Obama's Gaffes Reveal More Than Mistakes ...

Posted: May 30, 2008 10:56 AM
A new narrative seems to be developing about Barack Obama; that he is smart but also a "gaffe machine."  The WSJ's John Fund writes:

"As smart and credentialed as he is, Sen. Obama is often an indifferent speaker without a teleprompter. He has large gaps in his knowledge base, and is just as likely to dig in and embrace a policy misstatement as abandon it. ABC reporter Jake Tapper calls him 'a one-man gaffe machine'."

Let's be honest, when you talk as much as presidential candidates must, some gaffes are unavoidable.  Others occur when a candidate is tired.  But Obama's gaffes seem to be the result of a candidate who is in over his head -- who has gotten by on style points -- not the substance. 

To me, this is the real story -- that Obama's gaffes actually reveal something more dangerous than a candidate who merely "misspeaks."  That his gaffes are the product of someone who is not quite ready for prime time...

Of course, going from the Illinois state senate to being a presidential frontrunner is a lot of ground to cover in just a few years ...

Another interesting thing to consider is whether or not this lack of historical understanding is uniquely due to Obama's inexperience -- or if his lack of knowledge is actually a cultural phenomenon. 

While Obama is a child of the 80s, he seems to have a lot in common with today's generation.  In his new book, The Dumbest Generation, author Mark Bauerlein says this phenomenon is true of most "Millenials."  In short, Bauerlein argues today's young people are great at using the internet to retrieve information, but that they lack knowledge of history.  Might Obama's emphasis of style over substance be a result of the era in which he was raised?  Is it unique to him?  Or is it merely a product of a young man who is still finding himself?  These are all interesting to ponder.

Consider the Reagan vs. Obama contrast.  When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, he had lives through The Great Depression, WWII, Vietnam, The Civil Rights Movement, etc.  He had also achieved success in other areas of life.  For this reason, he did not need the presidency to give his life purpose.  Of course, being compared to Reagan is never a good thing for the person being compared. 

Still, it's fair to say that Obama has been playing "over his head" for quite some time.  He's like a young football team who starts off winning a lot of games.  Deep down, you always suspect it won't last.  

It's also interesting to note that Obama has really won few contests in the last several months.  To over-extend the football metaphor, he's like a football team who "backs into the playoffs".  One wonders if McCain will be facing the Obama of February -- or the Obama who got his clock cleaned in West Virginia. 

There is no doubt he has run a surprisingly smart primary campaign.  But because he and Hillary agreed on most major policy issues -- he was not forced to defend his political philosophy.  That is about to change.  McCain will challenge him, and most likely, this will create "forced errors."

At least, Obama appears to be demonstrating that he is, in fact, human.