Dynamist Blog

Obama's Glamour

Barack Obama has brought glamour back to American politics--to his obvious political advantage. But glamour of all sorts is a beautiful illusion. As I write in an article for The Atlantic's website, however, Obama's glamour "also poses special problems for the candidate and, if he succeeds, for the country."

Though he never uses the word glamour, Jonathan Rauch has a thoughtful take on the same phenomenon.

And in a pre-Oscar story, the WaPost's Robin Givhan did a masterful job of separating glamour from other celebrity attributes. She concluded the piece with a look at political glamour, including more than a hint of her own susceptibility to Obama's spell:

In the political world, Barack Obama has glamour. Bill Clinton has charisma. And Hillary Clinton has an admirable work ethic. Bill Clinton could convince voters that he felt their pain. Hillary Clinton reminds them detail by detail of how she would alleviate it. Glamour has a way of temporarily making you forget about the pain and just think the world is a beautiful place of endless possibilities.

Ronald Reagan evoked glamour. His white-tie inaugural balls and morning-coat swearing-in were purposefully organized to bring a twinkle back to the American psyche. George W. Bush has charisma, a.k.a. the likability factor, although it does not appear to be helping his approval rating now. Still, he remains a back-slapper and bestower of nicknames.

Charisma is personal. Glamour taps into a universal fairy tale. It's unconcerned with the nitty-gritty. Instead, it celebrates the surface gloss. And sometimes, a little shimmer can be hard to resist.

I wrote about glamour vs. charisma here.

Finally, I highly recommend Obama's memoir Dreams from My Father. It's well-written, wasn't conceived as a campaign book, and provides unusual insights into the Obama's psychology and view of the world.

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