Obama’s grace

A couple of graceful gestures say something about Obama’s character.

At about 6:30 in the tape of the Obama/Clinton “Unity” rally, the crowd interrupts HRC’s speech with a chant of “O-ba-MA! O-ba-MA! O-ba-MA! Watch Obama’s right hand; he very gently tamps down the chant: not demonstratively, to steal the scene from the speaker, but subtly, a conductor gesturing for a pianissimo.

Then, as Clinton begins to go on, a new chant starts up in the same cadence, only one or two voices at first: Hill-a-REE! Hill-a-REE! This time Obama encourages the chant rather than discouraging it: the hand movement is more emphatic, but still understated rather than overstated. It’s hard to believe that the scene was pre-planned; as a spontaneous gesture, it tells me a great deal about the man I’m going to vote for, all of it good.

This reminds me of the story Bill Richardson told in endorsing Obama. At one of the early debates, Richardson had let his mind wander and didn’t notice that the moderator was asking him a question until the moderator said his name; he knew that it was his turn to talk, but not what he was supposed to talk about. Obama, standing next to him, whispered “Katrina,” sparing Richardson an unpleasant moment.

That sort of generosity of spirit is fully consistent with fighting hard; if you don’t believe me, ask the Clinton campaign staff. But I can’t imagine George W. Bush making either gesture, or, if he did, making it in a way that didn’t draw attention to himself.

Footnote Also note the moment at 24:30 when Obama uses the “brush it off” shoulder swipe he applied to his own critics to describe the “grace and aplomb” with which Sen. Clinton dealt with hers. The man has natural stagecraft.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com