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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The aura of Mr. Smooth

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Aura: (n.) A general impression produced by a predominant quality or characteristic: air, ambience, atmosphere, feel, feeling, mood, tone.

A single word explains why Barack Obama might be president. Aura perfectly describes the Democratic candidate. An aura, the dictionary says, is the distinctive, but intangible air that surrounds a person. It derives from the ancient Greek, meaning breath or gentle breeze. I particularly like the third definition, which says an aura is "the supposed emanation surrounding the body of a living creature, viewed by mystics, spiritualists and some practitioners of complementary medicine as the essence of the individual and allegedly discernible by people with special sensibilities."

Those of us with below-average sensibilities can only ponder how Obama has managed to establish a cult of personality the way no other presidential candidate has, except perhaps John F. Kennedy. Yes, Obama says what many Americans want to hear and how they want to hear it. But something is creepy about how Americans are running to embrace what is essentially a method. As ethereal as Obama's aura might be, nothing in the Republican quiver can fight it. Past or present affiliations—be they with violent radicals, racist ministers, convicted fixers and the corrupt Chicago political machine—can't fight the aura.

Obama's aura overcomes his inexperience, his most liberal voting record and his outright deceptions (e.g. reneging on his pledge to take public campaign financing, and thereby limiting his campaign advertising).

We could have 10 more presidential debates over the differences between Obama and John McCain on foreign policy, Immigration, the economy, government ethics and so on, but it wouldn't matter. Intricate policy differences between the two don't matter, because only aura counts. Because of his aura, Obama can engage in a presidential debate, and his aloofness and one-note message of "change" will be misinterpreted by burbling commentators as thoughtful, calm and intelligent discourse. His aura explains why his handlers can get away with slamming McCain for his allegedly negative campaigning, even at times when he is simply disagreeing with Obama's policies.

We are about to elect a president because of how he makes us feel, not how he makes us think.

That says a bundle about an undemanding electorate. Yes, Obama has policies, and he enunciates them eloquently, and a lot of people support them; but notice is mostly taken of his delivery, not of his substance. Voters, never, ever have elected a president with policies this far to the left; rare, indeed, is the senator or congressman who is further left. (Note to conservatives: Stop calling Obama a socialist. It doesn't do your cause any good, and besides, he isn't, in the strict Marxist definition of the state owning the means of production. Obama is just a Hyde Park liberal, a sui generis kind of extreme leftist who uses words like "sui generis." Talk, instead, about how McCain is mainstream. Although, I also doubt that McCain's more centrist positions can stand up to aura either.)

Having aura is fine, but electing a president based on whether he or she possesses it shows curious understanding of how democracy is supposed to work.

Yes, tens of millions of Americans will feel wonderful when Obama is elected and maybe the stock market, the housing market and the rest of the economy will boom from that good feeling. I hope so, because that's just about what has been guaranteed by a vote for Obama, and I can't wait.

But there's this. After the aura has burned away—like the early-morning summer mist disappears before a rising sun—the president needs to make tough, on-the-run and wise decisions. It is then when a president's basic inclinations surface, about whether to involve the government more in your life, take more of your money or, in the face of our enemies, speak softy and carry a little stick. And then, the pathological definition of aura comes into play: a sensation, as of a cold breeze or a bright light, that precedes the onset of certain disorders, such as an epileptic seizure or an attack of migraine.

Or, more precisely, an attack of a real, actual problem that requires something more than Mr. Smooth.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more on your "aura" column. As my grandfather would have said, "He's all blow and no go."

Just goes to show how incredibly shallow Americans can be by only hearing the rhetoric, and not the content. For only seeing the youth, not the inexperience. For not asking how he intends to pay for all the changes he says he's going to make. Etc., etc., etc...

I can think back to speeches that were really impressive given by Richard Nixon, but look how honest he was!

David, Chicago said...

I found today's piece "The aura of Mr. Smooth" curious and more than a little humorous. Mr. Byrne decries the scenario that "We are about to elect a president because of how he makes us feel, not how he makes us think. That says a bundle about an undemanding electorate." I couldn't agree more, except I'm sure Mr. Byrne wasn't screaming this from the hilltops four years ago when a substantial number of Americans went to the polls and voted for George Bush over John Kerry because he was the kind of guy they'd "like to have a beer with". Funny how those sentiments of the electorate were ok then but somehow indicative of a shallow and "undemanding" electorate in 2008. I guess, Mr. Byrne, this reinforces the old adage that "what goes around, comes around".

Anonymous said...

No,what you fail,or refuse to see is that here is finally a candidate for president who is clearly very intelligent,who seems to actually listen to other viewpoints,and who,yes,can inspire people with words--all this even you might agree a change from the current occupant.Byrne,you didn't seem to mind this whole "cult of personality" thing when Ronald Reagan was president,did you? But I think more important than anything is the widespread feeling that the GOP has made an unbelievable mess of the past 8 years--how in the world do they deserve another 4 years? Of course,look who I'm asking--one of the tiny and shrinking minority who thinks this administration has done a bang-up job!

maris from lansing said...

