As someone who self-identifies as an intellectual (however pretentious that may sound), Obama’s argumentative approach is incredibly appealing. It’s often described as professorial, detached, or cerebral, but when I watched clips from last night’s “town hall,” I felt like I was judging a particularly good college policy debater. Even when he stutters or stumbles, I know (or at least think I know) that the wheels are turning inside his head. Here, for example, is Obama on Iraq. Granted, I’m predisposed to agree with him on the issue, but I can’t help but marvel at his fluency:
Even on healthcare – where I don’t share Obama’s position – I can scarcely fault his compelling, methodical presentation:
I think this goes back to a point made in this excellent dialog. Obama’s persona – his thoughtful, cerebral approach to argument – is incredibly attractive to professionals, experts, and intellectuals. His calm demeanor, his air of competence – all of these suggest a leader who will be up to the task of managing a crisis.
It’s an interesting window into the culture war, because the very feature I find most obnoxious about McCain – namely, his tendency to recklessly insert himself into whatever emergency presents itself – is touted as evidence of real leadership by his backers. Obama’s thoughtfulness, on the other hand, is mercilessly caricatured by Republicans. He’s “too thoughtful” to lead effectively; “too intellectual” to rally the troops. When I hear Palin or McCain, on the other hand, my immediate reaction is something along the lines of “wow, they really don’t do nuance,” but to their supporters that very quality is another indication of superior character or leadership ability.
UPDATE: See also David Brooks:
Obama has the great intellect. I was interviewing Obama a couple years ago, and I’m getting nowhere with the interview, it’s late in the night, he’s on the phone, walking off the Senate floor, he’s cranky. Out of the blue I say, ‘Ever read a guy named Reinhold Niebuhr?’ And he says, ‘Yeah.’ So i say, ‘What did Niebuhr mean to you?’ For the next 20 minutes, he gave me a perfect description of Reinhold Niebuhr’s thought, which is a very subtle thought process based on the idea that you have to use power while it corrupts you. And I was dazzled, I felt the tingle up my knee as Chris Matthews would say.