Ed Driscoll

When Words Fail

“This week Obama lost his argument with Hillary Clinton,” Jonah Goldberg writes:

It’s largely forgotten now, but during their lengthy primary battle, the two committed liberals’ greatest disagreement wasn’t over policy or their shared disdain for George W. Bush. It was over their different visions of the presidency.

For example, in a Nevada debate, Obama admitted that he wasn’t a particularly organized person. But that was OK because the core role of the president shouldn’t be organizational but inspirational. “It involves having a vision for where the country needs to go . . . and then being able to mobilize and inspire the American people to get behind that agenda for change.”

Pshaw, responded Hillary, the president is really a “chief executive officer” who must be “able to manage and run the bureaucracy.”

This disagreement was symbolized by their respective role models. Obama likened himself to Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, inspirational leaders who led through rhetoric. Clinton sided with Lyndon Johnson, the guy who spun the shining words into actual legislation and got it passed, often on a bipartisan basis.

The debate played itself out by proxy in liberal magazines and in snippets of speeches and short outbursts on the stump, with most liberals siding with Obama over Clinton. Some even suggested she was a racist — or at least race-baiting — for daring to suggest that all he offered was the ability to give a good speech.

But even some of Obama’s biggest fans admitted that his devotion to the magical power of words stemmed from the fact that he had little else going for him. “Barack Obama could not run his campaign for the presidency based on political accomplishment or on the heroic service of his youth,” David Remnick wrote in the New Yorker after Obama won the general election. “His record was too slight. His Democratic and Republican opponents were right: he ran largely on language, on the expression of a country’s potential and the self-expression of a complicated man who could reflect and lead that country.”

Fast-forward to this week. Obama’s undisciplined diatribe against the “purists” in his own party who oppose compromise amounted to an abject admission that Hillary was right all along.

But then, by November of 2008, Americans concluded they didn’t want a grown-up from either party in the White House. Or as somebody said this week, forget the 3:00 AM phone call — Obama can’t suck it up enough to stay cool during a 3:00 PM press conference.

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Related: From Steve Green, “Testing the Primary Waters.”