Which gave the Obama campaign a cult-like tinge. With every primary and every repetition of the high-flown, self-referential rhetoric, the campaign's insubstantiality became clear. By the time it was repeated yet again on the night of the last primary (#3), the tropes were tired and flat. To top himself, Obama had to reach. Hence his triumphal declaration that history would note that night, his victory, his ascension, as "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."
Clang. But Obama heard only the cheers of the invited crowd. Not yet seeing how the pseudo-messianism was wearing thin, he did Berlin (#4) and finally jumped the shark. That grandiloquent proclamation of universalist puffery popped the bubble. The grandiosity had become bizarre.
From there it was but a short step to Paris Hilton. Finally, the Obama people understood. Which is why the next data point (#5) is so different. Obama's Denver acceptance speech was deliberately pedestrian, State-of-the-Union-ish, programmatic and only briefly (that lovely coda recalling the March on Washington) lyrical.
The problem, however, was that Obama had announced the Invesco Field setting for the speech during the pre-Berlin flush of hubris. They were stuck with the Greek columns, the circus atmosphere, the rock star fireworks farewell -- as opposed to the warmer, traditional, balloon-filled convention-hall hug-a-thon. The incongruity between text and context was apparent. Obama was trying to make himself ordinary -- and serious -- but could hardly remember how.
One star fades, another is born. The very next morning McCain picks Sarah Palin and a new celebrity is launched. And in the celebrity game, novelty is trump. With her narrative, her persona, her charisma carrying the McCain campaign to places it has never been and by all logic has no right to be, she's pulling an Obama.
But her job is easier. She only has to remain airborne for seven more weeks. Obama maintained altitude for an astonishing four years. In politics, as in all games, however, it's the finish that counts.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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