Media

Virginia Postrel on Obama: Glamour Kneecapped by Lack of Charisma

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Same as the old day?

Former Reason editor Virginia Postrel has a smart Bloomberg column up about how President Barack Obama has inevitably disappointed just about everybody. Sample:

Obama may well win re-election—for that, he only has to convince voters that he's the lesser of two evils—but the enthusiasm of his 2008 campaign has certainly vanished.

What happened? In 2008, after all, not just political pundits and regular folks were expecting big things of Obama. So were certified leadership gurus. Warren Bennis of the University of Southern California and Andy Zelleke of Harvard praised Obama for possessing "that magical quality known as charisma."

This charisma, they predicted, would give Obama "the transformational capacity to lift the malaise that is paralyzing so many Americans today" because "a charismatic leader could break through the prevailing orthodoxy that the nation is permanently divided into red and blue states … and build a broader sense of community, with a compelling new vision."

And ripped & cut!

There was only one problem. Obama wasn't charismatic. He was glamorous—powerfully, persuasively, seductively so. His glamour worked as well on Bennis and Zelleke as it did on voters.

What's the difference? Charisma moves the audience to share a leader's vision. Glamour, on the other hand, inspires the audience to project its own desires onto the leader (or movie star or tropical resort or new car): to see in the glamorous object a symbol of escape and transformation that makes the ideal feel attainable. The meaning of glamour, in other words, lies entirely in the audience's mind.

Postrel concludes:

Where has all the glamour gone?

If you think of Barack Obama as a charismatic president, it is hard to explain why his supporters are so angry. He should be able to win them over. But if you understand his appeal as glamour, then his problems aren't surprising.

With glamour, any specific action that stands outside the fantasy breaks the spell, alienating supporters who disagree. Even trying to remain above the fray, as Obama often does, infuriates those who want a fighter.

A well-established sales tool, glamour is a tremendous asset if you're running for office. But once you have to govern, it's a problem. Although charisma can continue to inspire, glamour is guaranteed to disillusion. The only thing surprising about Obama's predicament is how few people expected it.

Whole thing here.

Postrel warned us about Obama's glamour problem just before his election, then expanded on the topic in a 2010 interview you can read here and watch below.

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  1. You know who else was charismatic?

    1. No, but I digress…
      All new jobs are less glamorous once you have to actually start working.

    2. Yeah, but he kept the trains running on time. (If you know what I mean…)

  2. Nice analysis.

    1. Agreed.

    2. “….or movie star or tropical resort or new car..”

      For the car buffs, David E Davis once said that one thing that all cars share, even the finest luxury car or the highest performance sports car,is that sooner or later, in some way, it WILL disappoint you. A clarifying thought that helps you accept it when your Corvette or your Porsche fails you in some way.

      Obama supporters had no such mental preparation for their inevitable disappointment.

      1. Cars? Everything disappoints, sooner or later. It’s part of life, and dealing with it without losing your shit is a big part of what it means to be an adult.

        So, yes, lefties are childish. But we knew that.

        1. Everything disappoints, sooner or later.

          Not Matt Damon.

          1. Please. I’ve seen you naked, remember.

  3. This charisma, they predicted, would give Obama “the transformational capacity to lift the malaise that is paralyzing so many Americans today” because “a charismatic leader could break through the prevailing orthodoxy that the nation is permanently divided into red and blue states … and build a broader sense of community, with a compelling new vision.”

    A demonstrably stupid belief, held by profoundly stupid people.

    1. Agreed. In fact, given the large number of educated urban profs that voted for him, I wonder if their belief is in fact the strongest data point for the argument that education =/= intelligence.

      1. “Sure, it was blazingly obvious that Obama was a grasping and unprincipled uber-statist, right from Jump Street. But he was GLAMOROUS, dammit!

  4. But if you understand his appeal as glamour, then his problems aren’t surprising.

    As your Maker, I command you to vote for me again.

