Reading again today about how, in the recent contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama “carried white voters in only two places–state capitals and university towns,” I wondered yet again why those in university towns, the well-educated and apparently thinking set would so enthusiastically support a man whose primary appeal is emotional.
Michael Barone was the first to explore this phenomenon in depth in his blog post on the contrasting appeals of Obama and Hillary Clinton, the former appealing to Academics, the latter to what he termed Jacksonians. (Back in April, Bruce called the piece “excellent” and recommended it. I concur on both counts; I strongly encourage you to read it.)
The Weekly Standard‘s Noemie Emery whose article, the Charisma Machine, reminded me of Obama’s academic appeal, offers her own theory. These voters:
(a) tend to lean left; (b) live in a world of words and abstractions; and (c) due to tenure, unions, and parental support, find themselves outside of the world of the marketplace. As such, they are pushovers for ego-massaging and vacuous maunderings. They tend not to notice that his frame of reference is always himself and his feelings, and that his appeals to racial healing, bipartisanship, government reform and sweet reason do not connect to his acts in real life.
Yet, despite academics’ love for this Democratic, Emery observes, in the campaign’s final days, Obama only “wheezed over the finish line,” not really catching on among working class Democrats.
Her article caused me to wonder — as did Barone’s in April — why thinking people give in so readily to the most charismatic candidate. (Just look at the appeal of the charismatic tyrant Fidel Castro on university campuses.) It would be interesting to see if some of these very scholars gone gung-ho over Obama mock Americans obsessed with celebrity talk shows and fashion magazines.
Obama’s appeal is little different than that of a Hollywood celebrity. He looks good, presents himself well in public and reads his lines well. To be sure, he has demonstrated a degree of intelligence that all too many celebrities lack. Yet, all too often he doesn’t apply that intelligence to his legislative responsibilities, not living up to his billing as a reformer who transcends partisanship.
What has he done in his career to promote bipartisanship and effect government reform? His appeal lies primarily in the eloquence with which he expresses a commitment to such goals and to his promise of change.
But, shouldn’t academics, those who have studied the world, want something more than lofty appeals and support instead somebody who had achieved something substantial in his career?