Barack Obama strikes nearly everyone as a nice guy. Part of that appeal is a distinct absence of aggression. Normally, when we think about charismatic political leaders, the mind conjures up dynamism, vocal modulation. He doesn't need them. Perhaps the drama of his background is enough.
His now-legendary ability to inspire crowds is no doubt a complex phenomenon, but his smile and his disposition certainly have their magnetism for those of us who long for racial healing. He has crafted an image of someone who wants to get along with everyone.
The contrast between Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's personalities could not be greater, at least along the dimension of aggressiveness. Her tightly-wound spring drives both her and Bill, a political team made for drama.
A few days ago at the urging of Sean Hannity, Frank Luntz asked a polling group at a Democratic debate to name one of Senator Obama's accomplishments. A whole section was polled and no one could name a single feat. It didn't matter to them, they liked him. Obama profits hugely from his plainness. His oratory may stir liberals, but much of that perception comes from the juxtaposition against the blandness from which that it emanates.
Another Hannity moment illustrates Obama's success well. Awhile back, maybe a year or more, he was talking to some random teens on his radio show asking questions to demonstrate how poorly our young people are educated in government and politics. One young woman responded that she wanted Obama in the White House because she was "tired of all the drama" since 9/11.
Might I suggest for his campaign bumper sticker "No Drama Obama"?
Senator No-drama gets a big pass just for being easy going and non-confrontational. But sooner or later Obama and his supporters will have to deal with substance where aggression is a fact of life: national security. Obama's foreign policy seems as non-confrontational as his image. So far, the public is buying it, but that's because they have not yet thought seriously about issues of war. That will wait for the general election campaign.
Recent polls show the public disapproves of the Iraq War by a three to one margin, which on the surface bodes well for him. But also over half of the public thinks that we are now succeeding in Iraq.
If more than half think we are succeeding, then they disagree with the Obama frame of reference, in which our actions in Iraq were immoral, caused by a lack of understanding of a foreign culture and that we need to disengage immediately. In that paradigm success can only be achieved by leaving Iraq. Over half the public must disagree substantially with the Senator's Iraq policy.
The frame of reference for most Americans is that we were right to take Saddam out, but that our strategy failed in the aftermath. Most Americans do not view the Iraq War as immoral or illegal but just, however improperly planned and executed they might think it has been. The American people support overthrowing heinous dictators, spreading democratic ideas, and killing al Qaeda. They just want it done competently.
Obama by contrast doesn't want it done at all. He wants to withdraw and talk as he recently stated in his Superbowl advertisement which was kind of an odd victory-focused venue on which to sound just a teeny bit like a pacifist.
The success of the surge, the defeat of al Qaeda, the continuation of reconciliation in Iraq are all factors that would hurt candidate Obama against Senator McCain much more than these developments would hurt Senator Clinton. The focus of the general election campaign will be hard questions that will require specific answers. It will take more than an open personality and a national defense based on thinking encouraging thoughts about the bad guys' intentions to win the trust of the electorate.Ray Robison is co-author of Both in One Trench.