Larison on Obama’s “Aloofness”

Daniel Larison is easily my favorite conservative intellectual who is also a PhD candidate in Byzantine History.  Back in February, he had this to say about Obama’s candidacy:

The reason why the relatively more wonkish, detail-oriented candidates repeatedly come up short is that they confuse a display of competence and understanding with demonstrating intense expertise with the specifics of their policies, which matter primarily to interest groups, bloggers and box-checking ideological gnomes.  Romney could run rings around McCain and Huckabee with his expertise, but that didn’t matter.  The same has been true with Clinton in her struggle with Obama. 

All the things that horrify a republican about mass democracy–the identitarianism, the ”gut-level connection,” the vacuous rhetoric and the cheap, manipulative symbolism–help to explain why we end up with the candidates we do, and they will explain why the aloof, relatively more expert candidate in the general election, Obama, will end up losing.  


Although I entirely disagree with his conclusion emotionally (and on roughly 5 of 7 days intellectually,) I thought it was interesting that he revisits the topic in response to his friend Andrew Sullivan, who pegs the tightening of the polls to Obama’s aloofness.  Larison:

I think the aloofness goes hand in hand with the wonkishness and expertise, so that while it is electorally a problem it is a signal of other desirable qualities.  It’s just not often the case that someone with this combination prevails in a popular election.  Most of McCain’s critics probably think that it deals him a serious blow to describe McCain as a visceral, emotionally-driven person, but I think those of us who are against McCain (regardless of whether we are for Obama) make a mistake if we treat this as an electoral weakness, just as we are missing something when we emphasize how little McCain knows about any policy questions.  They are the sources of his strength as a candidate, and I suspect that they are part of the explanation for why he continues to run far ahead of the generic GOP candidate.  

Better than anyone maybe ever in American politics, Bobby Kennedy bound a superb intellect to an unsurpassed ability to connect with “people with problems.”   I think Joe Biden has a little of that himself.  Let’s  hope that Obama finds his RFK gear, hopefully close to Labor Day, hopefully close to Flint, MI.


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