Most of my American friends are solidly behind Barack Obama. In an interesting LRB piece, Jonathan Raban explains why…
Even when Obama’s at his most public, firing up an audience at a rally, one notices about him a detachment, a distinct aloofness, as if part of him remains a sceptical and laconic watcher in the wings, keeping his own counsel, as he appears to have been doing since infancy. In more intimate and less artificial circumstances, his capacity for empathy and his innate reserve work in consort. He’s hungry for the details of other people’s lives. He conducts each meeting with his trademark ambassadorial good manners, sussing out his companions and playing his own hand cautiously close to his chest (when he was a state senator in Illinois, he was a leading member of a cross-party poker school). In the heat of a fierce election, he could be mistaken for a writer doing research for a book.
Hillary Clinton, armed with a relentlessly detailed, bullet-pointed position paper for every human eventuality, is a classic technocrat and rationalist; Obama is that exotic political animal, a left-of-centre empiricist. The great strength of his writing is his determination to incorporate into the narrative what he calls ‘unwelcome details’, and you can see the same principle at work in the small print of his policy proposals. Abroad, he accepts the world as it is and, on that basis, is ready to parlay with Presidents Ahmadinejad, Assad and Castro, while Clinton requires the world to conform to her preconditions before she’ll talk directly to such dangerous types. At home, Obama refuses to compel every American to sign up to his healthcare plan (as Clinton would), on the grounds that penalising those who lack the wherewithal to do so will only compound their problems. Where Clinton promises to abolish the Bush education programme known as No Child Left Behind, he wants ‘to make some adjustments’ to it (like moving the standardised tests from late in the school year to the beginning, so that they are neutral measures of attainment, and don’t dictate the syllabus like an impending guillotine).
Raban points to an intriguing video of Obama having dinner with four of his constituents. You can see why people take to him.