A virtue in a capitalist -- being willing to do whatever is needed to satisfy the target audience -- becomes a vice in the political realm, where it looks like an acute lack of principle or character. Voters in Iowa seem to prefer a candidate who appears true with them, and true to himself.
Or herself, which raises a problem for Hillary Clinton. Like Romney, she executes programmed responses with the efficiency and warmth of a Dell Inspiron desktop. But while Romney gives the sense of having no inner core, Clinton gives the sense of having an inner core that she is stoutly determined never to let us see.
She has portrayed herself as misunderstood -- "the most famous person you don't know." If Americans don't know her after 16 years in the spotlight, it's not our fault. But maybe we know her all too well.
Much has been made of Obama's complexion, with good reason. For an African-American to win the opening round of a presidential campaign is truly historic, even if it doesn't lead to ultimate victory. But his appeal has more to do with skin comfort than skin color. Obama is at ease in his epidermis in a way that Clinton and Romney are not.
He offers a reassuring grace and calm likewise absent in John Edwards, who pretended that finishing second in a state where he has concentrated his efforts is proof that Americans yearn for a pitchfork populist. From Edwards' speech Thursday night, you would never guess he did worse this time than when he ran in 2004, with a more genial approach.
Obama has succeeded by preaching our essential unity; Edwards has failed by trying to exploit -- or, more accurately, create -- divisions and resentments.
As with Clinton and Romney, the campaign raised the question of what about Edwards, if anything, is genuine. And this year that may be a fatal question.