Barack Obama at a rally in Waterloo, Iowa. (Photo: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)
Today Josh Marshall, as he often does, caught the essence of something I've often wanted to write about. He's talking about Barack Obama but the deficiency he describes is common among candidates for office, especially ones who lose.
I've worked for a number of these candidates. They think that if the electorate only would understand how good and qualified they are, they would be elected. And they might very well make great office holders. But they make lousy politicians.
Good candidates need an almost megalomaniacal certainty that they deserve the job and the willingness to do what it takes to get it. Since these are profoundly anti-democratic characteristics, how do we ever get good governance? That's what the Constitutional system of checks and balances is supposed to deliver by moderating and buffering the drives of individuals. When, as at present, it is not operative, we get lousy governance.
Unfortunately I think Marshall is right about Obama. I think new net activist opportunities that helped him last winter set him up for the position he is now trapped in. He benefited enormously because his supporters revealed a new arena for organizing Presidential buzz at social networking sites like Facebook. Obama made a huge splash in a place others hadn't really known existed (or if they knew, that it mattered.) It all came easy. Bad luck for Obama, as this novel buzz fed his belief that his own virtues would carry him to the nomination.
Successful candidates identify, target and corral their potential supporters in disciplined pursuit of office; they employ whatever technical means they can find and afford. They know the question is not how, but how many? They know they are cobbling together a majority, not demonstrating their superior virtue. This is not an attractive picture when stated baldly that way, but it is how elections work.