It worked for two reasons: Democrats believe that nonsense, and he was new. But now he needs more than Democrats. And novelty fades.
Obama understood that the magic was wearing off and the audacity of hope wearing thin. Hence the self-denial perfectly personified in his acceptance speech in Denver. He could have had 80,000 people in rapture. Instead, he made himself prosaic, even pedestrian, going right to the general election audience to project himself as one of them.
Ordinariness was the theme. His self-told life story? Common man, hence that brazen introductory biopic that shamelessly skipped from Hawaii grade-schooler to Chicago community organizer with not a word about Columbia and Harvard. His riff on American concerns? All middle-class anxieties. His list of programs? All pitched as his middle-class remedies.
He's been moderate in policy and temper ever since. His one goal: Pass the Reagan '80 threshold. Be acceptable, be cool, be reassuring.
Part of reassurance is intellectual. Like Palin, he's a rookie, but in his 19 months on the national stage he has achieved fluency in areas in which he has no experience. In the foreign policy debate with McCain, as in his July news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Obama held his own -- fluid, familiar, and therefore plausibly presidential.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously said of Franklin Roosevelt that he had a "second-class intellect, but a first-class temperament." Obama has shown that he is a man of limited experience, questionable convictions, deeply troubling associations (Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, Tony Rezko) and an alarming lack of self- definition -- do you really know who he is and what he believes? Nonetheless, he's got both a first-class intellect and a first-class temperament. That will likely be enough to make him president.
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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