    1. That show really went off the rails after season 1. Disappointing.

      1. I haven’t seen any of the current season yet, so no one on the internet say anything about it yet.

      2. Some of us enjoy a trip off the rails. I’m sure it’ll just get crazier; that’s Alan Ball’s style.

        1. “Rails! He said RAILS — !!!” [::masturbates furiously::]

  5. Obviously, Obama needs to visit Ginnie’s stylist.

    1. Nobody likes you.

      1. ^^THIS^^

        1. >

    2. Coming soon: Sherlock Holmes and the Gargoyle of Glamor

  6. Bit of foreshadowing that he shared the cover with the amazing Hudson River plane crash.

    1. All except for the amazing stories of survival.

  7. Fuck, that 2008 piece and this one are fucking spot on. Prolly the best non-policy analysis of Obama I’ve come across.

  8. Obama’s a con man, nothing more nothing less. This glamour or charisma bullshit is just the marks trying to explain why they were conned. The truth is that O flattered their egos and they were to stupid to realize it.

    1. The saddest part of all is that he even conned some people on the Reason staff who should have been smart enough to know better.

      1. Like Dave Weigel?

        1. Like these willing rubes.

          1. Speaking of which: I got an owie today.

            1. Hey Ezra, may I please punch your face?

          2. Wow…Bruce Bartlett is a fucking moron.

          3. Tim Cavanaugh – As I wrote in Reason at the time, my rare decision to vote for a major-party candidate was motivated solely by a Brian’s Song-vintage commitment to universal racial brotherhood. And racial issues have moved forward?or at least become less boring?since Obama took office.

            Excitement! Like the Wisconsin State fair!

            Hey Tim, how’s that shit sandwich taste now?

            1. Maybe next time out, he’ll realize that something as important as casting one’s vote for the presidency of the United States should be dispassionately based on issues and economics; not simperingly color-coordinated, like a mall-bound teenybopper dithering between her Hello Kitty and Keroppi purses.

              Nice to think so, at any rate.

    2. This glamour or charisma bullshit is just the marks trying to explain why they were conned.

      There’s simply no way I could ever conceivably ^ THIS ^ enough.

      1. I do not see where you and the “glamour and charisma” people are disagreeing. The fact that he has glamour is explanation; I don’t see how these two positions conflict. There is a reason cons work, you know.

        1. Yeah. Cons work because the mark is stupid. That’s why they’re the mark. If someone says shit to you that’s too good to be true, and you’re not suspicious, you deserve everything you get.

          Stupid people are stupid marks.

        2. It’s interesting because there really isn’t much different in substance between Obama and, say, Soapy Smith. What separates the really good con-artists from the hacks is the ability to make people believe their consciously-delivered bullshit, and to employ enough skilled shills that can further insinuate the message.

          The fact of the matter is that Obama’s place in the national consciousness is entirely the creation of a media machine desperate for a black politician that could be sold to whites as a safe candidate. Like Soapy Smith’s shills, they inflated everything he said as oratory of profound importance and the tonic that the country needed to get back to its post-WW2 social unity.

          The most obnoxious thing about all the baffled post-facto navel-gazing is the fact that even Obama admitted in his own goddamn book that there wasn’t any substance to his image–that people were projecting onto him what they wanted to see.

    3. You might want to back off on calling Postrel a “mark” for Obama. I think the assessment is right on. The fact that erstwhile Obama groupies might latch onto this argument as an excuse does not invalidate it.

      1. I loudly (and correctly) label anyone self-identifying as a genuine believer in libertarian principles of economic freedom who nonetheless willingly voted for the baldly obvious political grifter Barack Obama in ’08 as a mark; a gull; and a rube.

        If that definition encompasses La Postrel… [::shrugs::]… ah, well.

        1. Try as I might, I can find no record of Postrel’s 2008 presidential election vote. Care to enlighten me? (she’s not mentioned in either of reason’s articles on the topic, and a cursory Google search yields nothing.)

          1. If that definition encompasses […]

            Care to re-read the first word of that sentence snippet, above? Or are you merely faking online umbrage for its own sweet, silly sake?

            1. What, you didn’t even bother to check? That’s just lazy. Then you accuse me of being dishonest.

              1. “For its own sweet, silly sake,” then. Gotcha.

                1. Every time the subject of “libertarians” idiotically voting for His Nibs pops up on these boards, you can count on [xxx] number of knees jerking defensively, in response.

