Where's The Beef?

So, Obama has proved once again that he's capable of some very pretty poetry. His victory speech is being roundly applauded, both by the establishment media and the blogosphere. It's even tickling certain conservatives, with fond words coming from National Review folks. (Andrew Sullivan is, of course, beside himself. Surprise, surprise.)

It's hard to disagree with the many generous things which have been written and said over the last twenty-four hours. Technically speaking, as an oration, it was quite a feat, at once smart and readable, exuberant and clear-headed, inspired and approachable. Without a doubt, Obama is the most eloquent American political speaker since Jack and Bobby Kennedy (sorry, Bill).

Last night's victory speech was everything a victory speech should be -- except substantive.

Fluffy and pleasant sounding, the tone and style were better suited for a college commencement than a do-or-die primary race. And, unfortunately, the noticeable absence of seriousness isn't surprising. More and more, I'm beginning to think that Obama is leaning too heavily on his famous rock star charisma. For such an intelligent man, he's consistently failing to produce a realistic treatment of the present state of American politics.

His initial articulation of the nation's present malaise was indeed admirable, and he seemed to have enormous potential as a unifying and transformative figure. He was openly lamenting the corrosive effects of Clinton-Bush era red state/blue state politics before it was the cool thing to do. Currently, every other word out of every candidate's mouth is "change", but Obama's been at that for a while now. His critique of the Boomer impasse earned him a ton of respect and a bunch of strange fellows (such as myself).

Now, however, at least in my book, the senator is failing to live up to expectations -- not to mention his own promises of being a new breed of American leader. When his politics aren't conventionally liberal, they're frighteningly nebulous and half-baked. His upsetting talk about bombing Pakistan some time ago might have been an early warning sign that this man is better suited to write presidential speeches than to give them.

"Hope" and "change" and "progress", these omnipresent but undefined notions constitute an unseemly amount of Obama's appeal. When I saw the senator speak in the Commons, I was blown away by the emotional intensity of his performance (note that word: performance), but the paucity of tangibles concerned me. He's always relied a good deal on feel-good abstractions (which is why he plays well among the well-educated, who have the educational experience and intellectual tools to deal with ideas), but I thought they'd fade away as he evolved into a national personality and the likely Democratic nominee. That doesn't appear to be the case, though, and the clock is ticking.

What's behind this unfortunate lack of maturity? Was Obama sainted too early? After all, an icon doesn't escape his iconography, he luxuriates in it. Maybe, if he had been more thoroughly scrutinized by the public and the media, he would have been put through the crucible, and forced to develop "at gun point", so to speak (see: Mitt Romney). Wouldn't that be awful, if his success was his undoing. That's the stuff of good novels, but it's difficult to watch in real life.

I've not given up on Obama yet, not even close, but I am beginning to doubt him. Hopefully, he'll do something I normally hate and prove me wrong.

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