Catching up with a fawning Associated Press story on Barack Obama from last Saturday, “Obama rises from political obscurity to verge of history,” on Friday the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto ridiculed the sycophant approach taken by the AP's Charles Babington, formerly of the Washington Post. Babington trumpeted in the May 10 dispatch: “There's ample evidence that Obama is something special, a man who makes difficult tasks look easy, who seems to touch millions of diverse people with a message of hope that somehow doesn't sound Pollyannaish.” Taranto, in his May 16 “Best of the Web Today” online compilation, poked fun at Babington:
Is Barack Obama merely something special, or is he truly extraordinary? Babington can't take a position on that. He's a professional reporter, after all, and has to maintain his detachment. But he does report that “without question, Obama is an electrifying speaker,” that “Obama has a compelling biography, too,” and that “for a politician with only four years of experience at the federal level, Obama also has spot-on instincts, associates say, and a steely confidence in his convictions, in good times and bad.”
Speaking truth to power Charles Babington isn't.
For an expert analysis, Babington turned to “Jim Margolis, a veteran campaign strategist now working for Obama,” who credited Obama's success to the “blend” of his traits as a “great orator” and a “brilliant” person with an “intriguing biography” -- all “wrapped in 'authenticity,' which makes Obama's message of hope and inclusion seem plausible, not pie in the sky.”
Taranto's item quoted this portion of Babington's story:
Maybe the toughest question is this:
Is Obama, with his incandescent smile and silky oratory, a once-in-a-century phenomenon who will blast open doors only to see them quickly close on less extraordinary blacks?
Or is he the lucky and well-timed beneficiary of racial dynamics that have changed faster than most people realized, a trend that presumably will soon yield more black governors, senators, mayors and council members?
Presidential campaigns have destroyed many bright and capable politicians. But there's ample evidence that Obama is something special, a man who makes difficult tasks look easy, who seems to touch millions of diverse people with a message of hope that somehow doesn't sound Pollyannaish.
Another excerpt from later in the AP article, as posted by Yahoo:
Without question, Obama is an electrifying speaker. At virtually every key juncture in his trajectory, he has used inspirational oratory to generate excitement, buy time to deal with crises, and force party activists to rethink their assumptions that a black man with an African name cannot seriously vie for the presidency.
A prime-time speech at the Democratic convention in Boston catapulted him to national attention in 2004. When his presidential campaign badly trailed Clinton's high-flying operation, he gave it new life with a timely Iowa speech that outshone her remarks moments earlier on the same stage. And a heavily covered March 18 speech about race relations calmed criticisms about his ties to his former pastor, although Obama had to revisit the matter when the minister restated incendiary remarks about the government.
Obama has a compelling biography, too. The son of a black African father he barely knew, and a white Kansan mother who took him from Hawaii to Indonesia, he was largely raised by his white maternal grandparents. He finished near the top of his Harvard law class, then rejected big firms' salaries to work as a community organizer in Southside Chicago, where he found a church, his wife and a place that felt like home.
But all those attributes don't explain the Obama phenomenon.
Other great orators have fallen short of the presidency, including Daniel Webster and William Jennings Bryan.
Plenty of brilliant people have tried and failed, too. Bill Bradley was a Princeton graduate, basketball star and Rhodes Scholar.
Intriguing biographies aren't enough, either. John Glenn was an astronaut and American hero, but he couldn't get off the presidential launchpad.
Jim Margolis, a veteran campaign strategist now working for Obama, thinks it is his blend of all these traits, wrapped in "authenticity," which makes Obama's message of hope and inclusion seem plausible, not pie in the sky.
Margolis interviewed many of Obama's Harvard classmates for TV ads and documentaries. They told him Obama "was wise beyond his years, and never talked down to people," Margolis said.
"He has this amazing ability to connect with people and understand their problems," he said. "And through it all, there is this optimism."
For a politician with only four years of experience at the federal level, Obama also has spot-on instincts, associates say, and a steely confidence in his convictions, in good times and bad...