Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Food for thought:
The more Obama fudges, the more he confirms his status as the true heir to Bill Clinton....
I think three factors are at work here. The first is modern legal education. Law students are trained to make and to contest distinctions. This means explaining how things that appear to be substantially the same are actually significantly different, and how things that appear to be significantly different are actually substantially the same. This is the sort of thing Obama has been doing a good deal of lately.
This ability to transform things so fundamentally (like into unlike; unlike into like) resembles magic, and to a certain kind of personality, it can be intoxicating. Among these types, one imagines, is the future politician. The risk of such intoxication is heightened by the fact that the post-modernism I described above has seeped into legal education, which means that too many law professors behave less like the retrained “sorcerer” and more like the sorcerer’s apprentice. Clinton and Obama both were law professors when they were young.
The second factor is the boundless (and largely justified) self-confidence Clinton and Obama possess. Both are entirely self-made. Both came from the periphery of society and, seemingly without much effort, grabbed its most glittering prizes. For both, glibness was a key to the success itself and to the appearance of its ease. No wonder both believe they can magically talk their way out of contradictions.
To appreciate Clinton and Obama, it is instructive to consider their precursor, Richard Nixon. He too benefited from a top-notch legal education and he too was a self-made man who possessed self-confidence. But Nixon was educated in a different, less facile era. Moreover, Nixon wasn’t glib, and therefore didn’t make it look easy. As Jackie Mason put it, “Nixon lied, but at least he had the decency to sweat when he did it.” Thus, while Nixon was known with justification as Tricky Dick, he was far more constant than Clinton and Obama on a given issue. Nixon tended to triangulate by putting new issues on the table. He lacked the deep self-confidence to triangulate regularly through out-and-out self-contradiction.
Nixon was also substantially encumbered by a hostile press, and this brings me to the third factor that I think explains the audacity of Clinton and Obama – they believe the press will cover for them. Nor is this confidence entirely misplaced. For while new media outlets such as blogs increase the likelihood that campaign contradictions will become known, the liberal sympathies of the still dominant outlets provide hope that they will not become widely known.
Nixon had a highly variable relationship with the press- mostly due to his own paranoia and inability to perfectly control whatever they said about him, he saw them as enemies.
Obama has enjoyed a very nice run with the press, which will come to a screeching halt in a few weeks as the election really heats up.