Monday, February 25, 2008

Unsound bite

Yesterday I heard part of a live Hillary Clinton speech on CNN. I guess it's wrong to compare her oratory to that of Barack Obama's, but I couldn't help myself when she said something to this effect: "I want you to hire me for this job."

Monotone, at that.

I like Hillary, but those words encapsulate everything I don't like about her. This election is the most pivotal in at least 28 years, and I'd prefer to think that those vying for it could muster up a little enthusiasm. Barack sure has. Speech-wise, Obama has given even political cynics like myself some optimism that the system is not utterly irredeemable. When Obama speaks, politics seems like a calling, something that people undertake, with great pride, as a civic duty. Hillary sees it as a job - a 9-to-5 notch on the resume to pay the bills.

And while speeches aren't everything, communication does count for a lot. Stump speeches such as the one Clinton gave yesterday are, by their nature, carefully crafted. If ever Hillary should drum up enthusiasm within herself, it should be these choreographed moments. If she can't even fake it then, why should anyone listen when it matters most?

Yes, she's right about the presidency being a job. But it's so much more than that. I once wrote in my college column that we shouldn't choose the president - or anyone else - based solely on beer-buddy charisma. This cycle, we should be mindful to avoid the opposite extreme as well. The next president is going to need to build consensus within Congress and undertake the Herculean task of beginning to repair U.S. relations with the rest of the world. This will take, among many other things, a balance of intellect and charisma. Both Hillary and Barack have plenty of intellect, but Barack pulls ahead in charisma. If the presidency is a job, then we must make sure our person meets all of the qualifications.

By seeing the presidency merely as a job, Hillary is blowing the interview.


Anonymous said...

But the flip side of the coin is that when Hillary speaks thoughts and proposals come out; with Obama it is feel good wonderful rhetoric but lite substance wise. I will support whoever the nominee is but I voted for Clinton.

Ian McGibboney said...

I don't know. A lot of what Hillary says is taken almost word-for-word from Bill's earlier campaigns (such a mottoes and the like - check YouTube) and she has hurled a lot of invective against Obama. To say that either is really exploring the issues with depth at this point is a bit of a stretch, but they both do well enough when they do speak up.

The mistake here is to mistake Hillary's lack of elocution for levelheadedness, and Obama's charisma for cult-like vapidity. Both can coexist, and both can be absent.

Leah Martin said...

Ian, While I agree that both candidates are serving poli-lite politics during this campaign season I can't help but recall experiences where I have seen both of the senators in action...or rather inaction. In DC there is an obvious distinction between the two Democratic candidates, how they run their staffs, who actually shows up and performs, and who smiles for the cameras and says what people want them to and never actually gets anything done. I wish every American voter could have the experience to really see what gets done and how it gets done in DC. With this insight I am confidant that most would change their vote entirely. Sad really. I think I have just reached my saturation point.

Ian McGibboney said...

If that's so, Leah, then the message has not been communicated very well. Most of us aren't in a position to see how government works and frankly feel very excluded from the process. Never in my life have I had a high public official so much as acknowledge any correspondence I sent their way, be it by phone or e-mail, whether as a citizen or even as a journalist. I did talk to Mike Foster once, in person, but I wouldn't have gotten there without an aggressive professor pulling strings for me.

And that's exactly the problem: I don't doubt that Hillary is a great person and would make a great president. But a lot of us feel shut out the door by all of the current "experienced" batch of leaders. Being told that we are basing our pick on empty rhetoric is further insulting, but that's what Obama supporters hear every day. As if Clinton and McCain are discussing the nuances of specific policy issues and Obama's just trying to charm everyone into bed.

Both Democratic candidates should talk more about issues. But would anyone listen? I wish they would. Maybe they would if they felt like anyone was truly accessible. Obama resonates with a lot of people because his platform basically mirrors Hillary's (sans Iraq war vote and polarizing swath), but he carries himself with a certain humility and attitude that suggest that the next eight years wouldn't be as equally cynical and polarizing as the past eight.

You're right that we don't know what's going on in the inner reaches in government. This administration and its enablers in Congress have made sure of it. Maybe Obama's relative inexperience in Congress is the best thing he has going for him.