Saturday, August 09, 2008

Matinee Idols

Neal Gabler has a great piece in Saturday's Los Angeles Times on how the McCain campaign and others have mistyped Obama as a rock star -- we're actually relating to him as a movie star:
All campaigns are movies now, consisting of competing narratives with competing stars. Part of Obama's appeal, as it was for the Kennedys, is that he has what all rising stars have. He has youth. He has good looks. He has charisma. He has an ability to spellbind. He has had a rapid ascent that makes him new and unfamiliar. He has, in this McLuhanesque age, unflappability that plays especially well on television. And as the biracial son of a single mother, he has a great personal story that provides a terrific vehicle for his role.

But, above all, Obama has something else that all great stars have -- he embodies a theme. Every great star is a walking idea. James Cagney demonstrated the power of sheer energy early in his career, and the way that energy could curdle later in his career. Cary Grant demonstrated the force of charm and quick-wittedness. Paul Newman demonstrated the limitations of self-interest and the redemption that comes with engagement outside oneself. Robert Redford demonstrated the deception of appearances. Barbra Streisand, in the immortal words of critic Pauline Kael, demonstrated that talent was beauty. That is what made these individuals stars. They incorporated ideas that mattered to us, that resonated with us.

Obama is a star in this sense too. As he reiterates endlessly, Obama brings idealism at a time when many Americans are despairing of making any headway against the problems the nation faces. Drawing on his own personal story of disadvantage that led to Columbia University, Harvard Law School and now to the Democratic nomination, Obama in his every gesture and utterance suggests that "Yes We Can." This idealism isn't inspiring adulation because Obama is already a star. Obama is a star precisely because he is inspiring. He is the anti-Bush, and what he's selling is hope.

Meanwhile, McCain's campaign with it's lobbyist for Georgia, now at war with Russia, is calling Obama, "bizarrely in sync with Moscow." Yep, same old red smear. Using this horrific humanitarian crisis as a tool for tactical gain. Immediately.

And what's happening inside the McCain campaign itself?

Out of his hearing, Mr. McCain is called the White Tornado by some people who have worked for him over the years. Throughout his presidential campaign, he has been the overseer of a kingdom of dissenting camps, unclear lines of command and an unsettled atmosphere that keeps aides constantly on edge.

Even now, after a shake-up that aides said had brought an unusual degree of order to Mr. McCain’s disorderly world in the last month, two of his pollsters are at odds over parts of the campaign’s message, while past and current aides have been trading snippy exchanges debating the wisdom of attack advertisements he has aimed at Mr. Obama.

Think how he runs his campaign might be a clue as to what kinds of Presidency a McCain Administration might be?

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