Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Candidates need some benign megalomania

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.

He's trying to show us how marvelous he is (and this isn't snark, he's really pretty marvelous) so that Democratic voters will recognize it and give him the nomination.

But that's not how it works in this country. I don't know if it really works otherwise anywhere else. But you have to really want it, come out and say it, take it. I thought about qualities that describe what is at issue. 'Toughness' seems to bound up in meta-national security mumbojumbo. 'Ruthlessness' sounds too, well, ruthless. You have to want it enough that you reach out and take it. Which isn't always pretty and admirable. But that's what it takes.

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.


Grandmère Mimi said...

You have to be hungry for the job. You have to lust for it and have that come across. Hillary has it. The others - not so much.

Neil said...

I'm not so sure, Jan. I think he is much more willing to ask for support than you might think:


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