                2. So:

                  1) You make a statement general enough to exclude Ms. Postrel, but that strongly implies, by your very utterance of it, that you think Ms. Postrel is, in fact, included in its subject group.

                  2) I point out that I cannot find evidence that Ms. Postrel is included in your subject group.

                  3) You pedantically point out that the word “if” in your statement renders it general enough to exclude Ms. Postrel, then imply that I am dishonestly expressing “a feeling of pique or resentment at some fancied slight or insult (Webster).”

                  4) I point out that your lack of research calls into question your work ethic and assert that you accuse me of dishonesty.

                  5) You arrive at the erroneous conclusion that there is no purpose in my words, and neither answer the proximate question, nor admit your earlier factual ignorance.

                  6) I continue to respond to your obvious attempt to troll me, while drinking a very good beer and laughing at you. This somehow causes you to feel you’ve won the “argument”.

                  1. Too much “very good beer” is roughly analogous, evidently, to the online equivalent of Asperger’s syndrome.

                    What in heaven’s name are you gibbering on about, you weird, angry little man…?

                    1. I just watched a guy get double-teamed by one (or more) Very Good Beers AND the voices in his own head… and lose.

                      Fucking. EPIC. 😉

                    2. Heh. Yeah. “Man Under Influence of ‘Very Good Beer’ Kicks Own Ass. Film at Eleven.

  9. The only thing surprising about Obama’s predicament is how few people expected it.

    The Few. The Proud. The Rational.

    1. You mean the entire Vast Right Wing Conspiracy? Because I have been hearing “Empty Suit”, “No Experience” and “President Teleprompter” since day one.

      1. Aside from the obligatory Team Red opposition, a few people, always tactfully and with the utmost respect, pointed out that Obama’s resume appeared to be somewhat inflated.

  10. I made the comment when he was getting elected that he was a blank slate for lefties to project their hopes onto. The minute he acted, he was going to piss somebody off.

  11. I’m gonna say it, part of the glamour is he is that non-threatening black guy; the one all the white college students wanted to be friends with. We had that guy in my under grad program…clean, well spoken…a dream.

    1. Wait a minute…

      I didn’t study at the same school you did, did I? 🙂

  12. I have a good feeling about this up-and-coming State Senator Tab Rasa from my district. If only we didn’t have to wait for him to be elected to national office before we could vote him into the White House.

    1. What kind of a middle name is “Ula,” anyway?

      1. Whatever kind you want it to be.

        1. Sounds foreign. We’re gonna need a birth certificate.

  13. Saw this on the news* last night. What do you guys think?

    *I turned my cable off a couple of weeks ago and have been actually watching network teevee. I feel like such a pleb.

    1. I turned my cable off a couple of weeks ago…

      You sicken me. Or perhaps inspire me.

      1. I can respect that. I went a long time not having a television. I probably wouldn’t have cable if it weren’t for the wife.

        1. He who lives without HBO lives the life of an animal. Showtime is for those of us who want everything, but isn’t essential.

          1. “He who lives without HBO lives the life of an animal”

            You smug fucking elitist!

            1. You smug fucking elitist!

              Again, minge doesn’t know what he’s talking about. HBO 17-HD-3D has exclusive rights to the World Trakter Pulling Championships.

              1. It’s like they’re right on top of you!

          2. We just picked up HBO, mainly because I wanted Game Of Thrones. It added something insignificant to the already absurd amount of money we pay AT&T each month.

            I was somewhat startled by the amount of soft core porn late at night, though.

            1. Kid’s stuff. You can switch the channel to MSNBC and watch Chris Matthews blowing Jay Carney, virtually any given weeknight.

            2. I was somewhat startled by the amount of soft core porn late at night, though.

              It’s been a while since you’ve seen late night pay-channel TV, I take it.

      2. I thought it was going to be horrible, but the amount of online material is staggering. I hooked an old laptop up to the teevee and can watch just about anything for free or close to free.

        The only drawbacks are that there is no remote for the laptop so I have to get up and change programming and no Stossel liveblogging(unless someone can point me to a live feed). Oh, and you’ll be weeks behind on current programming, unless you want to risk pirating it. Not that it matters to me, because I’ve been watching my favorite shows in 5 episode blocks from netflix for years.

