Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Can Obama Protect Himself From His Surrogates?

Over at Anonymous Liberal, A.L. wonders why Al Gore hasn't endorsed Obama. I commented with the following:

Perhaps Gore hasn't endorsed Obama because Obama asked him not to. Gore is almost as polarizing a figure as Clinton. Surely Obama realizes that his perceived ability to unite America behind his leadership has two major characteristics:

First, it's unassailable. As long as the perception holds, Obama is covered in teflon. He is immune to all forms of opposition research.

But the second characteristic of this perception is that it's not very robust. It depends not only on Obama refraining from doing/saying something stupid, but also on his surrogates behaving properly. There is little chance of Gore behaving properly and even less chance of his being perceived as behaving properly. A Gore endorsement will infuriate the right--even the center-right. Obama can't afford him.

NB: I believe that Obama is completely genuine in his desire to unite the country and end the partisan sniping. But that doesn't prevent him from understanding that maintaining and communicating this unity requires deft image management. From now until the election, Obama's going to be doing a high-wire act over a corral full of velociraptors. It's not the sort of thing you'd want to do while carrying Al Gore piggyback.

I suspect that this robustness issue is a big deal for Obama. As long as he maintains the "uniter" label, he simply can't be attacked. But that doesn't mean that his perception of being a uniter can't itself be attacked. An interesting strategic quandary. But, as the old joke goes, the most important attribute a politician can have is sincerity and if you can fake that you've got it made.

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