A while ago I added a category called "narrativism." This involves pushing narratives about people or events as authentic accounts while knowing such narratives are genre-drive stories, driven by ideology, laziness, or aesthetics, and therefore likely misleading when taken as biography and therefore not worthy of a discourse such as ours ought to be. There was an example of this yesterday, today another:
Obama's lack of a bonded — as opposed to an associative — constituency is costing him. The political left is carping because it cannot be sure he is one of them. The right carps also, but it alone knows that Obama is not one of them. He doesn't go way back with the unions — he doesn't go way back with anything — and the Jews are having second thoughts.
In a conventional movie, the hero has to change. Something has to happen — the moment when character is revealed. Maybe he loses the girl and has to get her back. In politics, something similar is supposed to happen. You've got to have your PT-109, your Sunrise at Campobello, your walk on the beach with Billy Graham, your combat epiphany in Vietnam, your impoverished childhood, your peanut-farming family, your mission work abroad, your haberdashery that goes bankrupt.
Obama has those moments — abandoned by his father, biracial in a world that prefers things neat, raised in Indonesia — but they are not cited as life-changing events. None of them, at any rate, are given much importance in the documentary. Even the bitter primary fight with Hillary Clinton — all that ugly stuff about race and Bill Clinton, of all people, being accused of playing the race card — could have been happening to someone else. Obama observes his own life. He's not a participant. He calls Hillary to congratulate her on some insignificant win. "Bye bye," he says without bitterness as he snaps his phone shut. He could have been talking to anyone.
Does any of this matter, or is it merely interesting — themes for a columnist ducking Afghanistan for yet another week? I am not sure. If Obama ends the deepest recession since the Great Depression, if he enacts health-care reform, if he succeeds in Afghanistan, then his presidency will have been remarkable, maybe even great — the triumph of intellect. The man will be his own movement.
But if he fails in all or most of that, it will be because it is not enough to be the smartest person in the room. Warmth and commitment matter, too — a driving sense of conviction, the fulsome embrace of causes and not just issues. That is not something Obama has yet shown. See the movie.
That's Richard Cohen. He's talking about a movie about Obama, not Obama the person, but it's not clear to him, or to us, that he's aware that he's aware of the difference.