Friday, October 17, 2008

Not So Wild

David Brooks pulls up a couch and shrink-raps Barack Obama.

They say we are products of our environments, but Obama, the sojourner, seems to go through various situations without being overly touched by them. Over the past two years, he has been the subject of nearly unparalleled public worship, but far from getting drunk on it, he has become less grandiloquent as the campaign has gone along.

When Bill Clinton campaigned, he tried to seduce his audiences. But at Obama rallies, the candidate is the wooed not the wooer. He doesn’t seem to need the audience’s love. But they need his. The audiences hunger for his affection, while he is calm, appreciative and didactic.

He doesn’t have F.D.R.’s joyful nature or Reagan’s happy outlook, but he is analytical. That’s why this William Ayers business doesn’t stick. He may be liberal, but he is never wild. His family is bourgeois. His instinct is to flee the revolutionary gesture in favor of the six-point plan.


It could be that Obama will be an observer, not a leader. Rather than throwing himself passionately into his causes, he will stand back. Congressional leaders, put off by his supposed intellectual superiority, will just go their own way. Lost in his own nuance, he will be passive and ineffectual. Lack of passion will produce lack of courage. The Obama greatness will give way to the Obama anti-climax.

We can each guess how the story ends. But over the past two years, Obama has clearly worn well with voters. Far from a celebrity fad, he is self-contained, self-controlled and maybe even a little dull.

I didn’t like it when armchair psychologists and pundits tried to figure out the inner Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush, and I don’t like it when they do it about Barack Obama. Or John McCain, for that matter. Most of the time it ends up in being more about the analyst than the subject and I really don’t want to know what drives Mr. Brooks’s psyche as shown in his reflections on the candidates.

That said, what is pretty clear here is that Mr. Brooks is trying valiantly to convince himself that he can make it through an Obama administration by telling himself that instead of being scary or risky, Barack Obama will be less than all the hype.