Joe Klein has a piece in Time in which he points out that in recent days, Senator Obama has decided to portray himself as passionate, mad, angry, and (when it comes to America’s wage disparities) a man of boiling blood. Klein, upon hearing these words, immediately (and rightly) thought, “Uh-oh.” The reason, as Klein points out, is that
one of the great strengths of the Obama candidacy has been the sense that this is a guy whose blood doesn’t boil, who carefully considers the options before he reacts – and that his reaction is always measured and rational.
When candidates, particularly Presidential candidates, begin to act in an affected way, it almost always backfires. It creates unease in voters, making them wonder if the candidate is unanchored and, at his core, hollow. (This impression was a lethal one for Al Gore in 2000.)
It’s hard for me to even imagine what a mad, angry, I’m-so-furious-my-blood-is-boiling Obama would look like. (I suspect he would look slightly comical and totally unbelievable.) But that Obama appears to be taking such transparently silly advice from his campaign aides underscores how rattled they all must be. Obama, after all, has made no obvious errors and everything has been working in his favor. And yet his lead over McCain has dwindled to nothing. McCain looks as sharp as he has during the entire campaign, while Obama seems to be less imposing, less eloquent, and off stride.
One of the attractive qualities of Obama has been that he seemed to be a man of impressive self-possession, confident in who he is and who he isn’t. But Obama has faced very little sustained pressure in a campaign before. His Senate races against Jack Ryan and Alan Keyes were essentially forfeited to him. And the race against Hillary Clinton, while long, was basically over in February, when Obama rolled up eleven straight primary victories. The Clinton campaign, while certainly critical of Obama, never really went after him hard, fearful that in doing so they would cause a rupture among her own Democratic supporters. So Obama has never really been on the defensive before.
Obama is now in the campaign inferno, which will only get hotter in the ten weeks ahead. The question is whether Senator Obama will, as well. If he does, I predict he’ll badly hurt himself and his chances.