There’s always that risk, particularly in America–the suspicion that if something looks good, it can’t possibly work. If someone’s really beautiful, they can’t be smart.
If beauty works against us generally, does the same hold for beautiful words? And if so, is Obama’s erudition hurting his electoral appeal?
Hillary: Small Words Yield Big Gains
The speech in Hillary Clinton’s latest television spot is not exactly sophisticated (key point: “something’s happening in the world”), but the fear-mongering is masterful. In a paternal and slightly threatening voiceover, Clinton’s campaign argues that she is someone who “already knows the world’s leaders” and is “tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world.” The unspoken assumption here is that the articulate Obama is not.
The commercial aired last weekend, and lo and behold, Clinton won every state she needed to stay in the race with her dignity intact.
Was the groundswell for Clinton a repudiation of Obama’s slick sloganeering? Or could this comeback mean that Americans are still as motivated by fear as the Bush White House presumes us to be?
Obama: Entrapped by his own Eloquence?
The three Clinton wins last night do not negate Obama’s 11-state string of victories. But commentators over the past few weeks have latched on to whether the junior senator’s literary talent could become a liability. David Brooks of the NYT noticed early on, in April of 2007, that
You have to ask him every question twice, the first time to allow him to talk about how he would talk about the subject, and the second time so you can pin him down to the practical issues at hand.
When Brooks finally gets a direct answer on foreign policy, the columnist notes presciently that Obama’s response is “either profound or vacuous, depending on your point of view.”
Monitoring the Message
I’ll keep an eye on the public reception to each candidate’s campaign rhetoric as the nomination fight continues. It will be interesting to see which tactic–diction or drama–wins out.