. . . Wednesday August 27, 2008

ROTUS: Obama’s Critical Mistake?

Michelle Obama opened the DNC on a perfect note. The message was simple and clear. If you are an American struggling to get by, working to improve the lot of your kids and their kids, then we are one of you.

That is the winning message in American politics. Americans, for better or worse (probably the latter) want a President to whom they can relate. Not too smart, not too arrogant, not too impressive. See the most recent two-termer for all the evidence you’ll ever need.

So Michelle Obama positioned her family right in the middle of the story of the dude who you’d love to have the proverbial beer with. It’s sad that this is the route to the most important job in the country. But it is. A bumper sticker that reads, “I am extremely smart, talented, confident, charismatic, popular (oh, and by the way, my wife and I are both skinny)” will never be a winning bumper sticker (and not just because it would take up the entire bumper of most models).

I worry that Barack Obama’s upcoming speech in an outdoor stadium in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans will undo the work that his wife did. Don’t get me wrong. As a left-leaning San Franciscan member of the intellectual elite (supremely so if you’re scoring at home), I look forward to the roar of the crowds getting fired up for a smart, talented guy who can give a good speech.

But I am deeply concerned that to most of America, this ROTUS (Rockstar of the United States) treatment will be a major turn-off and that it’s a strategy that will ultimately play right into McCain’s hands. There is a notion that McCain will be sitting home cringing in front of the TV as Obama takes the stage to an ovation usually reserved for quarterbacks or over-sexed lead singers. The truth could be just the opposite.

Yes, the McCain marketing machine will say, he is the celebrity in chief, but we have the real deal. Not too cool. Not too perfect. Not too slick. We are not running for President of the outdoor stadium or of adoring crowds in foreign countries. Our guy is running to be your President. It must be nice to give cool speeches in front of thousands of screaming fans and to be connected to that internet thing. It’s not as cool to be stuck in a prison camp for five years, but hey, that’s what we’ve got.

I know this sounds crazy, but this is American politics.

And if Obama plays his cards wrong (and the stadium show is a wildly clear example of just such a move), this strategy against him can work.

Can you be positioned as being too smart, too confident, too popular, too charismatic, too talented, too successful and too famous to be the next President? Sadly, but clearly, yes. So while I will, with an ignited lighter raised in my hand and a chant of “Freebird, Freebird” on my lips, cheer Obama at my liberal elite cocktail party with the rest of the adoring Bay Area lefties, I will, in my gut, be worried that this is just the strategic blunder the other side has been counting on.

Update: Obama’s people feel the heat to tone down the stadium event. Obama even tried to explain the selection of the venue during a very brief appearance after Biden’s address.

Concentration is important!