Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Skinny On Obama

Who’s the Question Mark?
Published: November 1, 2008

Today’s column is Maureen Dowd’s last before the votes get cast and she rightly exposes how the straight-talking McCain has become a chameleon hiding behind talking points so much so that voters cannot truly recognize the man he used to be.

Why did a politician who once knew how to play the game so well, who was once so beloved by people of very different political stripes, allow his campaign to get whiny, angry, vengeful and bitter?
In it, Dowd puts the blame on campaign strategist Steve Schmidt whom she gives a trademarked Rude Name:
But ever since Sergeant Schmidt put Captain McCain into a sterile brig on the trail, the candidate has become a question mark.
The Captain McCain reference makes me think of the instant classic Drew Friedman cartoon portraying McCain as the hotheaded Captain Kirk and Obama as the cool alien Mr. Spock.

And while most of the column asks rhetorical questions on how McCain lost control of his campaign, there is only short paragraph about Obama, but it bears further analysis. Within one sentence is an entire campaign season of innuendos and allusions.
And it is Obama, who sashayed onto the trail two years ago as an aloof and exotic mystery man with a slim record and a strange name, now coming across as the steadier brand.
Let’s break down the pieces.

Sashay: Dowd got her wrist-slapped for excessive effeminization of Barack and the verb sashay evokes a mincing that backslides into this bit. The last use of this word was a year ago and referred to Hillary that time.
Maybe it’s fitting that a woman who first sashayed into the national consciousness with an equation — “two for the price of one” — may have her fate determined by the arithmetic of dynasty.
Aloof: As opposed to the previously gregarious McCain, Obama has often been portrayed as being more reserved. Dowd has described Barack as aloof at least twice. In June, Karl Rove was trying to promote Obama as a sneering elitist.
Obama can be aloof and dismissive at times, and he’s certainly self-regarding, carrying the aura of the Ivy faculty club.
But Rove was only empahasizing an opinion that was already out there. Back in April, he was not only aloof, he was abstemious.
But the candidate is boringly abstemious — and reporters traveling with him find him aloof.
Exotic: This adjective is usually seen as an off-putting quality. It has been used at least three times. Back in August, Dowd said voters were still having a hard time connecting to Barack.
And the prejudice is visceral: many Americans, especially blue collar, still feel uneasy about the Senate’s exotic shooting star, and he is surrounded by a miasma of ill-founded and mistaken premises.
But also in April.
At the very moment when his fate hangs in the balance, when he is trying to persuade white working-class voters that he is not an exotic stranger with radical ties, the vainglorious Rev. Wright kicks him in the stomach.
Even when he is following the conventional wisdom, he is attacked for his foreigness. Dowd presents the paradox back in July.
He must simultaneously defend himself for being too exotic and, because of recent moves, too conventional.
But exotic can also mean erudite and effete. During his grand world tour, Dowd connected it with more European mores.
Since he’s already fighting the perception that he’s an exotic outsider, he can’t be seen as too insidery with the Euro-crats. He doesn’t want a picture of him nibbling on a baguette to overtake the effete image of the Europhile John Kerry windsurfing.
Slim: Normally here at Dowd Central, we would take umbrage at anyone taking slim out of context here, but Maureen has a history of using slimness as a defining feature of Barack. A fictional Hillary had this to say:
My gals know when I say ‘We may have started on two separate paths but we’re on one journey now’ that Skinny’s journey is to the nearest exit.”
But Dowd sees it as a positive trait.
It does not occur to Parisians that Americans will choose the old, white-haired one if they can have the cool, skinny one with the Ray-Bans, John le Carré novels, chic wife and secret cigarettes.
She quotes Obama as defending his weight class:
“I try to explain to people, I may be skinny but I’m tough,” he told a crowd of more than 15,000 in Hartford the other night, with the Kennedys looking on. “I’m from Chicago.”
But being that thin seems too off-putting to some voters. Dowd stretches the metaphor to food.
As Carol Marin wrote in The Chicago Sun-Times, The Lanky One is like an Alice Waters organic chicken — “sleek, elegant, beautifully prepared. Too cool” — when what many working-class women are craving is mac and cheese.
Strange name: In March Dowd connected his slimness to his exoticness through his strange name.
And whether we can take a flier on this skinny guy with the strange name and braided ancestry to help us get it back.
So we will let others find the "erratica/dramatica" wordplay or the "tech tyro" alliteration. After Tuesday we need to get used to the themes of an aloof, exotic, skinny guy with a strange name running the country. In other words, prepare for Mr. Spock.


Grace Nearing said...

Good Lord. Obama may seem aloof to those Americans overdosed on our Bobby Bittman and Sammy Maudlin political/pop culture, but in reality the guy is well calibrated. Skinny? Exotic? Well, all things are relative. Yes, compared to Bill Bennett, Obama is skinny; yes, compared to the physically, intellectually, and linguistically stumbling Dubya, Obama is exotic.

Vivent longtemps les exotiques!

Mo MoDo said...

Glat to have you back. I've missed your blog. Yeah, he's really not that skinny. And he is the type of exotic we could use more of.