Pete Wehner on the ‘Obama Phenomenon’

Every conservative in the United States is scratching their head trying to figure out what exactly it is that makes Barack Obama so appealing. Obama is responsible for no significant legislation, no heroic actions, no tough decisions, and yet school districts are naming schools for him!

In a well executed essay, Pete Wehner at Commentary Magazine has  deftly quantified several attributes possessed by President Obama that make even some conservatives wish they had voted for him even though they disagree with his ideology. Wehner reorients us to the fact that while Obama is popular, his popularity is based not on anything he has accomplished, but rather aesthetics and the cult of personality which has been fueled by a star-struck media:

Still, there is something else which explains, I think, Obama’s appeal. For one thing, he is an extraordinary political talent, something some of us recognized back in 2007. He comes across as self-possessed, unflappable, hip, stylish. He also has an appealing cast of mind, seemingly reasonable, intelligent, detached, and serious.

These things are not unimportant. But Obama’s appeal, while widespread, is largely aesthetic and personality-based. This explains why a somewhat unsettling cult of personality has arisen around Obama. His appeal is not rooted in ideas or political philosophy or governing achievements; indeed, it is not grounded in any acts of governance. Yet some people already speak of him as a Lincolnian and Messiah-like figure.

But precisely because this appeal is largely aesthetic rather than substantive, because it is not grounded in things deep or permanent, its durability is limited. Reality will intrude. A million watt smile, fashionable sunglasses, and a nice jump shot are fine – I wish I possessed each of them – but one can confidently assume that Kim Jong Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Hassan Nasrallah, and Hugo Chavez are immune to their charms. Inflation, deflation, and unemployment will not be determined by the eloquence of Obama’s rhetoric, the dinners he attends, or the columnists and reporters he seduces.