To me at least, Barack Obama doesn't do that convincing an impression of Major General Siad Barre, the scientific socialist, or any other kind of socialist -- or, as Obama's enjoying saying lately, a Communist who shared his kids in kindergarten. He's much more convincing as Machiavelli.
Which, if you're a Democrat, you like about him. You like that he's ruthless and cunning. You like that he can answer the rhetorical question floated by Richard Ben Cramer's campaign classic, What It Takes: it takes amorality. If you're an Obama supporter, you've been saying to yourself, "It's about time we had a Democrat who can beat the Republicans at their own game. Who'll grin like Reagan while brawling like Nixon." Niccolo Machiavelli -- he was all about the happy warrior, and that's Obama, and that's a good thing, isn't it?
About eight months ago, I attempted to reach a certain icon of the civil rights movement. She sent me a pleasant email with all of the contact information, indicating that though she didn't know what my journalistic angle was, she'd probably be willing to talk to me. I then wrote back and explained that I was eager to discuss Barack Obama, because I knew that she had attended events marking the fortieth anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination and wanted her sense of what Obama represented in that historical continuum. The icon didn't write back. So I emailed her again. And then again. And then left phone messages. And finally by her silence took that as a message of its own.
Ryan Lizza penned an excellent story in the New Yorker several months ago about Obama's path to power in Chicago and the bruised feelings he left there. Political ascents are usually unpretty. But the asymmetry in journalistic coverage of Obama's climb and that of, say, Sarah Palin's, is pretty striking -- and to the McCain camp infuriating. And really, can you blame them? Can you blame Salter and Schmidt for insisting that their guy's the one who crosses party lines (and has the scars to prove it, my friends!) while Obama has never paid any political price for the handful of times he's bucked the Democratic leadership? The Illinois senator's decision to go back on his word and refuse public financing may have been politically canny in that it's allowed him to flood the zone with ads in the final weeks. But you could make a case that it's also the single most egregious moral lapse of this presidential campaign -- and very much of a piece with Obama rope-a-doping McCain on doing a succession of town hall meetings.
A friend of mine, and one of the smartest guys I know -- and a journalist, so I won't mention him by name -- wrote me this email after having read my NYTM piece on the McCain campaign: "I empathize with McCain about his grievance that the media is practically a propaganda wing of the Obama campaign and also with McCain's incredulity that Obama is viewed as the consensus-builder in this race when it was he, McCain, who has built his career on crossing the aisle while Obama, since coming to the U.S. Senate, has worked on, well, primarily getting elected president -- in case you're wondering, yes, I think Obama will make the better president. But he ain't the saint so many of his supporters would have him be. Just as that cranky old coot, McCain, ain't without his valid umbrage."
For more reported insights on the campaign and my take on what McCain would need to do to turn things around, visit my new reported blog, "The Home Stretch," at GQ.com.