Poking Holes in 'No Drama'

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Nov 30, 2008 1:30 PM
It never ceases to amaze me how political writers tend believe that something that works today will also work tomorrow.

Today's NYT makes that common mistake, by playing up Barack Obama's "cool factor."  The piece, of course, is merely the latest example of worshiping the calmness and coolness of No Drama Obama....

First, it should be noted that, while being overly emotional is never a wise move, being too cool can also be a negative. 

In the 1988 presidential debate, Bernard Shaw asked Michael Dukakis: "Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?"

Dukakis' passionless, calm, and logical answer was:   "No, I don't, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life." 

This, of course, was spoofed on SNL -- and Dukakis went on to lose.  So, in Dukakis' case, being "no drama" was a negative...

Of course, you should never count on writers to inject any sort of historical context into a given column.  Frankly, many of them don't know history -- even history that is a mere 20 years old (in fairness, at the very end of the column, the writer does note that Winston Churchill was an emotional sort, and also implies that being too calm can backfire).

Still, the big message is that Obama is one cool customer.  In truth, though, today's virtue is tomorrow's vice; what works for Obama today might not work for Obama tomorrow.  Jimmy Carter's cardigan-wearing image was a refreshing contrast to the days of Johnson and Nixon -- but it wore thin.  Obama's shtick, too, may wear thin.  One can imagine the media's amnesia kicking-in a few years from now -- say after a crisis or calamity where Obama is overly "cool".  Of course, the columnists will then write that Obama lacks the compassion needed to be president in modern times...

One note:  I don't believe media bias is at play here.  I recall several stories that came out about how Bush's style was a refreshing, winning formula.  This, of course, was several years ago...