White House years, that a H. Clinton presidency will become just as ideologically isolated and deeply mired in defensive secrecy as the current administration is. Bonus point irony level: Some pundits are already theorizing that W has more or less accommodated himself to the notion of an HC presidency, and considers THAT the lesser evil (than Obama, say.)

    In any case, a dem in the White House may be a boon long term for the GOP, considering the economic house of cards built on bubbles, that is going down right now. Can we say “Hoover”?) Maybe now they are just trying to orchestrate the least embarrassing loss possible – “hey, let’s give it to the loyalist war hero” is no stretch under that scenario.

  • In this observer’s opinion, the speeches of the two Democratic candidates on Super Tuesday night closed the oratory gap significantly. Rodham Clinton’s was more aspirational than usual; Obama’s was more detailed and specific. Her Statue of Liberty coda was particularly well framed in its inspirational pitch. So distinctions between the two based on rhetoric have narrowed, at least in terms of how the speeches were written.

    Delivery is another matter. Rodham Clinton’s speaking style was flat and unmodulated. She rushed through her speech and trampled on applause lines. She conveyed no understanding of the rhythm of the words she was reading or how to build a crescendo. It seemed she was exhausted and just wanted to get off the stage as swiftly as would seem decorous. If one conducted a word count, Obama must have spoken at half the cadence. He waited for his words to sink in, listened for what lines attracted applause, and responded to his audience’s enthusiasm.

    BuzzMachine characterizes these two different rhetorical approaches as her managerial style versus his spiritual one. Fair enough. To this ear, she seems more task-oriented, getting the speech done and getting off the stage; he seems more interested in persuasion, testing how his words are sinking in with his audience. The difference could also be characterized as that between solipsism and outreach.

    And on the evidence of last night, if BuzzMachine really believes that oratorical ineptitude is a desirable trait in a candidate, it should switch its endorsement forthwith to John McCain. His victory speech was insipid, trivial and mawkish.

  • Brilliant analysis of the Obama Media machine. He is a slogan with little concrete thought behind that. The media has fallen for it hook line and sinker, and as a result, so have the rest of the American people who are used to finding out about their candidates from 2 second sound clips. I can’t deny that the campaign is brilliant, but it is an insult to anyone who actually cares about hearing about the ISSUES.

    If you ask the Obama supporters what he’s running on, they say change and hope. Their answers tell the tale. There is nothing more to it, and they can’t say any more then that.

  • Suppose Obama wins on a platform of bipartisanship and then the Republicans refuse to cooperate, what then?

    Just look at the past year, they have filibustered something like 140 bills. Why should they change tactics just because a Dem president asks them to?

    I’d like to hear how this bipartisanship is supposed to work when only one side wants to negotiate. What’s the plan?

  • I swear, Hillary supporters are bound and determined to put McCain in the white house. The only way to get the republicans off their asses and into the voting booths is to make it a Clinton McCain race.

    If you don’t count her time as the wife of a politician, she doesn’t have a bit more experience than Obama.

    You’re not stupid, just by the words you use, you’re a good ‘brazillion’ times brighter than Bush…. John? John McCain? Is that you? That IS you!! I knew it!

  • Cooler Heads

    Robertfeinman, imagine how well bipartianship will work when the Clintons are back in the White House? The Clintons of the Right-wing conspiracy.

  • Cooler Heads:
    I can take your snide remark one of two ways. Either you think that Clinton will be less effective than Obama in getting cross party cooperation or you think that Hillary will give in to the Republicans the way Bill did.

    But, that wasn’t my point, I’m not criticizing Obama for being optimistic, I just want to know what plan B is if plan A fails.

    The person who got the most accomplished in the face of strong opposition in the past 50 years was LBJ. We still don’t know all the things he did to force congressmen to support civil rights and great society programs. Intimidation? Blackmail using files from the FBI? Bribes for local projects?

    There are just some times in politics that compromise is not possible and those who think they can reason with the unyielding are being unrealistic. As I said above, 140 filibusters in the past years doesn’t support a hope that bipartisanship will be forthcoming spontaneously after the election.

    So, what’s plan B?

  • Feinman —

    “The person who got the most accomplished in the face of strong opposition in the past 50 years was LBJ.”

    Strong opposition? I do not think so. LBJ’s achievements came after his 1964 landslide victory over Barry Goldwater so they were in the face of weak opposition.

    When Obama campaigns on the basis of cross-party cooperation, he is referring to his ability to attract Republican and independent support at the ballot box — not in the legislature. His plan, as I understand it, is that he, not Rodham Clinton, can offer the coattails required to elect an LBJ-sized supermajority.

    His argument, it seems, is if Democrats want to replicate the hyperpartisan, demonizing Bush-Rove strategy of 50%-plus-one then Rodham Clinton is their woman. If they want to supersede the blue-red divide then he is best equipped to build a new larger coalition.

    Who knows if his argument is correct? They hold elections to find out, I suppose.

  • Andrew:
    Perhaps a bit of a refresher course on the power of the Dixiecrats might be in order. The Dems in LBJ’s day were a unified party in name only.

    The proof is that most of the former Dixiecrats (or their children) are now in the GOP.

    As for Obama’s bipartisan appeal, I understand his campaign strategy, I’m concerned with what happens if he is elected. I’m assuming that the balance in the senate won’t be much different than it is at present (+2 or 3 seats for Dem). If you have any evidence that this isn’t true, I’d like a citation.

    Fifty four fractious Dems don’t make for a legislative battering ram. Thus my question about Plan B.

  • Fineman —

    Point taken on the Dixiecrats concerning the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. I am not so sure your argument applies to the rest of the Great Society.


    …during Campaign 2006, I found the best resources for keeping up on trends in the Senate races included Roll Call and Pollster.com, who do not appear to have geared up for Campaign 2008 yet. National Journal and Rothenberg have started. They both agree that the most vulnerable seats are all Republican, apart from Louisiana. Between them, they recommend that the Republican incumbent states to watch, in descending order of vulnerability are:

    New Hampshire
    New Mexico
    North Carolina

  • I was just a college student when Reagan was elected and new to the idea of being part of the Democratic process, but I do have a distinct recollection that ALL of the people I knew aside from my mother and grandfather were for Jimmy Carter because he was straight forward and spoke about issues, whereby Ronald Regan wowed the public with his charismatic Hollywood persona. Reagan won by a landslide, even though he didn’t have anything substantial to say. Was the teflon man really as great a President as great as the historians have made him out to be? I was in the hospital the week he died, which was also the week Ray Charles died. We watched his airplane on the tarmac for hours and never heard one thing about Ray Charles.

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