        1. Oh, please. You think I’ve been liveblogging Stoss while actually watching the show? I’ve been making random shite running commentary about a show I don’t have even have on.

    2. Wow.

      Toddlers and Tiaras looks like talmudic exegesis next to that vapid piece of crap.

      1. Yup. How bad should we actually feel for a guy that spends $100 million to get $400k/y job? You wanted it, it’s yours.

  14. “This charisma, they predicted, would give Obama “the transformational capacity to lift the malaise that is paralyzing so many Americans today” because “a charismatic leader could break through the prevailing orthodoxy that the nation is permanently divided into red and blue states … and build a broader sense of community, with a compelling new vision.””

    I feel like puking.

  15. You know what the President should do? He should just declare himself an Independent. He would be completely free of the restraints of the Radical Left, the Right would hate him just as much, but the Muddled Middle would say “Hey, this guy really is like me!”

    1. not exactly. We have a tendency to kill those we can’t put into boxes.

  16. I don’t think it was ever about glamour or charisma with Obama. It was about making history, electing the first black President in a nation which has shit on blacks for so much of its history. It was this story or idea of a black kid with a foriegn dad from an unpriviliged background being President, making the old line that “anyone can be President” ring more true.

    He’s always seemed rather stiff and unglamorous to me, and I should think even to many of his followers.

      1. I’m still not sure about the level of self-awareness that guy has. I think he understands the joke on most levels, but I’m not entirely convinced.

    1. I don’t think it was ever about glamour or charisma with Obama. It was about making history, electing the first black President in a nation which has shit on blacks for so much of its history.

      The “give myself a warm hug for supporting this guy” factor was certainly important, but what made Obama unique was that he was promoted as a “rock star” by the media. Without both, Obama’s just another Chicago ward heeler.

      1. But the question is, why was he so promoted, or with the admittedly hilarious unicorn painting type stuff, why was he so loved? I don’t think many of the people who did this did so because they thought he was such a charismatic guy, they did it because they were totally into the ideals (or maybe better put ‘symbolism’) they felt his campaign represented that I describe above.

        1. Because he is everything George W. Bush is not, that is why.

        2. Because I’m clean, and articulate, and said “HOPE!” and “CHANGE!” a whole lot…

          … and, for a certain type of voter, out there: that’s all that’s necessary, really.

          1. That, and the idiot republicans put up that skeksi McCain and the heartbeat-away Mama Grizzly.

        3. Perhaps the key here is that the “glamour” factor here is basically the same as the “symbolism.”

          I think the bottom line, which we probably agree on, is that Obama has been treated like a blank slate. More to the point, he and his supporters in the media encouraged this in order to allow people to think they were voting for something real, as opposed to a proxy for their own mental and emotional tics.

        4. But the question is, why was he so promoted. . .

          Couldn’t be the Chicago connection, now could it? It’s not like anybody’s benefited from his Presidency.

    2. “It was about making history, electing the first black President in a nation which has shit on blacks for so much of its history.”

      In other words, it had nothing to do with putting someone in who was competent to run the federal government or otherwise have any damn idea about what they were doing. Obama’s voter were just driven by their own sense of self-righteous guilt.

  17. Former Reason editor Virginia Postrel has a smart Bloomberg column

    [sigh]

    1. That qualifies. Drink up.

      1. Way ahead of you.

  18. It’s a pity there are no longer writers at Reason with the talent and well-honed skills of Ms. Postrel.

    *ducks*

  19. I agree with Virginia Postrel that glamour resides entirely in the mind of the audience. She further states that President Obama had glamour at one time but never had charisma. I agree that Obama’s glamour has been tainted, but I think Obama has always had plenty of charisma and that has not changed.

    He practically damned himself by making the ruinous mistake of assuming that if he embraced the House and Senate Republicans, they would put the good of the nation above their determination to make him look like a failure as President of the United States. He naively, some might argue bravely, assumed they would work collaboratively and reasonably compromise to address the second greatest economic crises in our Nation’s history. Tragically, for him and America, he was wrong.
    For more on charisma and Obama go to http://ctgovusa.blogspot.com.

    ~ richard allbritton, Miami, http://rallbritton.com

    1. Yeah. He’s definitely my very favorite Jonas Brother, too.

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