Your column today put into words so perfectly exactly what I have felt but have not been able to express. I believe it's all a very sad, sobering reflection of our increasingly downward spiral as a nation. I am sorry that those who really need to read this article won't.

Anonymous said...

You express bewilderment about the aura that gets people to vote for Obama. It doesn’t seem to remind you of anyone, but it should. Ronald Wilson Reagan had that same sort of aura, but without Obama’s intellect. Just like Sarah Palin, Reagan’s managers protected him from the press, horrified at the prospect of explaining the nonsense that flowed from his mouth when he wasn’t scripted.

Sometimes, it seemed that each day of his Presidency brought a new atrocity. He sold public lands at bargain prices to logging and mining interests. He ridiculed the Judeo-Christian ethic of caring for the poor, slashing every social program in sight. Budget cuts forced institutions to throw the mentally ill out on the streets, college grants and loans disappeared, and he even stooped so low as to take food from the mouths of poor children. His administration tried to declare ketchup a “vegetable” to more cheaply meet the nutritional standards of the school lunch program.

After promising to balance the budget, Reagan recklessly ran up deficits with wild military spending and tax cuts for the rich. He presided over the largest transfer of wealth ever—from the poor and the middle class to the rich. He attack unions, helping to beat down the wages of working people, and even created a new tax on Unemployment Compensation benefits. Reagan decimated regulatory agencies that protect the public from the excesses of big business, leaving the public to pay a steep price: $500 billion taxpayer-funded cleanup of the Savings and Loans, thousands of dead and crippled workers, and untold desecration of the environment.

And let’s not forget that he was nearly impeached for defying Congress by arming the murderous Contras in Nicaragua.

A lousy President, but he sure was smooth.

ROGER said...


Mark said...

Dennis Byrne. Your byline says you're a political consultant, but it doesn't say for who. But I can guess. Isn't it a bit disingenuous for a paid political consultant to be writing a regular column....shades of Peggy Noonan.

Anonymous said...

Aura, schmaura. 8 years of the most inept, bungling, harmful presidential leadership of our generation, if not ever and yet McCain still has a fighting chance. That says more about an undemanding electorate than anything else. Too bad McCain sought Bush's endorsement and then compounded his mistake by pandering to the robotic conservative Republicans by picking Sarah Palin. Brilliant!

Tony said...

How has President G.W. Bush done with "making tough on-the-run and wise decisions"? General Powell has weighed in on the matter very objectively and with thoughtful consideration of both candidates. So has the Chicago Tribune, the paper you appear in. Maybe the country is leaning more toward the liberal side these days, so what. Wasn't W. going to be a "compassionate conservative"? Then he sprinted to the right. Obama has centrist leanings, with the practicality to, what's it called, yes compromise. Not everyone in America sees or believes as the conservatives in America do. Ayers, please it is a non-issue. The guy is a professor at a university. 1968? It is 2008. McCain has the Keating 5 affair where he was directly involved. Palin was the best VP pick, really? Thought McCain favored Lieberman. This current Republican administration proposed the 700 billion dollar aide package for the banks. Isn't that a socialist-leaning policy. Come to think of it what about "social" security, public schools, county hospitals, the farm bill, loans to the auto makers, and subsidies for the oil companies. Don't they all smack of, socialism? We all work together, He's not heavy, he's my brother, Treat thy neighbor as you would treat yourself. We have had eight years with Mr. Asperous, what would be so wrong about a term or two with a Mr. Smooth? Come on Dennis can't you feel the aura. Isn't it affecting you, or are you impervious? Come on in, the water is warm. Don't be afraid, drink the kool-aid.

Stephen Schade said...

Mr. Byrne:

Obama is a lot more than just an aura. According to Republicans in Springfield, he is a very intelligent lawmaker who is willing to work across the aisle, qualities that make a good leader.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the finest assessments of 'the One' ever written. It reflects the deep insights of the Afro-American scholar, Thomas Sowells in his great 'Conflict of Visions,' as well as his concluding comment in his older book 'The Vision of the Anointed' (p. 260):

'In the anointed we find a whole class of supposedly "thinking people" who do remarkably little thinking about substance and a great deal of verbal expression. In order that this relatively small group of people can believe themselves wiser and nobler than the common herd, we have adopted policies which impose heavy costs on millions of other human beings, not only in taxes but also in lost jobs, social disintegration, and a loss of personal safety. Seldom have so few cost so much to so many.'

These 'few' now have a multitude of blind followers, and thus the damage can be beyond repair. Hurrah for you Dennis, 'a voice crying in the wilderness' of Chicago and the entire world. What would we do without you?

David M. said...

Let me see. Colin Powell gives a long and lucid endorsement of Obama. Dennis Byrne presents a brief and effusive argument against Obama (in lieu of an endorsement for McCain). Hmmm. Who should I side with? Powell or Byrne. This is a tough one.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the finest assessments of 'the One' ever written. It reflects the deep insights of the Afro-American scholar, Thomas Sowells in his great 'Conflict of Visions,' as well as his concluding comment in his older book 'The Vision of the Anointed' (p. 260):