Via HuffPo, news that the well-known right-wing nutjob Ezra Klein once referred to Obama as “that oddest of creatures: a leader who has never led,” and this quote has made it into an anti-Obama mailer in Wisconsin.
Wait, you mean…my Ezra Klein? Oh Noes!
It’s funny, sure, although also a bit inappropriate and a classic example of taking something out of context, since, although Ezra’s piece was somewhat skeptical, it was also from 2006, and I would guess that, if you asked him today, he would tell you that running one of the most innovative and successful two-year presidential campaigns, derailing first the Clinton machine and then the mavericking maverickiness of McCain, proves his leadership abilities.
But more to the point, there is something about what Ezra said that is right on the button. Certain people are just leaders, regardless of whether they have led before or not. I’m guessing Alexander the Great was this type of person. Personally, I have a friend, Wouter, who I met through Ultimate. In some ways, playing with Wouter was remarkably frustrating. Although he undoubtedly worked very hard, he was also gifted with phenomenal athleticism, speed, and that thing that Ultimate players refer to as “field sense”, the ability to always know what was going to happen two moments before anyone else did, and respond accordingly. He was, additionally, blessed with the ability to lead.
In the same way that I could never throw a forehand as well as Wouter could, I could never lead in the same way he did. When analyzing a situation, we would often see the same problems. But if you stood both of us up in front of the team, and gave us the exact same script to read from, the group would be much more inspired to respond by Wouter than they would be by me, simply by virtue of the respect his mere presence garnered. He had a way of getting a response from people that is simply, for lack of a better word, leadership.
Obama displays a similar characteristic charisma. McCain can disparage it as ‘celebrity’, but when he talks, people listen. They pay a little closer attention. They want him to be everything they hope from him, and then want to follow that person to the ends of the earth, or at least the ends of the election. It’s why I got on the Obama train so early, because I’m tired of winning the policy debate and losing the election, and I’m ready to have the populace on board when the train pulls away from the station.
This is my biggest hope for the next 8 years – that the American people are onboard for a real application of liberal principles to our biggest problems, both foreign and domestic. No matter how many Democratic senators we have next year, if the American people aren’t on board, there’s only so much permanent change you can make. But I think, I hope, I know, that with Obama, there’s a real chance for some popular momentum, the sort of thing that Reagan harnessed, and the sort of thing on which real, permanent change can be based.
So lead on, Mr. Oddest, lead on…