Home/Daniel Larison/You're More Or Less Aloof

You're More Or Less Aloof

There are any number of theories offered for the tightness. One is that Obama is too temperamentally aloof for most Americans. ~Andrew Sullivan

The word choice here caught my attention.  Over the last few months, I have noticed “aloof” being used more and more often to describe Obama.  This jumps out at me because I remember using it back in February to describe him, or more precisely to predict how he would be perceived in the general election and why this would end up being his downfall:

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.  

Tagging Obama as aloof was not entirely new in February, but my commenters at the time thought I was off the mark.  Politico apparently made the same claim in a December ’07 article.  However, 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.     

P.S. Extra points for identifying the origin of the title.  It’s not hard, but I thought I would try something a bit less serious before I go on vacation.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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