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Guest View: Obama-mania – What defines it?

As Democratic candidate Barack Obama seemingly goes from strength to strength, much has been said and written about his “charisma.” So I decided to look the word up and, somewhat to my surprise, learned that its origins are theological, from the Greek: “favor, divine gift.” In the context of this discussion, however, The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “a rare personal quality attributed to leaders who arouse fervent popular devotion and enthusiasm.” Synonyms given include: charm, magnetism and presence, all of which, even taken together, somehow fail to encompass the notion of charisma. Examples given of past charismatic leaders include John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. To that list, one might add the current president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.

What is so different about Barack Obama that has led more than 900,000 individuals (according to a recent e-mail from his campaign) to contribute mostly small amounts, but totaling $1 million per day, to his quest for the Democratic Party’s nomination? One might ask: Of all the candidates still in the race, which one most exudes charm, magnetism and presence? And which one exhibits the demeanor (i.e., conduct, self-confidence, grace, gravitas, etc.) that betrays his or her true intent and genuine personality?

But what is most different about the senator from Illinois, I would submit, is a combination of all the above together with two more attributes that redefine his personal charisma – to wit (pardon my French!): his evident elán (enthusiastic vigor, liveliness, distinctive style and flair) and his quite apparent joie de vivre (joy of living). He seems visibly delighted to be “in the hunt” and is taking enormous pleasure from the enthusiastic reception being given his message of unity, hope and change – not to mention the increasing discomfort being displayed by his opponents in both parties. This amalgam of qualities also reminds us pre-baby boomers of John F. Kennedy, who inspired a generation during his inaugural address with these words: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”



Words were one of the major points of contention in Thursday’s Democratic debate in Texas that ended in a virtual standoff. At one point, Hillary Clinton attempted to take Obama to task for purloining a few lines from one of his principal supporters, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. (How many has she borrowed from Bill, one wonders?) “Actions are more important than words,” she added. Obama missed an opportunity here, in my view, to point out that her actions in accepting donations from lobbyists and interest groups (which his campaign refuses to do) seriously undermine her credibility when she claims that she will bring about true change in Washington.

In conclusion, it is well to remember that when we Americans elect a president, we choose a person to be our head of state as well as head of government – two different roles played by two different individuals (e.g., monarch and prime minister) in many countries. The former embodies and represents the best of a nation and its people, while the latter is essentially hired to manage its government. Americans are fond of saying that when it comes to electing a president, they vote for the person, not the party. If that is in fact the case, then the person best able to edify and inspire them usually trumps others perceived to be more experienced and sophisticated. Hillary Clinton and John McCain, take note!



– Fred Kalhammer is a retired Foreign Service officer, a registered independent and a Stateline resident.


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