15 August 2011

Glamour

Bloomberg | Virginia Postrel | Obama’s Glamour Can’t Fix His Charisma Deficit: Virginia Postrel

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.”

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.

That was certainly true of Obama as a candidate. He attracted supporters who not only disagreed with his stated positions but, what is much rarer, believed that he did, too. On issues such as same-sex marriage and free trade, the supporters projected their own views onto him and assumed he was just saying what other, less discerning voters wanted to hear.
(1) Exactly. As I said back in '08:
People will vote [Obama] him for exactly that reason. He's made himself into a blank canvas upon which any voter can project their desires. Anything you're dissatisfied with, he's the guy to change it. Gas too expensive? Barack will fix things. Worried about carbon emissions? Barack will fix things. Never mind that the fix for one will make the other worse, he's the man to make some changes.
(2) When Postrel talks about glamour, I listen.

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