NewsWeek: Howard Fineman: Is Obama Playing It Too Cool?

NewsWeek: Howard Fineman (9/18/08)

Is Obama Playing It Too Cool?

The complaint from the Democrats in the room was that Sen. Barack Obama wasn’t acting enough like… well, they weren’t quite sure: Robert Kennedy, maybe, or Hubert Humphrey, or Bill Clinton in the early 1990s. Obama had no fire, they said. He should be way ahead by now, they said. He needed a creative, sweeping new economic proposal, they said. Also, he needed to call them and ask them for their advice.

This was the drift at a Washington social event I attended the other night, the kind that draws senators, ambassadors and assorted know-it-alls. Even as the global economy was crumbling—a huge political boost, at least at first glance, for the out-of-power Democrats—and even though Obama has climbed back into the lead in national polls, the mood among party faithful was sober to the point of gloomy.

But I’m wondering if there isn’t method in Obama’s coolness, even as he tries to amp it up a bit to suit his campaign-trail critics. First, he knows who and what he is, and Hubert Humphrey, or Jesse Jackson, Jr., for that matter, isn’t it. Obama is not a shouter by nature. Authenticity counts—and so does not evoking the style of, say, Jeremiah Wright. Obama is Harvard Law; it’s plain fact. And he may have decided that the best quality to project at this scary and tumultuous moment is not fire but ice, not roiling emotion but studied calm.

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