January 28, 2008

"Everyone Wants to Walk with the King"

It strikes me that in the media's conversations about Obama, the charisma, cult of personality factor aways comes up. We'll probably be debating for centuries the difference between "personality" and "issues", between substance and fluff.

It reminds me of two things.

One is what Richard Neustadt says in Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents. I read the book in sophomore year of college I think, and I recall what most people do--the famous phrase that presidential power is the "power to persuade." In my most recent interview for this book, the lobbyist spoke often about Chiles' force of personality. Even after 1996, when Republicans ruled the legislature, no one could railroad Governor Chiles. He had too many friends.

The second is a memory from a campaign I worked on. The gubernatorial candidate, the challenger in a race against a one-term incumbent, had arrived at an event and a big crowd had gathered--much bigger than expected. People who had never showed up for phone banks, canvassing, or just hanging out at headquarters suddenly appeared. I mentioned this to a friend standing to me and my friend replied curtly, "Everyone wants to walk with the king."

At the governor level and the presidential level, the chief executive is unquestionably the head of state, too. It will be interesting to see, as Obama progress, how many of the ten thousand who cheered him on at American University today will stay and work--because they've been persuaded--and how many just want to "walk with the king."

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