Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are stumping many of the political gurus. Because they behave in ways entirely contrary to their own self-interest (e.g. Clinton’s lying about Bosnia, Obama’s not dumping Wright when his campaign started), pundits search for psychological explanations and deeper meaning to be gleaned from these episodes.
Does her fragile grip on the truth suggest that she divorces herself from painful realities? Does his inability to recognize bad actors in his personal and even professional life (e.g. Ayers, Rezko, Wright) suggest he won’t be able to spot menaces on the world stage?
All of this is like reading tea leaves, trying to figure out–based on scant (and some would argue not relevant) information–the personalities and predispositions of very glib, very smart people whose entire campaigns are designed to persuade, cajole and, to a degree, conceal their candidates’ worst characteristics.
In that regard, Clinton and John McCain have a bit of an advantage. We know how they behave, for better or worse, over a long period of time on the public stage. With Obama, average voters have only a thimbleful of information in his Senate record. So it is not only appropriate they should examine these scraps of data about him, but even necessary.
Obama has started pleading with voters to consider the Wright matter only as evidence of his judgment in the context of his entire career. On Meet The Press he said:
I think it’s fair for people to look at this episode along with all the other things that I’ve done over the last 20 years. You know, when you’re running for president, your life’s an open book, and I think that people have a right to flip the hood and kick the tires, and, and this is one element of a much larger track record that has led me to not only run for president, but to help build a movement all across the country to bring about change.
But let’s be realistic: the average voter has no clue what Obama did in his 20-year career, the vast majority of which was spent in relative obscurity in Illinois state and local politics and community organizing. Running on the scantiest record of any serious contender in recent memory, he has left voters little choice but to ponder the tidbits of data unearthed during the campaign.
Obama may not like it. But it’s most of what voters have to rely on as they decide what kind of person he is and what type of President he’ll turn out to be. And frankly, it may be more illuminating that probing the minutiae of his state senate record.